Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal
The Los Alamos County sheriff probably has the least number of duties for any sheriff in the state, and the job pays only $7,000 a year.
Yet four people – a Republican, a Democrat, a Libertarian and an independent – are all vying for the position in the Nov. 6 general election.
The post is also tied up in litigation after the Los Alamos County Council tried to eliminate the sheriff’s office, using a measure that was on the 2016 general election ballot.
Voters decided to keep the office. Still, a lawsuit filed by current Sheriff Marco Lucero challenging the ballot measure resulted in a ruling by a Santa Fe District Court judge that the Los Alamos sheriff cannot carry out law enforcement duties.
That’s due, in part, to the fact that Los Alamos County, where there are no city governments, has a full-blown county police department that carries out law enforcement duties. That leaves the sheriff with the sole responsibility of maintaining the sex offender registry.
As it turns out, none of this year’s candidates for the $6,888-a-year position has ever been a police officer.
The lawsuit filed two years ago against the county by incumbent sheriff Lucero, who has reached his two-term limit, claimed the county’s ballot question to eliminate the sheriff’s office is unconstitutional and exceeds the authority of the county’s state-granted charters. Lucero’s suit also said he makes arrests of sex offenders who don’t comply with registration requirements.
The ballot measure said the county police department is “capable of performing all duties assigned to the sheriff by state statutes.” Lucero told the Journal in 2016 that every county needs an elected sheriff accountable to voters “so you can go to them with allegations of corruption.”
In July, Judge Francis Mathew ruled that the sheriff’s office has no law enforcement authority, but he also ruled that the county cannot effectively eliminate the office by not funding it.
“… Sheriff Lucero is permanently restrained from exercising law enforcement duties involving keeping the peace,” Mathew’s finding of facts and conclusions of law says.
In an appeal to the Court of Appeals, Lucero is being represented by Blair Dunn, the Libertarian candidate for Attorney General.
Some of this year’s candidates are also at odds with the County Council and also claim the governing body ignores state law by trying to eliminate the sheriff’s office.
Greg White, the independent candidate, has filed eight lawsuits this year in either state District Court or the state Supreme Court, most of which targeted the County Council. The three filings he made in the Supreme Court were dismissed within days.
White said in a recent interview that he filed the lawsuits because he wants the County Council to follow the state law.
“The council doesn’t pay any attention to their own ordinances, let alone the (county) charter and state law,” White said. “You simply can’t run a government like that. I’m simply trying to make them follow the law.”
White says his relevant experience comes from stints in the Coast Guard and Air Force, as well as being a hotel security guard in Las Vegas, Nev.
White said he filed for bankruptcy in 1997 and 2003. He pleaded guilty to misdemeanor DWI in 1999 and had to attend DWI school, but couldn’t say much else about the arrest. “I honestly don’t remember what the circumstances were,” White said.
James Whitehead, the Republican candidate, has a pending lawsuit against the County Council, the county police department, and the county parks and recreation department for state Inspection of Public Records violations regarding requests he made for records pertaining to a property he owns. He has another lawsuit against Los Alamos National Security, LLC, which runs Los Alamos National Laboratory, for breach of contract and other alleged violations.
Whitehead, a former deputy fire marshal in Raleigh, N.C., said he didn’t want to comment on the lawsuits, because they’re pending. He also believes the county council has gone rogue.
“I believe Los Alamos County, from its creation, has not been compliant with state law,” Whitehead said. “What does the County Council have to hide that they feel that they have to control law enforcement?”
But, he says, he can get along with the council if he’s elected. “It’s my intention to set everything to the side with my situation with the county and handle it amicably,” Whitehead said.
Libertarian Chris Luchini does not have law enforcement experience, but he does have a Ph.D. in physics.
He says he wants to be sheriff because he wants to serve the public.
“I want to continue to make sure we have a viable sheriff’s office,” Luchini said. “We need somebody who can define what the proper role of the sheriff’s office is.”
Luchini is the chair of the Libertarian Party of New Mexico, according to the organization’s website. He said that, if elected, he’ll have to wait until Lucero’s case gets through the courts before negotiating with the county council on what the sheriff’s duties are. He added that he would bring in an under-sheriff who is already a certified law enforcement officer.
Joseph Granville, the Democratic candidate who is currently a kitchen and bathroom designer, says he wants to come in and mend the relationship between the sheriff and the county council.
“I thought it would be great to come in and cool the relationship down,” Granville said. “I want an environment that’s conducive to decision-making.”
LOS ALAMOS COUNTY SHERIFF CANDIDATES
James W. Whitehead
EDUCATION: B.S. Fire Protection and Safety Engineering
OCCUPATION: Fire Protection Engineering — Design Engineering
RELEVANT EXPERIENCE: 7 years, U.S. Army Infantry; former Deputy Fire Marshal City of Raleigh, N.C.; fire protection specialist, Wolf Creek Nuclear Operating Corporation; Fire Protection Engineer, Los Alamos National Laboratory.
EDUCATION: AAS Contract Administration, B.S. Social Psychology
RELEVANT EXPERIENCE: U.S. Coast Guard, non-commissioned officer, Search & Rescue, first responder, drug Interdiction; U.S. Air Force, non-commissioned officer, contract specialist, contract review, zero overpricing supervisor, blanket purchase agreement administrator; security officer, New York New York Hotel/Casino, officer academy training and on-the-job experience in crime scene investigation, detention and arrest, disarming and takedown of suspects in crowded environments, profiling suspected pedophiles.
EDUCATION: Ph.D. in High Energy Physics (elementary particle physics).
OCCUPATION: Business owner
RELEVANT EXPERIENCE: As the principal investigator for technologies related to seismic source and sensors for hydrocarbon exploration, I’ve managed large diverse teams over multiple years. This includes conflict resolution outside of the court system for contract and other related disputes. The organizational lessons learned from running a small business since 2002 will be applicable to the Office of Sheriff.
EDUCATION: Associates degree in Interior Design
OCCUPATION: Kitchen and Bathroom Designer for Poulin Remodeling
RELEVANT EXPERIENCE: Board of Directors, Los Alamos Family Council and Little Forest Playschool. Business owner, Home Improved USA.
1. Explain why you are running for sheriff and what you see as the biggest issues for the sheriff’s office.
WHITEHEAD: I am running for Sheriff of Los Alamos County because I have witnessed the systematic defunding and dismantling of the office since May 2016. The occurrence of violent crime within Los Alamos County is represented at much lower levels than what is reported to the state. We need a sheriff that is not only willing, but also capable or restoring the rule of law in this county … . There’s a sheriff in town!
WHITE: I love Los Alamos. The best way I can give back is doing what I know. Despite a District Court order, the County Council still refuses to allow a functional sheriff, let alone a department. Eventually, they will have to give in or go to jail. The re-establishment of a sheriff’s department is best accomplished by a person with experience in law enforcement, knowledge of statutes, and office management and supervisory experience. Please visit greg4sheriff.com.
LUCHINI: I’m running for sheriff of Los Alamos County to ensure that there will be a person in that office who believes that there should be an elected representative of law enforcement/peacekeeping in the county, and who will be able to effectively interact with the County Council and the state Legislature to adjust to the future court rulings that will define the role of sheriff in the county. The anticipated appellate court/Supreme Court ruling on the status of the sheriff is the only real issue for the sheriff in this county.
GRANVILLE: I am running because, in my business, I have to be able to work with people. This job at this time needs a person committed to clearly defining the role of sheriff, a person willing to do the hard work of collaboration and relationship building.
2. Why is the Los Alamos County Sheriff’s Office needed, necessary or a practical use of tax dollars, given that the Los Alamos Police Department provides law enforcement for the county?
WHITEHEAD: The function of the Los Alamos County Sheriff’s Office is to execute any civil action, enforce the laws of the state and ordinances of the county, and to follow diligently all orders of the courts of competent jurisdiction, and to serve those orders under the law in a proper and timely manner. These duties and powers are separate and apart from those of the Police Department. This subject has been misrepresented for far too long.
WHITE: The police should do the policing. My priorities as sheriff are ending child suicide and protecting children from sexual predators. We have the most rights of any nation. Especially electing those who serve us, including law enforcement. The court stated a sheriff does state functions and cannot be done away with or diminished. If people want one department, it has to be led by elected law enforcement. State law requires sheriffs to attend a law enforcement academy.
LUCHINI: The LA Sheriff’s Office is needed because the residents of LA County deserve to have an elected representative of law enforcement in this county. The coexistence of a sheriff’s office and the police department doesn’t require any extra costs if the duties of the respective offices are chosen to be non-duplicative.
GRANVILLE: Judge Mathew has decided that the office will remain. The key now is to assure that the scope of the sheriff’s office is clearly defined. I don’t think a police department headed by an elected sheriff is a good idea. Law enforcement — like the fire department — should be free of political influence.
3. Have you or your business, if you are a business owner, ever been the subject of any state or federal tax liens?
GRANVILLE: Never been subject to tax liens.
4. Have you ever been involved in a personal or business bankruptcy proceeding?
WHITE: Yes. In 1987, I was employed at very low pay for a long time when I first got out of the Air Force and filed chapter 7 discharge bankruptcy that was granted in 1988.
GRANVILLE: Never been involved in bankruptcy.
5. Have you ever been arrested for, charged with or convicted of drunken driving, any misdemeanor or any felony?
WHITEHEAD: I have never been charged with drunken driving or any felony.
WHITE: Yes. I’m human, I’ve made some bad decisions in life. I’ve never committed a felony. I’ve never committed any misdemeanor that would disqualify me from being a law enforcement officer in any state. I have never been denied a job requiring an extensive criminal background check. I hope people appreciate my frank honesty. In 1994, the DA dismissed a charge of battery when she determined the complainant was lying and no altercation occurred. I was never told their reason for making it up. In 1999, I plead guilty to a misdemeanor DWI that occurred on Sept. 10, 1998. My breath test was a .13 when .10 was the limit. In 2004, I had a misdemeanor reckless driving. I never rush anywhere now. If I’m late, I’m late. In 2009, at 2 in the morning, while I slept, I was accused of banging on a neighbor’s door. My boss would not give me time off to go to court, so I had to have a friend enter a no contest plea for me to Disturbing the Peace.
GRANVILLE: Never been arrested, charged or convicted of any misdemeanor or felony.