Rio Arriba County Sheriff James Lujan is on trial for the second time this year on charges that he helped a friend evade arrest in 2017 and pressured a deputy to keep the matter under wraps.
Lujan’s first trial, in Tierra Amarilla, ended in a mistrial in June after a jury failed to reach a unanimous verdict.
This trial is being held in Santa Fe after Judge Kathleen McGarry granted a change of venue, holding that it was “utterly inappropriate” that the sheriff’s supporters had organized a cookout in the courthouse parking lot during the first trial.
Both sides presented their opening statements in the case Monday.
Special prosecutor Andrea Rowley Reeb told the 1st Judicial District Court jury that Lujan misused his authority as a law officer to help a friend and “thwart the law.”
Lujan “is an elected official who used his power and ability to determine whether his friend, Phillip Chacon, would be arrested that night,” she told jurors.
Lujan faces a felony charge of harboring a felon for allegedly helping conceal Chacon on March 14, 2017, as police actively sought the former Española city councilor on a warrant for aggravated fleeing from law officers after a chase through Española.
The sheriff also faces a felony charge of bribery of a witness for allegedly threatening one of his deputies, Cody Lattin, to prevent him from revealing Chacon’s whereabouts to other officers.
But Lujan’s attorney, Jason Bowles, countered that the sheriff didn’t know that night that Chacon was being sought by Española police on a warrant for aggravated fleeing.
“For the government to prove their case that James Lujan did anything wrong, criminally, he had to have known at that moment that Chacon is committing, or has committed, aggravated fleeing,” Bowles told jurors.
Bowles also said that Lujan and his deputy served Chacon with a restraining order issued that day to prevent contact between Chacon and his wife. Lujan’s intent that evening was getting Chacon out of his house, as required by the restraining order, he told jurors.
Lujan faces another trial in Santa Fe, scheduled for Jan. 10, in a case that also involves Chacon.
In that case, he is charged with a single count of resisting, evading or obstructing an officer for interfering with Española police who were attempting to execute a search warrant at Chacon’s home, according to court records.