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Stewart Deserves Our Gratitude for Turning Things Around At DASO

Peter Goodman


Thanks, Sheriff Stewart!

Two consecutive Doña Ana County Sheriffs, law-enforcement veterans, listened to the wrong people and nearly destroyed DASO. I’ll spare you the details (see my columns on Todd Garrison [2014] and Kiki Vigil [2018]); but it was so extreme that numerous hardened law-enforcement veterans approached me secretly to complain.

Staff was demoralized, and fleeing. Good deputies with solid experience were retiring. At one time, a dozen DASO deputies had applied to LCPD, some taking pay cuts. LCPD’s then-chief, confirming that with me, kind of shook his head over DASO’s problems. Four years later, DASO is fully-staffed, while LCPD is having trouble recruiting enough good people.

Kim Stewart beat Vigil in the 2018 primary, then Garrison in the general.

Some of my conservative law-enforcement friends had their doubts. They had specific concerns, some sparked by campaign rhetoric against Stewart; and maybe she just didn’t seem right to them; but within a year or so, even they were praising her. Like me, they were hearing only good things about her from deputies in the trenches. When Stewart took over, 32 of the 127 deputy positions were empty.

I’m still hearing good things. I’ve heard no complaints, except that she and County Manager Fernando Macias don’t play well together. They are both strong characters, highly capable, and progressive, with each ready to fight to see county affairs go as she or he thinks they should. Fernando’s management style isn’t universally loved at the County and wasn’t in Third Judicial District Court; and Kim has proven she’ll fight for her people. (She was treated so badly by a previous county administration that a jury awarded her compensation for her wrongful termination, so she may well be a little prickly.) Too, the historical anomaly of having county clerks, treasurers, and sheriff’s elected, but dependent on the central county administration for budgetary and personnel decisions, repeatedly engendered friction between Kim’s and Fernando’s predecessors.

Sheriff Stewart has done much that matters, that we don’t see. She’s updated policies and procedures, which is essential to holding people accountable. If DASO policies and procedures aren’t consistent, both internally and with county policies and changing laws, that creates loopholes. She’s also modernized aspects of academy training – notably, obtaining state approval to train deputies that if they see other deputies violating civil rights, they have a duty to speak up. We should all want that!

Stewart’s primary challenger, James Frietze, seems to be a good cop. Mutual friends speak well of him. During our radio interview, he said all the right things, very cogently, about how a cop should handle a mentally-troubled citizen. Stewart then pointed out that as sheriff, the challenge was to make sure all 137 deputies were capable of handling things right and trained to do so.

Stewart’s done all that, as Sheriff. Frietze hasn’t. He might be a fine candidate in four years. She’s a sure thing now, and deserves our gratitude for turning things around. She has that from deputies, along with the loyalty of most of them. On radio, Frietze was charming and homegrown; but he couldn’t articulate a reason we should replace our successful Kim Stewart with him.

I understand some folks think gender is relevant. Frietze looks more like Pat Garrett. But Sheriff Stewart’s getting it done, and then some – and is what we need in a 21st Century sheriff. (Even Pat probably knew, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”)