SANTA FE, N.M. — Prosecution of at least a few serious criminal cases in Rio Arriba County is in jeopardy because the law enforcement certification of a sergeant involved in the investigations is in doubt.
Sheriff’s Sgt. Vince Crespin has been arresting people, even though his law enforcement certification was suspended in August.
The suspension by the state Law Enforcement Academy Board remains in effect, according to a spokesman for the agency. But Rio Arriba Sheriff Tommy Rodella believed Crespin could continue working as a full-fledged officer while he appealed the suspension in court, Rodella’s spokesman says.
Defense attorneys — whose clients are charged in separate cases that include a drive-by shooting, burglary and DWI — are licking their chops at the prospect their clients may get off because the charging officer had no authority to make arrests.
“I’ll be looking into it with a real fine-tooth comb,” said Albuquerque attorney Benny Naranjo, whose client, Geraldine Shaw, was arraigned Tuesday on several felony charges from an alleged drive-by shooting.
The District Attorney’s Office acknowledges that Crespin’s recent cases may be in trouble.
“There’s the potential that charges might have to be dismissed based upon this evidence,” said Chief Deputy District Attorney Dorie Biagianti Smith, who oversees cases out of Rio Arriba County.
Smith said that she will need to research whether the sergeant’s involvement is “fatal” to the cases.
Sheriff’s Office spokesman Jake Arnold said Sheriff Rodella attempted “several times” to get information from the Law Enforcement Academy Board about Crespin’s status but never heard back.
Arnold also believes that the board reacted “hastily” in disciplining the sergeant to begin with, considering that the criminal case against Crespin that spawned everything was dropped.
Crespin had been charged in an alleged embezzlement scheme involving overpayments to Crespin, then working for the Española Police Department, and another officer. His charges were dismissed in July. His lawyer said Crespin didn’t know about being overpaid and reimbursed the city once the mistake was discovered.
Crespin was fired from the Española Police Department in the fall of 2009, around the time that he was accused in that case. He was hired by the Rio Arriba County Sheriff’s Office in August, about a month after the criminal charges against him were dropped.
Even though the criminal case against Crespin went away, that didn’t prevent the Law Enforcement Academy Board from taking its own disciplinary action. On Aug. 3, the board suspended Crespin’s law enforcement certification for 120 days and he was put on a one-year probationary term.
No arrests allowed
A suspension of law enforcement certification means that an officer is limited in what he or she is allowed to do while on duty. The officer can perform administrative duties and provide some assistance in investigations. But arrests are a no-no.
“No gun. No badge. No arrests. Nada,” said State Police Lt. Tim Johnson, the agency’s public information officer. “The board sees a suspension as a suspension.”
But Crespin has continued performing regular duties.
Crespin was the arresting officer in an August drive-by shooting. Geraldine Shaw faces charges that she opened fire in front of a house in La Villita, in the Alcalde area. A man was wounded.
Crespin arrested Shaw and signed off on her criminal complaint. He also testified at a grand jury proceeding, after which Shaw was indicted. She was arraigned in state District Court in Tierra Amarilla on Tuesday on several charges that include shooting at or from a motor vehicle and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.
Naranjo, Shaw’s attorney, said he plans to research whether Crespin’s involvement warrants dismissal of charges. “I don’t know what the legal implications might be,” he said. “But, of course, I’ll be looking into it.”
An attorney in a DWI case where Crespin also made the arrest is already taking action. Santa Fe attorney Elden Pennington made an oral motion in Española Magistrate Court on Tuesday, seeking dismissal of charges against his client, Nick Apodaca, based on Crespin’s law enforcement certification suspension.
Crespin arrested Apodaca at Española Hospital on Sept. 11, after the deputy suspected that he was involved in an alcohol-related motorcycle crash. Pennington’s motion to dismiss Apodaca’s charges — DWI, failure to give immediate notice of an accident and careless driving — is pending. Pennington declined to comment Wednesday.
The Journal was also able to confirm a third case where Crespin was involved — burglary and tampering with evidence charges against Pat Ulibarri, based on a criminal complaint that Crespin filed in magistrate court on Sept. 27.
Arnold said that Sheriff Rodella will look into how many other cases Crespin may have had a part in.
Suspension on appeal
Arnold said that the sheriff’s office’s position is that when Crespin appealed the Law Enforcement Academy Board’s decision to state District Court, that gave him a “stay” of discipline pending resolution of the appeal — meaning that Crespin could still perform all his regular duties. “That may not be an accurate decision, but that’s up to the judge to decide,” Arnold said.
But Johnson of the State Police said there has to be an order from the judge for a stay of the suspension.
Johnson compared the situation to a criminal case. “If someone is convicted of a crime and is in prison,” he said, “you don’t get to get out of prison because of an appeal.”