What happened to Rio Arriba County Sheriff James Lujan? Will whomever body-swapped our sheriff please return him?
We’d like the sheriff back who took off his gun two years ago, walked down a cordoned off highway median and talked a guy out of killing himself or getting Lujan to shoot him. We’d like the sheriff back who was open, transparent, focused on serving the public.
He’s been replaced by an egotistical narcissist, hellbent on showing up to help his questionable friends, when they’ve allegedly violated state laws. He used to be a law enforcement officer, now he’s a bully trying to bulldoze his way through the judicial process to help people who actually need to be charged and given their day in court.
We’ve supported the sheriff for years, perhaps too blindly, without asking enough questions of the right people.
One brief year ago, in May 2019 then-deputy Jeremy Barnes tased an Española Valley High School student. Lujan has always suffered from personnel problems, the worst of which was first hiring Barnes, then not properly training him, then not firing him after he tasered the student. He had several opportunities to correct the problem and just kept doubling down, defending an indefensible Barnes. Barnes, Lujan and the County (that's us, the taxpayers) are defendants in a tort claim filed by the student’s mother.
His poor judgment continued July Fourth, when he pulled over Chama resident Joshua Talamonte because he was flying the Mexican flag. According to a tort claim filed against the County (raise your hand, that’s us) by Talamonte, “Lujan exited his police vehicle, shouting profanities and claimed that Mr. Talamonte was violating a law against flying flags from his truck.”
Lawyers for Talamonte state Lujan screamed at Talamonte he was “a disgrace to the country for flying a Mexican flag,” and he was “lucky he didn’t get shot!”
The next day Lujan’s son is following Talamonte and runs over the Mexican flag that has come loose from Talamonte’s truck. Lujan’s son claimed to be law enforcement. He is not.
Not weird enough? The next day Lujan sends Dep. Jerry Albo to confiscate the flag. Lujan smelled the coffee and returned the flag the next day admonishing Talamonte for being rude to one of his deputies, his son. Lujan and the County (yes, us) are on the hook for that tort claim also.
This incident was followed by the Oct. 22, 2019 tasing of Rio Arriba County jail guard Timothy Gallegos by Sheriff’s Deputy Leon Gallegos.
Lujan brushed it off as a “boys will be boys” prank, despite the fact he (we, the taxpayers) was being sued for the Barnes incident five months earlier. He learned nothing about training, management or leadership.
His behavior at the March 21 arrest of Philip Chacon is sad. An obviously drunk Lujan, whose stagger has replaced his swagger, tries to bully city police officers, eventually trying to close the deal with a sergeant to withdraw city police by yelling, “I’m not asking. I’m telling you.”
Not his jurisdiction, not his scene. To be clear the County is his jurisdiction but City Police have priority in the city limits, unless they ask for help.
Lujan’s face graced the television screen of every Rio Arriban who watches television news. His blurry eyes and slurred speech are easily detectable. His behavior is reprehensible.
But he didn’t learn his lesson. When City Detectives Ernest Saucedo and Zack Wright serve a warrant May 12 on City Councilor John Ramon Vigil, Vigil calls Lujan. Lujan shows up with Undersheriff Martin Trujillo.
The purpose was clearly to intimidate the two detectives, who were trying to do their job. Neither Lujan nor Trujillo had any business being there.
Lujan said Vigil called him because he was afraid he was being arrested. How many people in Española call the Rio Arriba County sheriff when they’re being arrested, other than Chacon?
Lujan talks to Vigil’s lawyer on Vigil’s phone, the one they eventually seized.
Lujan then calls Vigil’s lawyer on his own phone. After a conversation with the detectives, they get Vigil’s phone and leave.
To make matters much worse for the sheriff, when City Police Detectives Ernest Saucedo and Zack Wright serve two warrants May 14 on the sheriff, at his office, he hands the two phones to Trujillo to put in his pockets and refuses to turn them over saying he doesn’t have them. What are we, 11 years old?
Did that ploy ever work when the sheriff was serving a warrant?
Wright’s lapel camera makes Lujan look even worse.
Saucedo is professional and calm as Lujan tries to bully him, deny the weight of the order and call his lawyer. Lujan goes through 25 minutes of allegedly talking to lawyers, arguing over the legality of the warrants, insisting he has the right to legal council, then eventually caving.
Interim Police chief Roger Jimenez arrives (again, calm, professional) to try to get Lujan to comply but Lujan continues to argue he has the right to talk to his lawyer, who is apparently not available. Jimenez tires of Lujan’s games and tells him to turn over the phones that are in Trujillo’s pockets or he’s going to lock down the Sheriff’s Office. Lujan finally complies.
Then he tells Jimenez he can’t look in them because the warrant isn’t for what’s inside the phones. Jimenez acknowledges he will be back with a warrant for the contents this week.
We’ll have our sheriff for another two years, if he’s not put in jail, with his two buddies. It’s clear he’s out of control and is no longer operating in the best interest of the citizens of Rio Arriba County, much less himself.
Recall is the only option citizens have and meeting that criteria is difficult. We may have to wait for Lujan to step in it again. That may not be a long wait.