No jail for ex-deputy accused of DWI

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By David Giuliani

Most people go to jail after they’re arrested on suspicion of drunken driving.

Not former San Miguel County Undersheriff Joe Robert Urban, 63.

Urban, instead, was released to Sheriff Benjie Vigil, with whom he had worked a long time. Urban retired from the Sheriff’s Department a few months ago after more than a quarter century of service.

Shortly before 1 a.m. Saturday, a state police officer stopped Urban and a female passenger on Mountain View Drive in Las Vegas. According to a probable cause statement, the officer noticed that Urban, the driver of a Ford pickup truck, wasn’t staying in his lane, crossing the double yellow lines.

The officer, who reported that she detected an odor of alcohol in Urban’s truck, said in her statement that she 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, according to the probable cause statement.

The officer reported that 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 the sobriety tests, documents state.

Urban admitted that he had had one too many drinks, saying he had three beers at Legers bar on Seventh Street, which is near where he was stopped, police said.

When the officer asked Urban if he had any weapons, he told her he had a gun in his pocket, a loaded .22-caliber Magnum handgun, state police said. The officer took the weapon and put it in her squad car.

He was taken to Alta Vista Regional Hospital for a blood draw. Besides DWI, he was also charged with negligent use of a deadly weapon because it’s against the law to carry a gun when intoxicated.

“We treated him (Urban) like everyone else,” state police Lt. Craig Martin said Wednesday.

He said Magistrate Judge Chris Najar made the decision on releasing Urban to the sheriff.

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

He 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 the main reasons for setting bonds for suspects is to ensure the safety of victims and others and guarantee court appearances.

“I know he (Urban) will show up in court,” he said.

Najar said he realizes that “it will not look good no matter what we do” with Urban. He said that both he and Magistrate Judge Philip Romero, another former sheriff who worked with Urban, have excused themselves from handing the case.

Recently, the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Department received a storm of criticism after its handling of the arrest of an Albuquerque police sergeant on suspicion of drunken driving, according to news reports. The sergeant wasn’t booked into jail; instead, he was issued a summons to appear in court.

After the criticism, Bernalillo County Sheriff Manny Gonzales changed his department’s policy to require that DWI suspects go to jail, with exceptions for medical problems.

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