ESPAÑOLA, N.M. (AP) - A New Mexico sheriff showed up drunk to a SWAT standoff, tried to order officers away, then ignored commands to leave the “kill zone,” a criminal complaint said.
According to the complaint filed Thursday, an armed Arriba County Sheriff James Lujan, in plain clothes, attempted to take over the scene involving a barricaded man in Española on Saturday.
Española Police Chief Richard Jimenez wrote that officers reported Lujan smelled of alcohol and ignored commands to leave the “kill zone” in front of the house of the barricaded man. The suspect, Phillip Chacon, was wanted in the beating and stabbing of another man.
“I immediately smelled a strong odor of alcohol emitting from the sheriff’s breath and person,” Jimenez wrote in the complaint. “He was also chewing gum frantically, but it was not masking the odor of alcohol.”
Lapel video from officers showed Lujan ordering Española police from the scene and demanding one officer give him her handcuffs, Jimenez said.
When Jimenez asked Lujan why he was there, he said, “This is my country!” the complaint said.
Lujan then walked into the line of fire known as the “kill zone” to knock on the door of the house and ignored officers’ shouts to leave the area, according to the chief.
Lujan told the chief he was communicating with Chacon and showed him two text messages he claimed were from the man saying he was no longer at the house.
Jimenez said he believes this was another attempt by Lujan to get officers to leave the scene by making them believe Chacon was no longer there.
Chacon eventually surrendered and was arrested. He was charged with aggravated battery, negligent use of a deadly weapon and receiving stolen property. He was ordered held without bond.
No attorney was listed for Chacon on online records.
Lujan told the Santa Fe New Mexican that the accusations in the criminal complaint are false.
“The only thing I was concerned about was the safety of Mr. Chacon and everybody else, and if it was that much of a deal, I wouldn’t have gone there,” Lujan told the newspaper. “I know he wouldn’t have hurt anybody. I know he has problems and issues.”
Lujan was charged with resisting, evading or obstructing an officer.
Lujan previously faced allegations that he helped Chacon flee the state to avoid arrest, according to the complaint.
“Because of this information it is obvious by Sheriff Lujan’s actions he was attempting to do the same in this case,” the complaint states. “By distracting the officers in the inner perimeter, possibly giving Mr. Chacon an opportunity to flee.”
Lujan said this statement is also untrue and that he has a professional relationship with Chacon from interacting with him in the community.
This is not the first time a Rio Arriba County sheriff has faced problems with the law.
Former Rio Arriba County Sheriff Thomas Rodella was convicted of brandishing a firearm and deprivation of rights. According to prosecutors, Rodella pulled a gun on motorist Michael Tafoya, then 26, and struck him in the face with his badge during the 2014 traffic stop because Tafoya cut him off in traffic.
Rodella was sentenced in 2015 to 10 years. He’s currently at a federal prison in Seagoville, Texas.
Copyright © 2022 The Washington Times, LLC.