Sheriff planning for Tasers

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By David Giuliani

San Miguel County Sheriff Benjie Vigil says he doesn’t need the County Commission’s permission to use Tasers.

He announced last week that his department will start carrying the electroshock weapon in early June.

That took county officials by surprise.

Previously, the commission had taken up the issue of whether the sheriff should be allowed to carry Tasers. At one point, county officials asked Vigil to come up with a policy.

“He doesn’t have a policy in place that I’m aware of for the use of Tasers,” County Manager Les Montoya said Monday.

He also said the sheriff hadn’t informed the commission of his intent to carry the weapons. The county would need to inform its insurance carrier about the new development, he said.

“We’ll look at our options as far as what Benjie is planning,” Montoya said.

In a forum for sheriff’s candidates last week, Vigil announced that his department will start using Tasers after June 1.

“You are the first to know,” the sheriff told the audience.

He said he had been advised by attorneys and the sheriff’s association that the commission’s only power is over his department’s purse strings. He said the Santa Fe Sheriff’s Department would be donating Tasers to his office and train his deputies.

County Commission Chairman David Salazar acknowledged that commissioners didn’t have the power to tell the sheriff how to run his department.

“A lot of people don’t want the Tasers. If Sheriff Vigil decided he’s going to use the Tasers against the wishes of the public, that’s his call,” Salazar said.

But the chairman said the county can require the sheriff to have a policy for the use of Tasers.

Pat Leahan of the Las Vegas Peace and Justice Center, which has cautioned about the harmful effects of Tasers, said sheriffs traditionally have a level of independence. But she said research mounts daily on the drawbacks of Tasers.

“If the sheriff says he’s already understaffed, I don’t see how he could keep up with all of the new research, the changes in policy and the training bulletins,” Leahan said.

Leahan said that if the county get sued over the sheriff’s use of Tasers, the taxpayers will bear the burden.

Vigil didn’t respond to a call for comment on Monday.

During the candidates forum, one of Democratic Vigil’s rivals, Joseph Santillanes, said he doesn’t like Tasers because he’s seen them used improperly many times, while independent candidate Rick Giron wants to ban their use.

Democratic candidate, Roy Pacheco, said the weapons can help but that the Sheriff’s Department is not ready for them because it’s still largely an inmate transport agency. Two other Democratic candidates, Clarence Romero and Ben J. Lujan, favored Tasers.