Commentary: Last October 25, a woman told three DASO Deputies that then-Undersheriff Ken Roberts wouldn't leave her alone: he constantly texted her, even on weekends, often very personal messages. At work he acted possessive. He steered her into meetings with his hand on the small of her back and became angry if she chatted with someone else.
“Crying and shaking,” she said she feared not responding to his weekend texts because he'd load her up with extra work on Monday morning.
Later another victim told them Roberts entered her office, closed her door, spun her chair around, and sat on her lap, uninvited. “Grinding his butt into her.” (That's a crime, battery. Maybe also false imprisonment.)
As required, the deputies reported these complaints to HR.
The three also spoke to Sheriff Enrique “Kiki” Vigil – and recorded that discussion.
They explain that they couldn't talk to him immediately because he was away, then, when he returned, Roberts was there, and they were “afraid” to talk to him. So they arranged to meet far off-site.
Vigil initially cross-examines the men about how they happened to go into the woman's office. Just past five, there was something they wanted to see in the parking lot, so they stepped across the hall to her office to look out the window. She then told them her story, upset that others in the office thought she and Roberts were having an affair. “Why did it take three of you?” Vigil asks. “I think that's strange.”
He scoffs at the complaints. “C'mon, bullshit! You get angry, you right away take action.” The woman had immediately told her lieutenant, who told her to document things. Later, Vigil repeats, “These are serious allegations” and says the victim should take a lie-detector test and explain why she didn't complain immediately.
Vigil's skepticism is telling: he ain't heard nothin' women have been saying about sexual harassment this year. Roberts is her boss; the whole county knows Vigil thinks Roberts can do no wrong. Roberts is a white male, with a gun. He embarrasses her in the office and loads her down with extra work when she doesn't respond adequately to his off-duty texts. “You get angry, you right away take action,” Mr. Vigil proclaims. Sometimes folks can't. Or feel they can't, because of an unreceptive or vindictive boss.
Eventually Vigil says that there's an investigation in progress, by an outside investigator hired through the legal department. He also says, “I'll tell you what. These are serious allegations. If they're unfounded, these folks are going to pay for it.” He says twice that he's “not afraid to axe [the women].”
In Vigil's defense, false and malicious allegations would warrant punishment; but he already knows enough to put a reasonable man on notice that there's a reasonable likelihood there's some truth to them.
Vigil's reaction tends to explain why the unidentified deputies felt the need to meet offsite and tape their conversation with him.
Vigil says of Roberts's alleged conduct, “That's criminal.” I agree; but if he recognized that, then why, once the investigation sustained charges, did Vigil give Roberts a light slap on the wrist? Isn't criminal conduct against a county employee on county property a firing offense? A storm of outrage reminded Mr. Vigil that it was.
The deputies' fears, Vigil's resistance, and his willingness to tolerate Roberts's misconduct – all symptomize an ailing department that needs new leadership.
[Whoever the deputies were who recorded the sheriff, and whatever their reasons, the County did the right thing by providing the recording. It's of public interest and potentially useful for members of the public in evaluating their public officials. It's the kind of document IPRA requires produced, even if it might be a bit embarrassing. Today I'll provide copies to media that have asked for them.]
[I should note for the record that I tried repeatedly to reach Sheriff Vigil in recent weeks, but was unable to get him to respond in any fashion -- let alone tell his story. However, county citizens should be aware that this coming Tuesday (8 May) the Dona Ana County Commission will (a) hear a presentation by Vigil concerning Stonegarden and the extent to which DASO deputies enforce federal immigration laws against people who've broken no state laws and pose no apparent public danger and (b) consider a motion to terminate the Stonegarden grant because DASO appears to have repeatedly violated county policy. As I understand it, the presentation will occur fairly close to consideration of the motion, so that although there's normally no public comment allowed on presentations, members of the public will be able to comment on the issues, and on Vigil's remarks, when the action item comes up a few minutes later.]
[I'd intended to insert a couple of clips from the audiotape, but haven't yet managed to. Listening again to it, I realize the conversation must have occurred in early- to mid-November, because one of the deputies at one point refers to the October 25 conversation as "a couple of weeks ago." I also noted that one of the other deputies inserts, "I would almost say scared" when the first deputy is describing the victim's manner when she initiated that conversation. What also stands out is that although Sheriff Vigil (who already knows there's an independent investigation in progress) is most intent on questioning the three deputies about why all three of them happened to be hearing the story from the first victim. He sounds angry at the victims, though he does mention that if the allegations are sustained Roberts will be dealt with.]
[I should also note, regarding last week's column on DASO's participation in enforcing federal immigration laws, despite county policy against such participation, (a) the County Commission has scheduled discussion of a resolution to terminate the Stonegarden grant contract that facilitated that conduct, (b) also on the agenda shortly ahead of that discussion is a "Presentation" by Sheriff Vigil on the subject, and (c) Ben -- I mean, Sheriff Vigil has written a commentary ("arrest reports are misleading") on that column, which appears in the Sun-News today. Here's a link to the County Commission's agenda.
For various reasons, including redactions, those "After Action Reports" aren't thoroughly clear. I'll agree with Sheriff Vigil on that -- and it's why I repeatedly urged him to talk with me on the subject. But a couple of things are clear: that DASO had involvement, as I said, in a lot of enforcement of federal immigration laws; that in most of those reports it isn't perfectly clear what DASO's exact role was; that in a few, drugs are mentioned, but that there's no mention of drugs or reasonable suspicion of drugs (or guns) in the vast majority; and that in a few, where the accounts are more detailed, it's clear that DASO did turn people over to the feds merely for being here, with no indication drugs were found or suspected. Further, others sources within DASO say that DASO does turn people over to the feds.
So, Tuesday morning's County Commission meeting should be interesting.]