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Policeman accused of poaching

SANTA FE, N.M. — A Los Alamos police commander is facing poaching charges stemming from an incident involving his 12-year-old son that occurred in Otero County in October.

Preston H. Ballew, 36, was cited by a New Mexico Game and Fish officer on Oct. 7 and was charged with two counts of unlawful hunting – one for being in possession of a bull elk and the other for being an accessory to the killing of an elk – and one count of driving an ATV off-road.

A not guilty plea was entered in Alamogordo magistrate court on Thursday by his attorney, Gary Mitchell, a high-profile lawyer from Ruidoso, who called the charges against Ballew “silly.”

“This was during a youth hunt. There was no intent to do anyone any harm, and no attempt to violate any laws. Because of Preston’s employment, because of what he does, now they’re trying to ruin his career,” he said.

If convicted, Ballew would face a maximum sentence of one year in jail and a $2,000 fine as a first-time offender.

While the incident reportedly took place two months ago, a Fish and Game spokesperson said this week that officer Jason Kline’s report was still in draft form and wasn’t available for release. A Journal reporter was told that an Inspection of Public Records Request would be required in order to obtain it.

Efforts to reach Kline were unsuccessful.

“If they are drafting it now, I’d appreciate it if they send it,” said Mitchell, who noted that he hasn’t seen any additional information about the case from the prosecution. “I know our side; it would be nice to know their side.”

The criminal complaint was filed Nov. 22, nearly seven weeks after Ballew was cited.

Documents provided by magistrate court in Alamogordo indicate that Ballew’s son unlawfully shot the elk near mile marker 13 on NM 6563 south of Cloudcroft. Ballew then apparently gave his son a ride on an ATV off the road to retrieve it.

“Mr. Ballew did drive an ATV vehicle approximately 581 feet off road with a licensed hunter as a passenger,” according to the citation.

According to state law, “it is unlawful to drive or ride in a motor vehicle which is driven off an established road when the vehicle bears a licensed hunter, except to retrieve lawfully taken game in an area not closed to vehicular traffic …”

Mitchell said the law also states that game can’t be shot within 600 feet of a public road or structure.

“This is a situation where you have the excitement of a youth seeing an elk, and my client gets charged over a matter of a few feet,” he said. “I’ve been handling these kinds of cases with Game and Fish for 30 years, and I’ve never seen them act with any discretion or common sense with this stuff.”

Los Alamos Police Chief Dino Sgambellone said Ballew was still on duty and that an internal investigation would be conducted.

“That’s part of that process,” he said. “Because citations were issued, we will absolutely look into it.”

But Sgambellone said that investigation has yet to begin, because he hasn’t received the report from Game and Fish.

“Once we obtain the report, we’ll go from there,” he said. “It will be evaluated and I’ll make an appropriate decision on where we’re going to go. I’m not going to jump the gun and make decisions without all the information.”

Sgambellone, who has been on the job less than a month, said he did have a “discussion” with Ballew about the incident and that the commander “did what was appropriate in terms of notification.”

He said he believed Ballew has been employed by Los Alamos police six or seven years.

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