Lawsuit names Tucumcari police officers in theft

By Tom Sharpe

Two Kansas residents claim in a lawsuit filed in Santa Fe that police in Tucumcari stole $47,000 in cash from them because they were assumed to be Mexican nationals.

“We have not received any documents concerning this suit from the State District Court,” said Tucumcari City Manager Bobbye Rose on Tuesday.

Rose said she will speak with Tucumcari Police Chief Jason Braziel to determine how much information is public record and can be released and how much of the information is pending litigation.

Carlos Portillo and Kristal Hidalgo of Liberal, Kan., say they were driving west on U.S. 54 from Kansas to El Paso on May 2 with $59,000 to buy farming equipment, when they were stopped by a Tucumcari patrolman for going 10 miles over the speed limit.

Portillo is a U.S. citizen and Hidalgo has a visa to be in the country, according to the complaint filed May 14 in state District Court.

The document alleges the speeding violation is “not an arrestable offense.” But “he appeared to be a Mexican national to the police officer who detained both plaintiffs without probable cause. … Plaintiffs fit some sort of profile in violation of their civil rights.”

After other unnamed police officers, including from the New Mexico State Police, arrived at the scene, they searched the vehicle with a drug-sniffing dog, but found no contraband, the complaint says.

Nevertheless, it says, Portillo and Hidalgo were “illegally arrested” and “falsely told” that their cash contained the “residue of cocaine.”

The complaint also states that, “Without probable cause, defendants seized plaintiffs’ clothes, including Plaintiff Portillo’s boots, the car (a 2008 Chevrolet Impala) and most of the U.S. currency. … Inexplicably the police officers returned $2,000 from Plaintiff Portillo’s wallet to him for spending money, drove plaintiffs to a nearby hotel, and provided a receipt for property seized by the city police … except for the U.S. currency!”

According to the complaint, no speeding ticket was issued. But, it charges, officers “divided approximately $47,000 in cash amongst several police officers, including one able to interpret Spanish into English, and intend to keep the cash with no record of having seized a large sum of cash.”

“This part of the story is simply not true,” Rose said. “No officers of the Tucumcari Police Department have split or taken seized cash.”

The complaint against the city of Tucumcari and State Police Chief Faron Segotta asks a judge to order the police to account for all property seized, including the cash, and to return it to Portillo and Hidalgo. The case has been assigned to state District Judge Raymond Ortiz, who has yet to schedule a hearing.

Portillo’s attorney, Stephen Aarons, also was unavailable for comment.

Freedom New Mexico staff writer Thomas Garcia contributed to this report.