T or C police news roundup

by Kathleen Sloan | June 1, 2021
7 min read
T or C police headquarters: Should the city commission's authority to approve or veto law enforcement policies be repealed? Photograph by Deserted Dave/Google

Municipal code gives the Truth or Consequences city commission oversight authority over police policy and police conduct, a check and balance some would deem good to have in place in a post-George Floyd world.

Commissioner Randall Aragon, who was formerly T or C’s chief of police, questioned the wisdom of that code and suggested it needs to be repealed at the last city commission meeting.

During the May 26 session commissioners also approved a new taser policy, were briefed on the selection process for the new police chief and discussed in closed session possible litigation involving two police officers.

Referring to the commission’s authority to approve or veto T or C’s law enforcement policies, Commissioner Aragon said: “I have never seen it done in my 29 years of experience [as a police officer and chief of police in various U.S. cities].” “We should not be micromanaging by approving police department rules and procedures or for any other department, for that matter.”

Aragon headed the police department here from July 2018 to September 2019, when he was dismissed by previous City Manager Morris Madrid for reasons never made public.

While chief, Aragon said he discussed repealing the code with City Attorney Jaime “Jay” Rubin, who, Aragon said, had agreed with him. “Remember that?” Aragon asked.

“I did agree with you,” Attorney Rubin said, suggesting the local law should be reviewed “in the future.”

Aragon requested that Rubin research whether “other cities” give such authority to their commissioners. He acknowledged that repealing the code was not the most pressing item on the commission’s to-do list. “We have other things to work on,” he said.

The city code in question is:

Chapter 10, Section 10-4: The Chief of the Police Department may make or prescribe such rules and regulations as he shall deem advisable. Such rules, when approved by the Governing Body [i.e., the city commission], shall be binding on such members. Such rules and regulations may cover, besides the conduct of the members, uniforms and equipment to be worn or carried, hours of service, vacations, and all other similar matters necessary or desirable for the better efficiency of the Department.


The issue of whether the city commission appropriately has police oversight came up after Deputy Chief of Police Erica Baker—acting as chief since Mike Apodaca retired about a month ago—presented a proposed change to the department policy on tasers, which she said are now termed “conductive energy weapons.”

The old taser policy was not included in the agenda packet. Baker handed hard copies to city commissioners on the dais before her presentation, “so you can compare it to the new policy.”

The old policy had to be changed in part because of changes in technology and terminology, Baker said.

It was “vague” and “left a lot of gray area” open to an officer’s interpretation, Baker told the Sun on May 27, the day after the commission meeting. The new policy clarifies what constitutes proper use of a CEW. “I wanted it to be detailed, so there would be no room for questioning,” the deputy chief said.

The weapon’s use to correct unruly but non-threatening behavior is now prohibited. “Before 2011, when I joined the city police department,” Baker said during the Sun’s interview, tasers were “used punitively.” She recalled an incident in which an officer repeatedly tasered an elderly man handcuffed to a wheelchair because he had verbally abused hospital staff as he awaited examination.  

“It is only to be used if severe injury from a subject is possible,” Baker told the city commission. “It is never to be used as a punitive measure.”

The old taser policy allowed officers to “push the weapon against the subject’s body,” while activating the electric charge, “which I strongly do not recommend,” Baker said to the commissioners. Only if the CEW’s pronged electric cables, which are about 15 feet long, “get tangled up,” leaving an officer vulnerable, may the officer press the CEW head directly on the subject’s body.

With no further discussion, the city commission unanimously approved the new CEW policy.

The Sun called officials with Silver City and Tucumcari to inquire if their city councils approve city police department rules and procedures.

Silver City Personnel Officer Celia Dominguez said the city council does not, but the city manager must approve policies before they are instituted.

Tucumcari Chief of Police David Laphrom expressed opposition to authorizing city councils to approve police policies. “They are not qualified,” he said. “If you need a contract drawn up, you don’t tell a lawyer how to do it.”

To ensure that any new policies that he drafts can withstand legal scrutiny, Laphrom said he researches model policies offered by national police organizations and the American Civil Liberties Union, as well as reviewing pertinent appellate and supreme court decisions.

The Cato Institute, a 40-year-old public policy think tank whose mission is to “advance solutions based on the principal of individual liberty, limited government, free markets and peace,” has written many position papers on police practices.

Clark Neily, Cato’s senior vice president for legal studies, spoke with the Sun on May 28.

“There are different ways to address accountability and chain of command, but the idea it is exceptional or unwise for a democratic body to have oversight over a police department is fallacious,” Neily said. “The city council approves the police department budget. The idea that it should be up to the police department to decide weapons and surveillance packages and to answer to no democratic body is just preposterous.”

Asked if the city commission should approve police policies, Deputy Chief Erica Baker said: “I really don’t have an opinion on it. I think it’s good to keep them informed about what is going on.”


City Manager Bruce Swingle informed the city commission during the “reports” section of the May 26 meeting how the new chief of police will be selected.

Swingle said he has assembled a selection committee whose members include past City Commissioner Rolf Hechler, who has law enforcement experience; Assistant District Attorney Virginia Hicks; and State Police Captain Robert Alguire. Swingle, who was once a sheriff’s deputy, will also serve on the committee.

T or C has received applications from nine candidates, Swingle said, and the selection committee has narrowed the pool to four contenders, who have been asked to answer in writing questions designed to probe their “command level leadership” experience and philosophy, as well as their opinions on community policing.

“We will do virtual interviews next week,” Swingle said, adding that he would report on the top candidate at the next commission meeting.

City code gives the city manager the authority to hire and fire the chief of police:

Chapter 10, Sec. 2-166. Appointment. There is hereby created the office of Chief of Police, an executive office of the City. The Chief of Police shall be appointed by the Manager, and he/she shall hold office for the duration of his/her appointment or until such time as he/she may be removed by the Manager. The Chief of Police holds office at the pleasure of the City Manager and may be removed by the City Manager without the City Manager having to provide notice and hearing prior to removal.


The agenda for the closed-session portion of the May 26 commission meeting included discussion of the following item:

2. Threatened & Pending Litigation (Erica Baker & Michael Lanford) pursuant to 10-15-1(H.7).

The details provided represent an increase in transparency compared to closed-session agenda items presented for public information during the past two years the Sun has covered city commission meetings. Until now, the agenda merely stated the Open Meetings Act statute number and title without providing specifics of who or what.

Erica Baker is T or C’s acting police chief. Michael Lanford is a detective on the force. No case has been filed by either of the two police officers or the city, according to the New Mexico Court Case Lookup website. So, the possible litigation may take any of the following forms: the city is threatening litigation against the two police officers; the two police officers are threatening litigation against the city; the officers are threatening suits against each other; or one officer is threatening a suit against the other officer.

Kathleen Sloan is the Sun’s founder and chief reporter. She can be reached at kathleen.sloan@gmail.com or 575-297-4146.
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Understanding New Mexico's proposed new social studies standards for K-12 students

“The primary purpose of social studies is to help young people develop the ability to make informed and reasoned decisions for the public good as citizens of a culturally diverse, democratic society in an interdependent world.”
—National Council for the Social Studies 

Reader Michael L. Hayes of Las Cruces commented: What impresses me is that both the proposed standards and some of the criticisms of them are equally grotesque. I make this bold statement on the basis of my experience as a peripatetic high school and college English teacher for 45 years in many states with many students differing in race, religion, gender and socioeconomic background, and as a civic activist (PTA) in public education (My career, however, was as an independent consultant mainly in defense, energy and the environment.)

The proposed social studies standards are conceptually and instructionally flawed. For starters, a “performance standard” is not a standard at all; it is a task. Asking someone to explain something is not unlike asking someone to water the lawn. Nothing measures the performance, but without a measure, there is no standard. The teacher’s subjective judgment will be all that matters, and almost anything will count as satisfying a “performance standard,” even just trying. Students will be left to wonder “what is on the teacher’s mind?” or “have I sucked up enough.”

Four other quick criticisms of the performance standards. One, they are nearly unintelligible because they are written in jargon. PED’s use of jargon in a document intended for the public is worrisome. Bureaucrats often use jargon to confuse or conceal something uninformed, wrong or unworthy. As a result, most parents, some school board members and more than a few teachers do not understand them.

Two, the performance standards are so vague that they fail to define the education which teachers are supposed to teach, students are supposed to learn, and parents are supposed to understand. PED does not define words like “explain” or “describe” so that teachers can apply “standards” consistently and fairly. The standards do not indicate what teachers are supposed to know in order to teach or specify what students are supposed to learn. Supervisors cannot know whether teachers are teaching social studies well or poorly. The standards are so vague that the public, especially parents or guardians, cannot know the content of public education.

Three, many performance standards are simply unrealistic, especially at grade level. Under “Ethnic, Cultural and Identity Performance Standards”; then under “Diversity and Identity”; then under “Kindergarten,” one such standard is: “Identify how their family does things both the same as and different from how other people do things.” Do six-year-olds know how other people do things? Do they know whether these things are relevant to diversity and identity? Or another standard: “Describe their family history, culture, and past to current contributions of people in their main identity groups.” (A proficient writer would have hyphenated the compound adjective to avoid confusing the reader.) Do six-year-olds know so much about these things in relation to their “identity group”? Since teachers obviously do not teach them about these other people and have not taught them about these groups, why are these and similar items in the curriculum; or do teachers assign them to go home and collect this information?

Point four follows from “three”; some information relevant to some performance measures requires a disclosure of personal or family matters. The younger the students, the easier it is for teachers to invade their privacy and not only their privacy, but also the privacy of their parents or guardians, or neighbors, who may never be aware of these disclosures or not become aware of them until afterward. PED has no right to design a curriculum which requires teachers to ask students for information about themselves, parents or guardians, or neighbors, or puts teachers on the spot if the disclosures reveal criminal conduct. (Bill says Jeff’s father plays games in bed with his daughter. Lila says Angelo’s mother gives herself shots in the arm.) Since teacher-student communications have no legal protection to ensure privacy, those disclosures may become public accidentally or deliberately. The effect of these proposal standards is to turn New Mexico schools and teachers into investigative agents of the state and students into little informants or spies.

This PED proposal for social studies standards is a travesty of education despite its appeals to purportedly enlightened principles. It constitutes a clear and present danger to individual liberty and civil liberties. It should be repudiated; its development, investigated; its PED perpetrators, dismissed. No state curriculum should encourage or require the disclosure of private personal information.

I am equally outraged by the comments of some of T or C’s school board members: Christine LaFont and Julianne Stroup, two white Christian women, who belong to one of the larger minorities in America and assume white and Christian privileges. In different terms but for essentially the same reason, both oppose an education which includes lessons about historical events and trends, and social movements and developments, of other minorities. They object to the proposal for the new social studies standards because of its emphasis on individual and group identities not white or Christian. I am not going to reply with specific objections; they are too numerous and too pointed.

Ms. LaFont urges: “It’s better to address what’s similar with all Americans. It’s not good to differentiate.” Ms. Stroup adds: “Our country is not a racist country. We have to teach to respect each other. We have civil rights laws that protect everyone from discrimination. We need to teach civics, love and respect. We need to teach how to be color blind.”

Their desires for unity and homogeneity, and for mutual respect, are a contradiction and an impossibility. Aside from a shared citizenship, which implies acceptance of the Constitution, the rule of law and equality under the law, little else defines Americans. We are additionally defined by our race, religion, national origin, etc. So mutual respect requires individuals to respect others different from themselves. Disrespect desires blacks, Jews or Palestinians to assimilate or to suppress or conceal racial, religious or national origin aspects of their identity. The only people who want erasure of nonwhite, non-Christian, non-American origin aspects of identity are bigots. Ms. LaFont and Ms. Stroud want standards which, by stressing similarities and eliding differences, desire the erasure of such aspects. What they want will result in a social studies curriculum that enables white, Christian, native-born children to grow up to be bigots and all others to be their victims. This would be the academic equivalent of ethnic cleansing.


This postmortem of a case involving a 75-year-old women who went missing from her home in Hillsboro last September sheds light on the bounds of law enforcement’s capacity to respond, especially in large rural jurisdictions such as Sierra County, and underscores the critical role the public, as well as concerned family and friends, can play in assisting a missing person’s search.

Reader Jane Debrott of Hillsboro commented: Thank you for your article on the tragic loss of Betsey. I am a resident of Hillsboro, a friend of Rick and Betsey, and a member of H.E.L.P. The thing that most distresses me now, is the emphasis on Rick’s mis-naming of the color of their car. I fear that this fact will cause Rick to feel that if he had only gotten the facts right, Betsey may have been rescued before it was too late. The incident was a series of unavoidable events, out of everyone’s control, and we will never know what place the correct color of her car may have had in the outcome. It breaks my heart to think that Rick has had one more thing added to his “what ifs” concerning this incident.

Diana Tittle responded: Dear Jane, the Sun undertook this investigation at the request of a Hillsboro resident concerned about the town’s inability to mount a prompt, coordinated response to the disappearance of a neighbor. From the beginning, I shared your concern about how our findings might affect Betsy’s family and friends. After I completed my research and began writing, I weighed each detail I eventually chose to include against my desire to cause no pain and the public’s right to know about the strengths and limitations of law enforcement’s response and the public’s need to know about how to be of meaningful assistance.

There was information I withheld about the state police investigation and the recovery. But I decided to include the issue of the car’s color because the individuals who spotted Betsy’s car emphasized how its color had been key to their identification of it as the vehicle described in Betsy’s Silver Alert. Because the misinformation was corrected within a couple of hours, I also included in this story the following editorial comment meant to put the error in perspective: “The fact that law enforcement throughout the state was on the lookout in the crucial early hours after Betsy’s disappearance for an elderly woman driving a “light blue” instead of a “silver” Accord would, in retrospect, likely not have changed the outcome of the search” [emphasis added].

I would also point to the story’s overarching conclusion about the inadvisability of assigning blame for what happened: “In this case, a perfect storm of unfortunate circumstances, many of them beyond human control, hindered the search that it would fall to Hamilton’s department to lead.”

It is my hope that any pain caused by my reporting will eventually be outweighed by its contribution to a better community understanding of what it will take in the future to mount a successful missing person’s search in rural Sierra County.

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