Critics seek De Baca County sheriff’s ouster

By Darrell Todd Maurina, CNJ STAFF WRITER

Gary Graves says he won’t go despite petition.

Rex Pope once supported Sheriff Gary Graves and his election campaign. Now, the man who’s lived in De Baca County for 17 years said he has collected more than 300 signatures of people he says want Graves out of the office.
“On the petition it says, ‘We, the registered voters of De Baca County, are requesting the resignation of Sheriff Graves,’” Pope said. “He’s caused a lot of problems and cost the county a lot of money.”
Graves said he won’t resign.
“The history of De Baca County is they have had a sheriff here for about two years and they don’t like what he does so they get rid of him,” Graves said.
“Some of the other sheriffs in the past have resigned under pressure. I don’t feel I would be doing my duty to the citizens of De Baca County if I did that.”
While the petition has no legal force and doesn’t list reasons those who signed believe Graves should resign, Pope said most people who oppose Graves have similar objections.
“He hasn’t done nothing but cause trouble,” Pope said. “They took the jail away from him, communications moved out because he couldn’t get along with anyone in communications. He’s crying about the office space, but I worked up there one time as a jailer. Everybody had an office up there, everybody worked together OK.”
Pope also said Graves’ actions were responsible for breaking up a public safety department run jointly by De Baca County and the village of Fort Sumner. The county deputies and village police now operate separately.
“He’s just not getting along with or trying to work with the county commissioners or the city or anything,” Pope said. “They tell him no, the commissioners and the city, and he’d tell them I’m going to do it anyway and he’d go ahead and do it anyway.”
Pope said he believes Graves is more concerned about getting national publicity over a campaign to determine if Billy the Kid is buried in Fort Sumner than in serving the county.
“He’s a gloryhound,” Pope said. “I think he just wants his name remembered or something.”
Not all of those who object to Graves’ decisions support the petition.
“That doesn’t do anything, it’s just a bunch of signatures and doesn’t mean anything,” said De Baca County Commissioner Joe Steele. “It shows the people would like him to resign but it doesn’t have any teeth behind it.”
Putting “teeth” behind the petition would require adopting legal language to call for a recall election, but Pope said he didn’t have the money to hire an attorney for that.
Graves said he doesn’t understand the motivation for the petition.
“I’ve known Mr. Pope and he was one of the people who requested I run for sheriff. All of a sudden he has decided to come out and take a stance against me as sheriff,” Graves said. “Since this petition has been printed I have had 15 to 20 of the petition signers come up and apologize and say they didn’t realize what they were signing.”
Graves said he’d rather see his objections resolved amicably, and pointed to an agreement worked out Thursday in De Baca County District Court between the commissioners and his office. The agreement allows him to keep his office locked while moving fire alarm monitoring panels to the dispatch center.
“There is a team of mitigators coming down on behalf of the New Mexico Sheriffs’ and Chiefs of Police Association to try to resolve this situation,” Graves said. “We are working forward to future goals between myself and the commissioners. If these goals are met on both sides we can come to an ultimate solution that will be better for the community.”