ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The rape case against former Jemez Police Chief Shane Harger has been dismissed, but a special prosecutor plans to refile charges.
The effort to dismiss the case reveals details of the January 2013 night Harger is accused of raping a 19-year-old Los Alamos woman traveling through his jurisdiction in Jemez.
The dismissing court documents also show mistakes made by the 13th District Court prosecutors in pursuing the August 2014 indictment of Harger.
Before being charged in the rape case, Harger had a role in a web of at least three law enforcement scandals, earning him a spot as a darling among anti-federal government groups who say the federal government is targeting him for participating in a meeting of sheriff’s who vow to strictly follow the federal constitution and who oppose federal overreach.
Harger was charged with criminal sexual contact and penetration, kidnapping and extortion, but little detail was initially released about what prompted the charges.
But details of the night were made public in court filing by Harger’s defense attorneys Ray Twohig and Lisa Torraco.
They show prosecutors allege Harger was using a confidential drug informant who told him a vehicle heading into his village of Jemez had heroin in it.
Harger and one other officer stopped the vehicle after they said it was speeding and brought all four occupants out at gunpoint. The documents say Harger eventually found a very small amount of heroin in the vehicle.
A woman in the vehicle later told investigators that Harger said because there were no female officers on the Jemez force available, he would have to search her.
He took her into the Jemez police office, had her privately strip down in the bathroom, cough several times and then redress.
He then looked for items on the bathroom floor before returning her to the scene of the arrest.
There, she told an investigator, he later checked her again, this time putting a gloved hand down her pants and inside her and then checking inside her bra. It is these actions that prosecutors say garner the criminal sexual contact and penetration charges.
The investigator, State Police Sgt. Rich Williamson, testified to the woman’s and the other officer’s statements before the grand jury that indicted Harger in August 2014.
But Harger, by right, asked the grand jury be provided access directly to the young woman and the other officer, not just Williamson’s testimony about what the two said to him, and to have access to audio recording from the night.
Assistant District Attorney Barbara Romo provided the grand jury with Harger’s request and told them that if they wanted to hear from the witnesses or to hear audio recording to let her know.
But, she wasn’t clear about how the jurors should let her know, saying a majority of the 12 jurors — which she said was eight — had to decide they wanted to look at the evidence and then they might have to come back an extra day to hear it.
Defense attorneys argued that even if just one juror said they wanted the evidence, they could have had it. And the idea of having to come back for another day might have dissuaded the jurors from wanting to hear from the witnesses. They argued that Romo was so confusing in her language that jurors were basically denied access to the evidence.
Judge George Eichwald ruled that Romo wasn’t confusing on purpose, but she was so unclear and incorrect about how jurors should let her know and how they had to go about deciding to look at the evidence, that the case should be dismissed.
Also, Romo allowed an extra person on her side into the grand jury room who by statue shouldn’t have been in the room, according to the order to dismiss the case signed by Eichwald Tuesday.
Mark Drebbing, a special prosecutor assigned to the case in August, about one year into the prosecution of the case, by 13th District Attorney Lemuel Martinez, said the errors are procedural errors and aren’t about the substance of the case.
He said he plans to refile the case as soon as he gets a few more investigative details from the state police, who are handling the investigation.
WEB OF SCANDALS
Harger surfaces in at least three law enforcement scandals in New Mexico in the last eight years.
In 2007, Harger, then a Valencia County sheriff’s deputy, was the first responder to the death of Tera Chavez, then wife of an Albuquerque police officer. That officer, Levi Chavez, said she killed herself, but Harger reported he thought it was not a suicide.
Chavez was eventually put on trial for her murder. He was acquitted and is now attending law school at the University of New Mexico.
Shortly after responding to Tera Chavez’s death, he was offered a job the Guadalupe County Sheriff’s Department. There, he told the Journal in 2011, that he uncovered a police-run auto-theft ring but was told he’d keep his job if he kept it quiet and didn’t cause trouble for Levi Chavez in his wife’s death investigation.
Harger left the post in 2008 in fear for his and his family’s safety.
Harger then went on to get a job as the police chief in Jemez.
In January 2014, the Transportation Safety Administration stopped Harger at the Albuquerque Sunport because he had at least two driver’s licenses with two different names. At the time, he told TSA and airport police he was in law enforcement and had worked undercover at times and the IDs were from that time, in addition to having a second ID because he had been involved in an investigation that had endangered him and his family.
He was fired one month after the TSA incident, though the Jemez Springs Village Council said the firing was not related to the TSA incident or the double driver’s licences but would not comment further.
The TSA incident happened while Harger was on his way to a meeting for the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, a group of law enforcement officers who vow to strictly follow the federal constitution in preventing federal overreach into citizens’ lives.
Shortly after the TSA incident and subsequent firing, strict constitutionalist activists sought Harger for interviews, some calling him a “target of tyranny” and targeted for his political beliefs.
In the time since then, Harger has appeared in at least four interviews with activists, including Alex Jones of infowars.com, a radio and internet broadcast from a constitutionalist and conservative libertarian perspective.
Harger also travelled to the Bundy Ranch incident in Nevada in 2014 in which groups of people, many of them armed, gathered to support, and some say protect, Cliven Bundy against action by the federal Bureau of Land Management trying to get Bundy to pay grazing fees or face confiscation of his cattle.