Victor Rodriguez, new T or C chief of police, has been on both sides of excessive force issue

by Kathleen Sloan | June 29, 2021
5 min read

The Truth or Consequences City Commission approved a contract hiring Victor Rodriguez as the new chief of police, with no discussion, at its June 23 commission meeting. Rodriguez, who formerly served as chief of police in Belen, NM, will start July 6, according to the contract.

Headshot of Victor Rodriguez, T or C's new police chief
Victor Rodriguez. former chief of police of Belen, NM, has also served as a lieutenant with the Sandoval County Sheriff’s Office and as an undercover officer for the New Mexico Department of Public Safety. Source: Rodriguez

City code grants the city manager authority to hire and fire the chief of police, while providing a theoretical check and balance in requiring the city commission to approve the terms of the chief’s contract, which was included in the meeting packet.

The city’s Human Resources Department required the Sun to file an Inspection of Public Records Act request to obtain other information about Rodriguez, which was not fulfilled by press time. City Manager Bruce Swingle confirmed that only Rodriguez had been Belen’s chief of police.

Once contacted, Rodriguez deferred the Sun’s request for an interview until after July 6, explaining that his contract was not fully executed and he was busy finishing up the duties of his current job.

Rodriguez came to the Sun’s attention last fall, after Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham appointed him to be on the Civil Rights Commission. The commission was formed by the legislature in July 2020 at the request of the governor to address the need for police reform in the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of the Minneapolis police. The governor appointed three of the commission’s nine members.

“Chief Rodriguez’s career, including his clear record of enforcing consequences for officers who used excessive force, is a testament to his qualifications for appointment,” a spokesperson for the governor said at the time, according to a Sept. 8, 2020, story in the Albuquerque Journal. 

Rodriguez and three other Civil Rights Commissioners filed a minority report protesting the majority recommendation that civil rights legislation be put forward. The legislation stripped most public employees of sovereign immunity, allowing citizens to sue them for civil rights violations. House Bill 4 passed in the last regular legislative session and was signed by the governor on April 7. The Civil Rights Act takes effect July 1.

Rodriguez and the commission’s other minority members argued that the CRC was formed to scrutinize only the conduct of law enforcement, not that of most government officials. Allowing teachers and city council members, among others, to be named in civil rights suits would make insurance costs skyrocket, straining local government finances, the minority argued. 

Money would be better spent on improving officer training and reorganizing the state’s Law Enforcement Academy and its certification board to make it more efficient and officers more accountable, the minority report stated. Taxpayers’ dollars would instead be wasted on attorney fees and settlement costs.

Rodriguez has been personally involved on both sides of excessive force controversies, in Belen and in an earlier public safety position with the state. The accounts of these incidents that follow are based on contemporaneous reporting by KRQE News 13, the Valencia County News-Bulletin and the Albuquerque Journal.

Rodriguez’s tenure as Belen chief of police lasted from January 2019 to January 2020. He had previously served as a “lieutenant with the Sandoval County Sheriff’s Office, overseeing civil/court services and criminal investigations divisions, the school resource program and day-shift patrol officers,” according to the News-Bulletin.

About six months into his tenure with Belen, Rodriguez was placed on paid administrative leave for unstated reasons and then was reinstated after an investigation. The Belen City Council did not renew his one-year contract.

In April 2020 Rodriguez filed a suit against the city, “claiming Mayor Jerah Cordova retaliated against him after he tried to report excessive use of force by his officers,” according to KRQE. The case reached a settlement the same month. Belen paid Rodriguez over $187,000 in exchange for Rodriguez dropping all claims against the city.

Rodriguez himself had been accused of using excessive force when he worked as an undercover officer for the New Mexico Department of Public Safety in 2009, according to the abovementioned Albuquerque Journal story published in September 2020.

Rodriguez was part of the Special Investigations Division. He was questioning a woman in a Clovis bar, “when a patron tried to intervene,” the Journal article stated. Rodriguez allegedly used a taser and cuffed the man before announcing he was an officer.

The Journal reported that a civil lawsuit filed against Rodriguez over the incident was dismissed in 2011 after “DPS agreed to pay roughly $35,000 under a settlement.” An internal agency investigation found no evidence of excessive force on Rodriguez’s part.


Rodriguez’s contract with T or C is renewable annually for up to four years. He will be paid $77,000 the first year and receive the same benefits as other city employees, including health insurance, vacation and sick leave. He is required to participate in the state’s retirement system.

Use of a city vehicle is part of the contract, with insurance, maintenance and gas also paid for by the city. Use is limited to “official business.”

Professional training, including per diem and mileage fees, will be paid by the city, as well as professional membership and subscription fees if the city’s budget allows. Rodriguez’s pay can only be decreased if an “across-the-board” reduction in employees’ salaries is necessary, the contract states.

Should the city terminate Rodriguez before his first year is up, two months’ severance pay will be due, unless he has “engaged in illegal acts of a serious nature or other conduct detrimental to the City.” Rodriguez must give 30 days’ notice if he wishes to leave.

He will undergo two performance reviews a year based on criteria and yearly goals mutually set by Rodriguez and City Manager Swingle. 

In addition to okaying the contract, the city commission approved a lease agreement that allows Rodriguez and his “immediate family” to occupy a city-owned residence at the municipal golf course. He will not pay rent, but in exchange for the free accommodation, with an estimated market value of $500 a month, he will report trespassing or illegal activity at the course. Utilities, trash service and home insurance will be paid by Rodriguez.

Swingle told the city commission Rodriguez had looked for a house, but had been unable to find one. The lease agreement is for one year.

Kathleen Sloan is the Sun’s founder and chief reporter. She can be reached at or 575-297-4146.
Share this:

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.


Civil Rights Commission recommends new state law stripping public employees of immunity against lawsuits
by Kathleen Sloan | November 19, 2020

Sierra County Commission claims public coffers can’t afford this reform.

Scroll to Top