Roger Jimenez was sworn in as interim chief of the Española Police Department after Mayor Javier Sanchez broke a tie vote in favor of his appointment at the June 11 City Council meeting.
However, Sanchez said Tuesday that the hiring committee for a permanent police chief position advised the city government should look for an external candidate after interviewing Jimenez and another Española police officer.
Jimenez said in a Tuesday interview that he felt the committee overlooked his experience. He also said officers from outside agencies had spread lies about him to city councilors.
Councilor Denise Benavidez, who is on the hiring committee, said she did not receive communication from outside agencies other than letters of reference provided by Jimenez and that no such information arose in the committee’s discussions.
Jimenez previously railed against Rio Arriba County Sherriff James Lujan for contacting city councilors to advise against his promotion to director of the public safety Department in May, amid controversy over Jimenez’ involvement in derogatory text messages and an investigation of a crash between two officers that violated Department policy. The Council denied him the promotion at that time.
“I’m a little disappointed,” he said of the hiring committee’s decision. “I feel that it’s a little disheartening that they wouldn’t even allow me the opportunity to see what I’m capable of before they make that decision just based on an interview.”
Jimenez said he may not remain with the Department, citing compatibility with the choice of new chief as a deciding factor in his future decision.
“I don’t get any credit for that year that I’ve been here in the capacity that I’ve been here,” he said. “It’s hard for me to say that I’m committed 100 percent when (councilors) haven’t committed with me.”
City Attorney A.J. Salazar said before the vote that the Director of Public Safety position was created in the early 2000s without an ordinance or resolution, but city salary listings show a Public Safety Director for the first time in 2013. Sanchez now plans to separate the Police and Fire Departments.
Councilors John Ricci, Justin Salazar-Torrez, and Robert Seeds voted in favor of Jimenez’ appointment as interim chief, while Councilors Peggy Sue Martinez, Manny Martinez, and Dennis Tim Salazar voted against.
Councilors Benavidez and John Ramon Vigil requested City Clerk Melissa Velasquez return to them after others had voted, at which point they voted in favor and against respectively, creating the tie which Sanchez broke.
Peggy Sue Martinez wordlessly walked out of the meeting immediately after the vote and did not return.
“It would have been really difficult to stand there and watch this guy get sworn in on that position,” she said in a June 18 interview.
Prior to the vote, Sanchez appointed Manny Martinez, Benavidez, Seeds, and Salazar-Torrez to a hiring committee to find a permanent chief. Voting Districts 1 and 2 are not represented on this committee.
Sanchez said the committee would interview internal candidates and either recommend one for the position or recommend opening the position to external candidates. He said he wanted to fill the permanent position as quickly as possible, no more than two months.
When Benavidez asked Sanchez if the hiring process would include internal candidates or immediately open the position externally if Jimenez was not appointed as interim chief, Sanchez said he had not thought that through.
Benavidez said the other officer interviewed for the permanent chief of police position was Danny Pacheco.
She said in a June 12 interview that Jimenez is not qualified to serve as interim chief or chief and that she voted in his favor solely to speed along the process of finding a permanent external candidate.
“I believe that Jimenez is going to be performing a role that he is not qualified to perform,” she said.
Jimenez said his goals as interim chief remained the same despite the hiring committee’s decision.
He said he wants to establish Española as a center of training for other agencies in Northern New Mexico, a resource he said was lacking. He said he also plans to improve the use of force policy and place an emphasis on verbal de-escalation.
“I want to make Española a model agency for the state, if not the nation,” he said.