Rio Arriba County Sheriff James Lujan has not completed the legally-required in-service or biennium training to maintain his certification as a law enforcement officer but has not faced any action from the Law Enforcement Academy, records show.
Now officials at the Academy say Lujan is one of an unknown number of officers throughout the state who are untrained or have failed to report training completion.
Lujan, who was sworn in as Sheriff in October 2014, has failed to follow the training law for years, but little action has been taken to compel his compliance by the New Mexico Law Enforcement Academy or its Board of Directors, which is chaired by New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas.
Lujan’s Training History Report from the Academy shows he attended a two-hour training during the New Mexico Sheriff’s Conference in April 2015. Prior to that, his last training was in 2011. He completed four training courses for a total of eight hours of training.
“As a certified law enforcement officer, Sheriff Lujan is subject to the biennium training requirements,” Department of Public Safety spokesperson Herman Lovato wrote in a Sept. 6 email. “Records reflect he is currently not in compliance.”
Lujan could still be sheriff without certification, but he would be limited to an administrative role if his certification were suspended or revoked.
New Mexico Sheriff’s Association President Tony Mace said Lujan would not be the only sheriff in the state that to serve only in an administrative capacity, but that if Lujan’s certification were suspended for not completing the training, he would no longer be able to conduct traffic stops or arrests. He also would not be able to charge anyone with a crime.
Lujan, through Sheriff’s Office Public Information Officer Maj. Randy Sanches disputed the records and the statements from the Department that he was not in compliance.
“We strongly believe your information is less than accurate,” Sanches wrote in a Sept. 6 email. “(The Sheriff’s Office) has made sure our training requirements are up to par and in cases where we are due we have scheduled and/or participated in updates as needed.”
A public records request filed June 13 with the Sheriff’s Office returned a single training certificate for Lujan from June relating to the use of tasers. The Sheriff’s Office did not return any other training related documents. The Rio Arriba County Human Resources office returned no additional certificates or completed training documents.
Sanches did not respond to multiple requests concerning any additional records that might back up the claim that the Academy’s information was inaccurate.
In total, Academy records show that only three Sheriff’s Office deputies are in compliance with their training requirements
Lujan is not the only certified law enforcement officer in the state who has failed to follow the in-service training laws, including a requirement to report training to the Academy.
Agency heads are supposed to complete an affidavit at the end of each two year training period that reports the number of officers who have met the training requirement, explains why other officers have not met the requirements and details any plans to bring non-compliant officers into compliance.
“The (Academy) records reflect that the (Sheriff’s Office) is non-compliant for the 2014-2015 and the 2016-2017 training cycles,” Lovato wrote. “Our records also show they did not file the (training affidavit) for either training cycle.”
The Academy is not sure exactly how many officers or departments are out of compliance with the in-service training requirement, but they are currently auditing those records and developing a plan to bring everyone in the state into compliance, Deputy Cabinet Secretary Dr. August Fons said in a phone interview Tuesday.
Even though Lujan and other officers have not completed their training or provided proof of training to the Academy, there is no requirement that the Board suspend their law enforcement certificates, he said.
“(Lujan) is not current on his biennium training but that is not a requisite for suspension,” Fons said.
Historically, Fons said, the Academy has tried to work with officers and departments to get them to voluntarily comply with the law and complete the required training.
Fons confirmed that someone from the Academy had contacted Lujan concerning his training and informed him of the need to get his training completed or produce records proving he had been trained. Ultimately though, Fons said the Academy does not mandate or develop a plan or time frame within which an officer out of compliance must remedy the situation.
Albuquerque-based Attorney Shannon Kennedy, who represents two people who were shot with tasers by Sheriff’s Office deputies this year, said the law is clear when it comes to training requirements.
“Clearly Sheriff Lujan should be suspended, he’s not doing his job,” Kennedy said in a Sept. 6 phone interview. “He’s endangering the people of Rio Arriba County. We have a child who’s permanently injured and you have another person who is severely physically injured as a result of his failure to ensure officers are adequately trained in deployment of taser, but it goes far deeper than that. They’re actually not trained in anything.”
Kennedy was referring to a May incident at Española Valley High School when a 15-year-old special education student was shot with a taser, and a June incident where a deputy shot a Rio Arriba County Detention Center employee in the groin with a taser.
In addition to other training, state law requires officers to take an interaction with persons with mental impairments class during each in-service training cycle. The course is supposed to teach officers awareness of crisis management and how to deescalate and calm situations when dealing with people who have mental illnesses or cognitive impairments.
Kennedy said those trainings are among the most important.
“Officer-involved shootings more often than not involve people who are suffering from psychiatric injuries and mental health disabilities and when (untrained officers) escalate those situations, it results in the wrongful death of people who are most vulnerable in our community,” Kennedy said.
She represented the family of a man who was killed by Albuquerque police which later led to the training requirement.
“A little 5-year-old boy was orphaned for life because (an Albuquerque Police Officer) was improperly trained to deescalate a situation,” Kennedy said. “And the fact that (Lujan and other officers) just snub their noses at that, at the suffering of these families, it’s heartbreaking and infuriating at the same time.”
For now, Lujan remains a certified law enforcement officer with only a request from the Academy to comply with training laws.
That may soon change, however, since Balderas ordered a full investigation into training compliance.
“The Attorney General has directed the Law Enforcement Academy to immediately conduct a statewide compliance investigation and to immediately begin issuing notices of noncompliance for failing to maintain legally-required training requirements,” Attorney General’s Office spokesman Matt Baca said Tuesday. “The Board will then take appropriate action when the investigation is complete.”