Sheriff, commissioner in dispute

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By David Giuliani

San Miguel County Commissioner Albert Padilla, who has voted for the sheriff’s proposals during previous commission meetings, changed his tune last week.  

In July, Sheriff Benjie Vigil gave Padilla’s son, Michael Padilla, a sheriff’s deputy, a letter of termination.

Last week, the commission was asked to consider a proposal from the sheriff to seek state money to buy new cars. Albert Padilla was the lone commissioner to vote against Sheriff Benjie Vigil’s request.

Padilla, who has served on the commission since 2007, questioned the need for so many sheriff’s cars, saying the department didn’t have the employees to fill them. He also wondered why Vigil wasn’t at the meeting.

Last month, Vigil gave then-Deputy Padilla a letter of termination, informing him that he would be let go in two weeks. But Michael Padilla immediately returned the letter to the sheriff, saying he would resign instead.

County Manager Les Montoya said that because Michael Padilla resigned before the two weeks lapsed, the deputy’s departure was considered a resignation, not a termination.

Because Padilla was considered a probationary employee — having been on the job less than a year — he didn’t need to be given a reason for a termination, officials said.

In interviews after the commission meeting, both Padillas said Vigil fired the younger one because the deputy supported Roy Pacheco for sheriff in the June Democratic primary. Vigil prevailed in that election, while Albert Padilla lost in his bid for re-election.

Michael Padilla said he made it clear from the beginning to the sheriff that he would be backing Pacheco, a former colleague at the Las Vegas Police Department.

However, Vigil said in an interview that Michael Padilla’s support for Pacheco had nothing to do with his decision to give him a letter of termination.

“(Michael Padilla’s backing of Pacheco) didn’t bother me as long as he did his job. He wasn’t doing his job,” Vigil said.

He said fired the deputy because he didn’t want to go into the county’s rural areas because there weren’t deputies available for backup.

“He said he wasn’t going to go out there and get killed,” the sheriff said.

Michael Padilla said he was concerned that the Sheriff’s Department’s radios didn’t work west of Romeroville, even though other agencies’ radios do. But he said that didn’t stop him from patrolling in the county’s rural areas. He said he worked with state police in the rural areas all the time.

He said the sheriff wasn’t telling the truth and that he shouldn’t be discussing personnel matters with the media.

“The sheriff is a difficult man. There was no communicating with him. I feel sorry for (County Manager) Les Montoya. He has to deal with (Vigil) on a daily basis,” Michael Padilla said.

The day after Albert Padilla’s no vote, the sheriff said his department badly needed new cars. Recently, four of the department’s vehicles — models from 2001 to 2006 — broke down, Vigil said. He said he hoped the money from the state would allow him to buy two or three cars.

“We service the cars we have all the time. That’s why they’ve lasted a long time,” said Vigil, who faces independent candidate Rick Giron in the November general election.

Earlier this year, Michael Padilla sued the city of Las Vegas and its chief of police for allegedly violating his rights to family leave.

Michael Padilla, who was fired from the Police Department in May 2009, claimed the city harassed him while he was taking leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act. He was taking the leave to help his wife, who had undergone surgery and was recovering, the lawsuit said.

An attorney for the city said the lawsuit didn’t provide any details to support Padilla’s allegations.