Thursday was a sad day for eastern New Mexico law enforcement. Former Portales Police Capt. Lonnie Berry was convicted of tampering with public records, a result of Berry destroying traffic citations issued to an acquaintance.
This is the definition of “good ol’ boy” police work, also known as a fourth-degree felony when more responsible law officers do their jobs as they did in this case.
Mary Romano, who told investigators Berry was like a grandfather to her son, was cited for driving with a suspended license, driving a vehicle with an expired registration and driving without insurance.
She doesn’t sound like a dangerous criminal; her supposed transgressions are more about government funding itself than public safety. But police officers are supposed to enforce laws set by the Legislature, not selectively enforce the laws they like against people they don’t.
Berry, a 26-year veteran of police work, was sentenced to 18 months probation and ordered not to work in law enforcement again. He also was fined $500, the amount of the traffic citations.
Berry confessed to destroying the citations issued to Romano, according to a news release from District Attorney Matt Chandler. He told Judge Drew Tatum he wanted to “move forward.”
He was set to retire anyway just a few weeks prior to resigning in the face of the tampering allegations.
While his actions culminating in Thursday’s court appearance were shameful, we hope this sad occasion does mark a new beginning for Berry, 53.
We should not forget his law career resulted in numerous commendations and promotions. He was recognized by the state for his children’s advocacy work and is credited with starting Portales’ “Santa Cop” program, in which police gather toys for kids.
Everyone makes mistakes, but Lonnie Berry has left many positive marks on Portales.
So we hope he is able to move forward as planned.