Was the fight between Mora County Sheriff Thomas Garza and then-deputy Lee Allingham a case of misuse of authority or blatant insubordination?
That’s something that District Attorney Richard Flores and his office are going to have to figure out as they consider the possibility of filing charges.
One thing seems clear, however, at least to us: The sheriff took more than one misstep in his efforts to address the confrontation that occurred after a suspected DWI traffic stop early last month.
According to a state police investigation, here’s what happened: In the evening of April 7, Patrick Trujillo of Chacon was pulled over for a suspected DWI. Sheriff Garza was notified of the traffic stop and asked to meet with the deputies involved. But he also met privately with Trujillo, before allegedly telling the deputies that Trujillo’s family was there to pick him up and ordering his release.
Meeting privately with Trujillo, then ordering his release — that, we say, was his first obvious mistake.
The verbal altercation between Garza and Allingham was recorded, and it isn’t pretty. In fact, the argument apparently developed into a physical scuffle, with Allingham clearly in defiance of his superior’s orders, and Garza saying “I can do what I want” and ordering Trujillo’s release.
That was another mistake. Being sheriff doesn’t mean he can do what he wants. Later, he told the Optic that he wasn’t intending to release Trujillo, that he said that in the heat of the moment. It didn’t sound that way on tape.
Garza also said, to a state police investigator, that Allingham was having a “mental meltdown” and that the sheriff feared for his life. Indeed, the deputy does sound quite agitated, but we’re not so sure Garza did anything to calm things down. If anything, his own behavior escalated the tensions.
Eventually, Allingham called Magistrate Judge John Sanchez, who reportedly told him that the sheriff has a right to review his work and that Allingham should not be making threats. The judge also said Trujillo should be processed for the suspected DWI.
In the end, we suspect blame may come down on both sides. Moreover, aside from the unprofessional behavior that was displayed, the entire incident begs the question: And just how are suspected DWIs being handled in Mora County?