What Heath White’s neighbors thought was retaliation against the former sheriff was “a perfect storm of somebody who doesn’t like the way things are being done, a legitimate gripe about contaminated fill dirt, and the former sheriff living on this road,” said county manager Wayne Johnson.
Clinton and Patty Jackson live next door to White, and said that on July 16, Torrance County road workers made three belly dumps of material onto the road in front of their house. That fill dirt, Clinton Jackson said, was full of trash and metal items, including various knife blades, plastic trash, car parts, PVC and metal pipe, rusty fence and nails, used condoms and household garbage.
He said he was willing to give the county workers the benefit of the doubt on the work.
“I saw the grader out there and thought it was kind of weird because it had been there 2 or 3 weeks before, and they don’t normally take care of our road that well,” said Patty Jackson.
The next day, Clinton Jackson said he called the county road department to find out what work was going to be happening with the road. He said he never got a return call.
Johnson said the road crew had added fill dirt that came from the state to the road. He said the same material could have been used elsewhere in the county, but said they have received no other reports of similar contamination of fill dirt.
The next day, July 17, the road crew returned in the late afternoon, the Jacksons said.
“We waited all day long, and nobody ever showed up,” Clinton Jackson said. “Then they came just before dark, they decided they better get a grader out there. There was so much stuff embedded in the road, and two [flat tires] that I know of.”
Patty Jackson said she saw several road workers in vests “standing around in their vests doing nothing” for more than two hours.
As the evening progressed, the pair watched from their house while road machinery was running; the Jacksons said they couldn’t hear conversations but could hear heated outbursts from the road crew and another nearby resident, Bill Campos.
Johnson said one of the road crew was handcuffed by State Police, but no arrest was made. By that time Johnson was on the scene; he had also called in the county sheriff’s department.
Johnson said that the county had graded the road. “Once everybody was here, I called a halt to work—it was too dark to see anyway,” he said. “We came back this morning to correct it, and just in case, we hauled all the dirt out, so it’s back to the way it was three or four days ago.”
On the morning of July 18, the county removed four truckloads of dirt from the road, the Jacksons said. A deputy was stationed near the road crew, which Johnson said was to “calm the situation.”
The Jacksons said they never complained about drainage, and all of the work was done alongside their property. Both also expressed concerns about the road work as drainage control and said the county has not been able to tell them who made the complaint.
“You can’t increase drainage by filling up a ditch,” Clinton Jackson said.
“I think if we do get rain, it’s just going to wash away, because it’s just soft dirt,” Patty Jackson said. “It’s washing down into the arroyo.” She said the county put down gravel about two weeks ago.
The Jacksons said their first thought was that someone was retaliating against White, who was Torrance County sheriff from 2010 to 2018.
White then was elected Torrance County Magistrate Judge. He will be in district court next week for a preliminary hearing on charges embezzlement over $20,000; making or permitting false public voucher; criminal solicitation to commit making or permitting false voucher; official act for personal financial interest; misuse of public money and receiving stolen property.
White has denied the allegations through his attorney Sam Bregman and refused all requests for comment from The Independent on the matter.
“I have not seen any evidence in my staff, and the road crew in particular, of any kind of animus or any desire to get back at [White],” Johnson said. “That came out yesterday and some folks are pushing this, but they’re friends of [White], too.”
Johnson added, “I have no evidence. Anyone acting in a vindictive manner in Torrance County would see their job in jeopardy. I won’t stand for it.”
Editor’s note: The Independent pays Bill Campos for a weekly coloring comic.
Leota started working for The Independent in 2006, working her way up through the ranks. An employee buyout in 2010 led to her ownership of the newspaper. Leota has served on the board of the N.M. Press Association, and is currently its First Vice President. She is passionate about health and wellness, especially mental health, and loves making art. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.