Ex-undersheriff found guilty

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By David Giuliani

A jury in Magistrate Court has found former Undersheriff Joe Robert Urban guilty of drunken driving.

It also found him guilty of negligent use of a deadly weapon and not staying in his lane of traffic.

Urban, 64, was arrested in February on Mountain View Drive after he allegedly crossed the double yellow lines. State police said Urban had a loaded .22-caliber Magnum handgun, which drew the negligent-use charge.

He had retired just months before his arrest.

Urban’s attorney, Anna Aragon, said her client plans to appeal the case to state District Court.

While she said Urban doesn’t dispute that he was intoxicated, she said the officer didn’t have “reasonable suspicion” to stop her client. She said the officer testified that Urban’s left rear tire touched the line but didn’t go over it.

“That’s not a traffic violation,” the attorney said. “His blood-alcohol was over the limit, but he should never have been stopped.”

Under state law, a person’s tire must go over the line to be stopped for a lane violation, Aragon said.

However, District Attorney Richard Flores said Urban had admitted he was at a local bar and had a few drinks. A 56-minute audio recording that was played to the jury captured Urban saying, “The bottom line is, I was drinking,” Flores said.

Evidence during the trial also showed that Urban tried to use his status as a retired officer to get special consideration and a break, Flores said.

The district attorney said Urban’s blood-alcohol level was .15, nearly twice the presumed level of intoxication.

Flores said officers weren’t above the law. He noted that his office has prosecuted several officers in recent years — city police Officer Shawn Montoya for embezzlement; San Miguel County sheriff’s Deputy Inez Bolivar for allegedly attacking a man while on duty, although a jury later found her not guilty; Guadalupe County Sheriff Robert Chavez for DWI; and Mora County Sheriff’s Deputy Lucas Marquez for acceptance of a bribe by a witness. All four are no longer working for those agencies.

When he was stopped, Urban told the state police officer, Janice Madrid, that he had had one too many drinks, saying he had drunk three beers at Leger’s bar on Seventh Street, which is near where he was stopped, according to a police report.

The officer asked for his driver’s license and vehicle information. Urban complied, also giving his retired San Miguel County law enforcement ID card, which the officer said she didn’t need, the report states.

The officer reported she noticed that Urban had to place his hand on his truck to maintain his balance when he got out. He also nearly fell down when he was doing one of his sobriety tests, documents state.

The state police said they treated Urban like any other DWI offender. But Magistrate Judge Chris Najar made the decision of releasing Urban to Sheriff Benjie Vigil, Urban’s former boss.

Najar, a former sheriff who had worked with Urban for nearly 10 years, said earlier this year that the main reason for his decision to release the former undersheriff was safety concerns. He said Urban likely transported a majority of the jail’s inmates at some point and that they may have targeted him behind bars.

Najar also said he was concerned for Urban’s health, saying the deputy had had medical problems that had kept him away from duty for months at a time.

Najar said he knew Urban would show up in court.

Urban’s arrest became an issue in the recent campaign for the Democratic nomination for sheriff.

In a forum, candidate Joseph Santillanes criticized Vigil for taking part in the arrangement in which Urban didn’t have to go to jail.

“I lost a little respect for you when that stuff happened,” Santillanes said.

Vigil edged out Santillanes in the June Democratic primary.

Urban’s listed phone number was out of service, so he couldn’t be reached for comment.