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Sheriff Garza should go

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By Optic Editorial Board

Mora County Sheriff Thomas Garza is doing a disservice to his community by remaining in office. Not only are questions still lingering about the altercation he and then-deputy Lee Allingham had last year over a suspected DWI case, but now Garza has the state Attorney General’s office coming after him — with felony charges, no less.

Let’s start with a quick review of the DWI incident, to put these latest allegations into context. This past April, Allingham and Garza got into a heated argument — which another deputy at the time, Stephen Mora, recorded on his iPhone — over Garza’s intervention in a DWI arrest that Allingham was making. Allingham accused the sheriff of trying to let the suspect walk, even though he reportedly had a breath-alcohol content that was twice the presumed level of intoxication. In the heat of the moment, Garza declared, “I am the one with the final decision here. I can do what I want. ... If I want to release him, I’ll release him.”

After that, the AG’s office began looking into the incident and determined that no criminal prosecution against Garza was warranted. The state Law Enforcement Academy board, however, voted to suspend Garza’s law enforcement certification for 120 days and placed him on probation for a year. The suspension, which ended last fall, barred the sheriff from doing any police work, but allowed him to carry out the administrative duties of his office.

So for about three months, Mora County had a sheriff who couldn’t make arrests.

The incident over the alleged DWI driver also led to a lawsuit by a Mora County resident who was injured, she says, by another drunken driver. She’s alleging that Garza’s failure to hold DWI drivers accountable led to her accident, and that he let the intoxicated driver who injured her off the hook.

The DWI suspect that Allingham argued with Garza about was later charged. Moreover, Allingham and Deputy Mora were later fired by Garza.

But the latest consequence to that DWI-related incident is this: As AG Gary King’s investigators were looking into that case, they discovered something else — an earlier incident in which Garza allegedly instructed then-deputies Allingham and Mora to falsify an official report about a burglary and the theft of about 20 guns. According to the AG’s office, Garza had located the firearms through someone who had helped hide the guns but wanted immunity from prosecution if he told the sheriff where they were. The deputies told the AG’s investigators that Garza wanted to keep the case in Mora Magistrate Court, where his wife works, but knew it would be moved if they reported the sheriff’s involvement, so he told the deputies to leave his involvement out.

The AG’s office has charged Garza with tampering with public records and criminal solicitation — fourth degree felonies.

This has gone far enough. For the good of Mora County, Garza needs to resign as sheriff.