Friday, January 19, 2007
APS Police Chief Cited
By Colleen Heild
Copyright © 2007 Albuquerque Journal; Journal Investigative Reporter
Albuquerque Public Schools police chief Gil Lovato was cited for driving with an open container of alcohol in his car after being stopped by a Bernalillo County sheriff's deputy in 2001.
Lovato, who would not comment on the incident when reached by telephone Thursday, has headed the APS police department since 1990.
He is on paid leave pending an internal inquiry into issues involving oversight and management of the school police department. The inquiry by the APS internal auditor began Jan. 5.
A Metro Court report obtained by the Journal shows Lovato was stopped by then-sheriff's deputy Aaron Hagel at 8:40 p.m. on Sept. 22, 2001.
He was alone at the time, a few blocks from La Cueva High School and nearly 14 miles from his home in southwest Albuquerque.
The Metro Court case file has been destroyed as part of a routine purge of old files, but a copy of the citation obtained by the Journal states that Lovato's Ford Explorer, which was listed as his vehicle and not an APS car, was stopped for "driving around barricades."
The citation further states the sheriff's deputy noticed an "open spilled cup of beer on seat."
There are no sheriff's incident reports on the traffic stop, and Hagel didn't respond to a Journal e-mail asking whether Lovato was given a field sobriety test.
Hagel is no longer with the sheriff's department. He was fired in July for allegedly consuming beer, codeine and barbiturates in his squad car. Hagel awaits trial on charges of DWI, open container and careless driving.
The ticket Lovato received stated he agreed to appear in court on Oct. 3, 2001. But a summary of the case on the Metro Court Web site states Lovato pleaded guilty Sept. 24 the next business day after being cited.
The Web site record states there was "no appearance" which spokeswoman Janet Blair said means Lovato went to the clerk's counter and paid a $25 fine and $43 in court costs and fees.
According to MVD policy, the conviction would have remained on his driving record for three years.
Michael Vigil, the former associate superintendent and chief business officer who was Lovato's immediate supervisor in 2001, said in an interview this week that he had never heard about the open container charge.
Vigil said there was no requirement in APS rules that Lovato report the incident to superiors but said he considers that kind of infraction "serious" enough to have warranted an administrative inquiry.
Had he known about the citation back then, Vigil said, "we would have called the employee in ... and I'd say I want to see the whole report, I want to talk to the cop (who made the stop)."
Vigil said "administratively, you can do a lot more. Without violating anybody's rights, I had the right to gather information and I would gather that information and make a determination."
Vigil left APS in June 2006 after pleading no contest to DWI charges.
Superintendent Beth Everitt said Thursday evening she wasn't aware of the open container citation.
"Anytime someone is misusing alcohol, I would be concerned about it," Everitt said.
If such an incident were to occur today, Everitt said, "Certainly (with) upper administration, director level people, we would certainly address it with that individual."
As to whether she would talk to Lovato about it, Everitt said, "He is on leave for allegations that we are investigating and that's what we are doing first."
School board member Robert Lucero was an outspoken critic of Vigil after his DWI arrest, and wished him "good riddance" when he left the district.
"When you get a DWI, it sets a bad example for the district," Lucero said at the time.
Lucero, reached Thursday evening, said Lovato's citation was news to him.
"I would be real shocked, knowing Gil's history and him being a law enforcement officer and everything else."
Lovato was hired at APS after retiring from Albuquerque Police Department as a captain.
History of problems
Brad Allison was APS superintendent at the time of Lovato's traffic stop and admitted to having a drinking problem before being forced out of his job in 2002.
APS has dealt with other high-profile employees and alcohol problems since then.
Allison's successor, Joseph Vigil, was killed in a crash near Moriarty in July 2003. A friend who had been drinking was at the wheel.
Michael Vigil served briefly as a co-superintendent with Joseph Vigil and Everitt.
Michael Vigil fought to keep his job after his arrest as a suspected drunk driver in 2005.
Albuquerque police said Michael Vigil, who refused a breath test, told officers he "needed to call 'his' chief of police, Gil Lovato" when he was pulled over on Interstate 25. He also asked to speak to the district attorney and chief of police.
Vigil left APS last year after Everitt announced that his contract would not be renewed.