Ten months ago, during a heated altercation with one of his deputies, Mora Sheriff Thomas Garza proclaimed that he was the sheriff and as such “I can do what I want.”
Last week, the state Attorney General’s Office fired back a message of its own, charging the sheriff with two fourth- degree felonies.
But in another bizarre twist, the charges aren’t related to the April 7 quarrel between Garza and then-deputy Lee Allingham over Garza’s insistence that a DWI suspect be released.
Despite early indications from state police that Garza might be charged with battery on a peace officer over that incident, Attorney General Gary King’s office determined that no criminal prosecution is warranted in that matter.
But while the AG’s office was investigating that case, it learned of a March 29 incident in which Garza allegedly instructed Allingham and then-Deputy Stephen Mora to lie in their official reports about how they came across evidence in another case.
The AG’s office has charged Garza, 44, with tampering with public records and criminal solicitation in that case. The criminal complaint and probable cause statement were filed Wednesday in state District Court.
The case has been assigned to Judge Abigail Aragon. Online court records indicate that Garza has yet to appear in court on the charges.
The Optic was unable to reach Garza for comment on Sunday.
The criminal charges against Garza stem from a burglary case. Roughly 20 firearms were stolen last March. There were initially no suspects in the case and no lead on where the firearms might be, Allingham told a special agent with the Attorney General’s Office during a June interview.
But Allingham and Deputy Mora told the investigator that Garza began getting information about the case and took the lead in tracking down suspects and was also instrumental in finding the firearms. But deputies said they were told to leave out Garza’s involvement in the case because Garza’s wife works for the Mora Magistrate Court, and she wouldn’t be able to handle the case, according to a court document. Garza’s wife, Cindy, is a clerk at Mora Magistrate Court.
Deputy Mora told investigators that Garza wanted the case to remain in Mora County.
That same deputy also states that Garza told an individual who claimed he didn’t steal the guns but helped hide them that if he gave the sheriff the weapons the sheriff would let him go.
“(Deputy) Mora stated that after recovering the stolen firearms and returning to the office, he was told by Sheriff Garza not to put anything in his report about questioning anybody but to write that they had been looking for ... a missing person,” according to the probable cause statement. “Mora stated that they were not looking for a missing person but that they had in fact gone out to look for the firearms. Mora said that Sheriff Garza justified falsifying the report to protect (the man who led them to the weapons).”
Allingham told the investigator that Garza instructed him to write in his report that Deputy Mora had been looking for a missing man when he stumbled upon the missing firearms.
Allingham also reported that Garza instructed him not to mention Garza’s name in the probable cause statement.
Allingham told the investigator that he did, in fact, mention Garza’s name in the statement because of his active involvement in the investigation. Allingham also reported that he also submitted a report after he was fired, stating that Garza would need to write a report to cover how Eugene Medina was determined to be a suspect and how the guns were recovered.
Besides instructing deputies to misrepresent how the case was built, authorities allege that Garza added handwritten statements to Mora’s report and that Garza had Mora make changes to the report and resubmit it.
Mora told an investigator that what was written in the report isn’t what actually occurred.
The investigator also spoke with the man who led authorities to the guns, and he corroborated that the sheriff and Deputy Mora showed up at his house asking him questions about a burglary and the guns that were stolen. He told the investigator that he pointed out areas where the guns might be.
Both Allingham and Deputy Mora were fired by Garza.
Allingham was fired on April 7, following a heated quarrel between the two. Allingham accused Garza of intervening in a DWI case in an effort to let the suspect walk. The suspect had a breath alcohol content that was about twice the state’s presumed level of intoxication, and he was eventually charged.
Part of the altercation between Garza and Allingham was recorded by Deputy Mora.
Captured on that recording is the sheriff saying he can do whatever he wants and ordering one of his deputies to let the suspect go.
Garza has previously said he had no intention of letting the suspect go, but merely made those statements in the heat of the moment because he was being challenged by a subordinate.
Mora was fired in May.
The state Law Enforcement Academy board voted in July to suspend Garza’s law enforcement certification for 120 days and to place him on probation for a year. The suspension barred Garza from doing any police work, but didn’t prevent him from carrying out the administrative duties of his office.
It’s unclear whether the Law Enforcement Academy board will take any additional action against Garza now that he is facing criminal charges.
The incident over the alleged DWI driver has also resulted in a lawsuit against Garza, Mora County and another man.
Josephine Torres, who lives in Mora County, filed suit after she was injured by what she contends was another drunk driver. Her suit alleges that Garza’s failure to hold DWI drivers accountable led to her accident. It also alleges that Garza let the intoxicated driver who injured her off the hook.
In another bizarre twist, during the course of the investigation into the altercation between Allingham and Garza, authorities discovered that another Mora County sheriff’s deputy, Mathew Borrego, stole a pair of women’s underwear while responding to a call at a residence.
Borrego was charged with a petty misdemeanor count of larceny under $250. He pleaded no contest to the charge and received a deferred sentence.