Lujan at Sentencing

Former Rio Arriba County sheriff James Lujan listens to Judge Kathleen McGarry Elwood Dec. 2 at his sentencing.

 On Wednesday, for the second time this year, a jury deliberated charges against former Rio Arriba County Sheriff James Lujan for harboring a felon and intimidating a witness in March 2017. This time, they returned with a verdict.

    Lujan was taken into custody Thursday (12/2) following a guilty conviction on both felony charges. He was sentenced to three years in prison followed by 18 months of probation.

    Lujan remained sheriff throughout the investigations and trials, though he was stripped of his law enforcement certification in July 2020. He resigned Wednesday (12/1) afternoon following the unanimous verdict from the jury in the First Judicial District Court in Santa Fe.

    This week’s retrial came after a June trial at Tierra Amarilla that resulted in a hung jury.

    Lujan was convicted for helping his friend and former Española City Councilor Phillip Chacon evade arrest by serving him a restraining order and taking him from his house an hour after Chacon had led Española police on a pursuit at speeds of more than 110 miles per hour. Lujan’s deputy Cody Lattin testified against him that he felt intimidated to keep quiet about the details of the incident.

    Before delivering his sentence, Judge Kathleen McGarry Ellenwood told Lujan he had let down the people of Rio Arriba County and broken the trust they placed in him by electing him sheriff.

    “You are not above the law,” she said. “Nor can you ignore the law when it serves your purpose.”

    Ninth District Attorney Andrea Reeb, a special prosecutor for the trial, said she was frustrated after the June trial, but that the court delivered a strong message this time around to the county and state that such conduct would not be tolerated, especially by an elected official who is supposed to be upholding the law.

     Española Police Chief Roger Jimenez and City Councilor Peggy Sue Martinez testified as witnesses in the trial.

    “The public cries are ‘they should be held to a higher standard,’” Chief Jimenez testified at the sentencing hearing on Thursday, referencing public scrutiny of police. “As a chief law enforcement officer of his county and an elected official voted in for the people and by the people, what level of standard should he be held to?”

    The Rio Arriba County Commission will meet on Dec. 6, to appoint a replacement sheriff. Until then, County Manager Lucia Sánchez said Major Billy Merrifield is the highest-ranking deputy qualified to fulfill the vacancy.

    “I believe that unfortunately Undersheriff Trujillo’s pending felony charges and the fact that he is bound over for trial prevent him from exercising the powers of sheriff,” Sánchez wrote in an email, “and that Major Merrifield is therefore the next in line to do so.”

    The County will elect a new sheriff in November 2022.

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