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Mora sheriff faces 2 charges

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The sheriff of Mora County has been charged with tampering with public records and criminal solicitation by the state attorney general’s office for allegedly having deputies falsify reports last March.

Sheriff Thomas Garza was already under investigation by the AG’s office for a different incident last spring when he was involved in an altercation with a deputy who refused Garza’s order to let a friend of the sheriff off on a DWI arrest.

As a result of that incident, Garza was suspended for four months beginning last September and placed on probation for one year by the state Law Enforcement Academy Board.

It’s unclear how the latest charges may affect Garza’s law enforcement certification, as officials with that board did not return phone messages Friday.

Garza also did not return a phone call Friday seeking comment.

According to the statement of probably cause filed in Fourth Judicial District Court on Wednesday, investigators with the AG’s office and New Mexico State Police interviewed Mora County sheriff deputies Lee Allingham and Stephen Mora last June regarding a burglary involving approximately 20 firearms.

Allingham and Mora both told the investigators that Garza had asked them to alter the facts in their reports detailing the circumstances under which some of the guns were recovered, and a suspect came to be arrested in the case.

According to Mora, even though Garza was directly involved in the arrest and recovery of the guns, the sheriff didn’t want his name mentioned in the reports because his wife worked for the court and she wouldn’t be able to handle the case if Garza was involved.

Mora said after turning in his report, Garza had him make changes and resubmit the report. Mora also said that even though the report was dated March 29, 2012, the report wasn’t finalized until sometime after that date.

When asked by investigators if the final report accurately reflected what had actually occurred, Mora responded, “No.”

Allingham told investigators that despite the sheriff’s urging, he did include Garza’s name in the report because the sheriff had all the information regarding the suspect and the recovery of the firearms. Allingham said he submitted his report to the sheriff’s office after he was fired by Garza.

In May of last year, Allingham and Garza were involved in a dispute, captured on audio tape, in which the sheriff ordered Allingham to release Garza’s friend during a DWI stop.

In addition to the charges brought by the AG’s Office, Garza and the Mora County Sheriff’s Department are among the defendants in a case brought by Stephen Mora and another plaintiff in December, charging breach of contract; wrongful termination; violations of the Human Rights Act; Whistleblower’s Act and Inspection of Public Records Act; and assault and battery.

The New Mexico Supreme Court assigned a judge to hear the case earlier this month, but no hearing date has been scheduled.

Also, Garza is being sued by a Mora County woman seeking to recover damages for personal injury resulting from an accident involving an alleged repeat drunken driver last May. According to the complaint, the sheriff “has a policy and practice of failing to investigate and failing to arrest intoxicated drivers on Mora County highways and roads,” and that practice has led to accidents and injuries.

That case is also still pending.

The woman’s attorney, Shannon L. Kennedy, said in an email to the Journal that Garza “personified police corruption.”

“He has exploited his position of authority to bully his own deputies into covering up DWI investigations. Instead of protecting and serving the people of Mora County, he has endangered them and betrayed their trust,” Kennedy said.

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