Crowded race, no incumbent for Torrance County Sheriff

With Sheriff Heath White term limited out of the job, a crowded field of five Republicans and no Democrat is seeking to replace him as Torrance County Sheriff. That means the race will effectively be decided by the primary election June 5.

The five men have a lot in common. Each has a long background in law enforcement, although they have a variety of ideas about how the department should be run.

Two of the candidates said they would be a hands-on Sheriff who patrols with deputies, while the other three said they would take an administrative role.

All five answered no when asked if they had ever been convicted of a crime.

Martin Rivera is currently Undersheriff, hired for that position when White took office; he favors staying the course with the department, while the other four candidates all said they would seek changes of some kind.

David Frazee

David Frazee has lived in the county for 35 years and said he is running because the department is “stagnant,” adding, “I have seen very little growth.”

Frazee spent 27 years with the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s department, after four years in the military. His experience includes police supervisor for 18 years, search and rescue, fatal traffic and DWI, search and rescue, recruiting, and detective. He worked in all areas of Bernalillo County including the East Area Command.

After retiring in 2000, he went to Iraq “to train police in the Middle East.” Frazee spent about 5 years doing that.

He worked at CCA as prison investigator and internal affairs, and currently is a private investigator.

He has a four-year degree in criminology with a minor in political science, Frazee said.

Frazee said he would build up a strong force of reserve deputies to help with the staffing issues the department has. He also questioned the expense of department vehicles.

“The first thing I’m going to do is work on the sheriff’s department itself,” Frazee said. “I’ll double the strength of the force within the first year.”

He would find money for that through grant funding, but said he is aware of issues created when a former sheriff got grant funding for deputies that ran out. “Whatever it was, it wasn’t proper. Rest assured I know grants, and that won’t happen under my watch.”

Frazee said he would divide the county into quadrants and place two deputies and a supervisor in each one, relying on the community to provide a space for those officers.

He said he would have a cold case investigator to resolve crimes, and to stay in contact with victims.

On his approach to law enforcement, Frazee said, “I’m not going to be the one jumping out in front of a car. I can get a lot more done writing grants, writing contingency plans, managing the men, hiring more people. I can get a lot more done for the sheriff’s department than if I’m an overpriced deputy running around.”

He would prioritize working with the community and creating programs for youth; Frazee said he would keep existing programs intact, and work to get deputies into schools “to interact with the children.”

He finished, “We can’t do this alone, we need the help of the community.”

Carlos “Joseph” Garcia

Carlos “Joseph” Garcia’s law enforcement career took him from a job transporting dead bodies, where he first got interested in forensics.

He worked first as a police officer at the University of New Mexico, and later in Rio Rancho. He also became a firefighter and EMT during those years.

He got promoted to detective in Rio Rancho, and said “they sent me to some really good schools” where he got specialty training in gangs and cults. Garcia said he worked with federal agencies like ATF and DEA.

He also worked as an instructor, giving classes and seminars for other law enforcement officers.

“I was working with gangs, not just out looking for criminals, because I have an understanding of them, why they’re doing what they’re doing,” Garcia said. “I don’t agree with that but because of my knowledge I’m able to tackle that. Let them know that they don’t have to be living in this kind of atmosphere.”

He stayed with Rio Rancho Police until 1997, when he left to care for the grandparents who raised him.

From there he went to Chama as chief of police and Marshal; that job went away when “State Police and the county started taking over small towns.”

He worked at Bernalillo PD before moving to Moriarty in 2003. He worked for the prison as gang coordinator, then took a job at the Edgewood Police Department.

He was bitten by a brown recluse spider, which “ate my knee,” and after a fall had broken both hands. Garcia has since recovered from those injuries.

Garcia emphasized training, and investigation skills for deputies. “That’s what I want to bring—investigations to these case that people have been ignored.”

Investigation training including fingerprinting and gathering evidence would be a priority.

Garcia said he would seek grants, “but not relying on a grant to pay an officer’s salary.”

“People that are criminal offenders need to be handled in a professional way that is not infringing on anyone’s Constitutional rights,” he said. “Can that be done? I’ve done it.”

Garcia said he would take an administrative role if elected Sheriff. “I’ll serve as I need to serve. Of course I’ll go beyond that, I’ll give 110 percent because this is truly, truly my passion.”

Pete Golden

Pete Golden served as Torrance County Sheriff from 1999 to 2006, serving two terms.

Asked why he is running for office, Golden replied, “Several things: One, I have already got a group of real estate investors prepared to build a jail and lease it to the county, based on certain protocols.”

Golden has worked as a real estate agent and said he would not make any money on such a deal, explaining that the idea would be for the county to eventually own the building rather than relying on a facility like the one in Estancia which closed down when its parent company determined it wasn’t profitable enough. “The county can’t depend on that type of insecurity.”

Asked about a large grant he secured while in office which paid for deputy salaries—which then ran out. The county did not have the funds to pay those deputies’ salaries, resulting in the loss of about half the department at that time.

Still, Golden said that grant was an accomplishment, and pointed at the county commission. “They had four years to prepare [to pay those deputy salaries]. You’ve got to prepare, and you’ve got to plan, and the county did neither. The county approved those grants. They should have had the foresight. … At the time it was apropos. The county needed that influx, injection, however you want to put it. That’s just an accomplishment that I did at that point in time.”

Golden said he is also running because he wants to address the drug problem in the county. “I have grandchildren here in the county and the drug issue is there. It’s real. The other reason is my expertise. I’ve already been there for eight years.”

Golden is 80 years old, and said he would take and administrative role if elected. “The sheriff is the administrator. You have the right people to run, to manage, to carry out the policies and procedures of the sheriff. The secret to good management is to hire people as good or better than you.”

Asked about priorities, Golden said, “I’m really strong on subdivision patrols,” and said he is in favor of “advocative intelligence-based policing.” He said “intelligence-based” means “targeting certain areas, areas that are high in crime, actually targeting areas that you feel the crimes are going to develop.” By “advocative,” he means “that I would put it in place.”

He said if he elected it could be “a significant change” for the department, but acknowledged that he doesn’t have “insight into current policies and procedures.”

Golden’s philosophy about law enforcement is simply “to enforce the laws” and “to serve and protect the people.”

He said he has a degree in political science and criminology from the University of New Mexico.” He also cited a commercial real estate certification which he likened to “a doctorate in real estate and commercial real estate.”

Golden also mentioned use of reserve officers and said he started the program in 1991, “and tried to keep 20 officers at all times.”

He said he is the best man for the job because he has the experience and the education.

Jimmie Luna, Sr.

Jimmie Luna has 31 years in law enforcement, working for 15 years in Torrance County and 16 years in Lincoln County. He retired 20 years ago at age 42.

His first job in Torrance County was as a dispatcher, and Luna said even then he dreamed of being sheriff of the county someday. “That’s when I fell in love with law enforcement and pursued my career of 31 years. It’s ben my desire to be the sheriff of Torrance County, and I was going to run 20 years ago. The Lord called me to missionary work for 20 years—now I’m running.”

One of his strengths is personnel, Luna said, adding that in 31 years, he never had to fire an officer, instead working to reassign people if needed.

He said he’s been gone from the county for 30 years, but has spent the past year traveling the county. “People still know me and respect me and think I would do a good job,” he said. “I worked every aspect of the sheriff’s department, from jailer to cook to Undersheriff.”

Asked about priorities if elected, Luna said, “My first priority as it stands right now is to get the deputies back in the county.” He said he would make it a requirement for Torrance County deputies to live within the county.

Luna said that would build trust between deputies and the community, resulting in a lower crime rate. “It’s going to have to be worked real slow,” he explained, saying that new hires would have to live in the county. “It’s not going to be a process of overnight. … What happens when the deputy lives in the area he’s working, the people start trusting him. The crime rate goes down. As it is now, they’re basically strangers to the people.”

Luna said he would divide the county into four districts, as he did as Undersheriff in 1980. “All the deputies were in Moriarty. I scattered them all over the county. The crime rate just went down.”

Drugs and burglaries are big problems in the county. “But the main priority of everything else is to make sure the people of this county are treated with respect, and that all my officers treat the people like they would like to be treated.”

Obstacles the county faces include loyalty to the current sheriff. “Deputies will have to realize it’s a new administration. … Loyalty will come as they talk to me, and the changes that will occur. I would do that very gradually. … You’ve got some very good officers now working for the county. It’s time for a new sheriff because of the term limit, and I think God has put me in the right place at the right time. I’ve been working at this goal for over 50 years.”

Luna said he wold be “a sheriff that works seven days a week, and I’ll be out with my men, and so will the Undersheriff. Any administrative work that needs to be done, I’ll be the first one there before the shift starts.”

Jose “Martin” Rivera

Jose Martin Rivera has been the Torrance County Undersheriff for eight years, having been hired on for that position by Heath White when he came into office.

He is running for sheriff, he said, because “I definitely want to keep the continuity. We’ve built a lot of programs that run a certain way including hiring deputies—you don’t want to get the guys no one else will take.”

That process includes an obstacle course that not only measures physical fitness but more importantly, “Will they give up?” Rivera said.

I want to continue all the programs, the women and handguns, the junior deputies, we don’t want that to go away. I think we’ve built a solid foundation on how to do investigations. Our biggest focus has been on building good cases.”

Priorities include “the huge opioid epidemic in the county, and the whole country, really,” Rivera said, adding that eight years ago, the priority was meth labs. “We pretty much eradicated them,” he said, adding that in the past four years there have been only a few meth labs busted. “We hit that hard.”

Rivera said he would be an active sheriff. “I would be out on the street, and whoever I get as my Undersheriff, they’d be on the street, too. There’s not that much administrative work that you have to be in the office. … I want to be out there all week, to get the county what they’re paying for.”

Rivera said he would add two Sergeants, promoted from within the department, to help with administration and supervision of deputies.

He doesn’t favor checkpoints for DWI, but rather saturation patrols.

Rivera said he would start a program in schools to address opioid addiction before it starts with children, and looking at root causes like abuse, exposure to people doing drugs or peer pressure.

“I think the department has run really well for the time we’ve been there,” Rivera said. “Not a lot of changes need to be made, and the progress needs to continue.”

Rivera said training of deputies would continue under his tenure as sheriff, and said the department already trains other law enforcement agencies.

In law enforcement for almost 21 years, Rivera said he is “all for de-escalation, it saves litigation, it also saves lives. … We’re not about shooting people, we’re about preserving life and preserving property.