Ten years ago, New Mexico State Police Officer Marvyn Jaramillo was pulled over by a Santa Fe County sheriff’s deputy for speeding. He flunked a sobriety test. His loaded shotgun lay behind his seat. NMSP fired Jaramillo—even before he was convicted of drunk driving and negligent use of a deadly weapon.
On Sept. 28, 2009, Jaramillo, now a Santa Fe sheriff’s deputy, became the subject of a temporary protection order filed by his ex-wife. She didn’t claim physical abuse, but wrote that he “can be vindictive,” and that she feared “verbal and physical threats” by Jaramillo and his new wife.
She also feared as “an officer of the law…he will attempt to use those ‘powers’ against us all,” she wrote.
Jaramillo’s new troubles have not affected his job. State law requires a police officer’s certification be revoked if he is convicted—or in some cases merely accused—of drunk driving, theft or aggravated assault. It does not, however, specify that domestic violence is a crime demanding an officer’s dismissal.
A bill now winding its way through the Roundhouse and provoking heated debate would change that. House bill 17 would require that officers convicted of domestic violence lose their certifications by the state Law Enforcement Academy.
The change would not apply to Jaramillo, who hasn’t been charged with domestic violence. It might apply to officers like Santa Fe Police Department Sgt. Michael LeBlanc, who remains certified despite three charges of domestic violence.
The high rates of domestic violence by first responders is well-documented, if somewhat taboo. Last year, Santa Fe County Sheriff Greg Solano announced he was taking steps to address stress-related domestic violence in his department.
According to the National Center for Women & Policing, police officer families experience domestic violence at four times the rate of the general public. If so, most cases go unreported.
In 2008, there were 20,000 domestic violence victims statewide, according to the New Mexico Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Yet, in the past three years, only 27 domestic violence cases involving officers made it before the state Law Enforcement Academy, according to NMSP spokesman Peter Olson.
The state police is the only police agency so far to publicly support the law change. “Police officers require a higher standard,” NMSP Major Robert Shilling tells SFR. “All we have is our integrity.”
Santa Fe Police Chief Aric Wheeler tells SFR he doesn’t know enough to take a position on the bill. (On Feb. 2, the Journal North reported allegations that SFPD officers had displayed nude photos of a domestic violence victim inside headquarters.)
Sheriff Solano could not be reached prior to press time; in October, he told SFR Jaramillo’s case “doesn’t involve domestic violence, per se.”
The Fraternal Order of Police and the New Mexico Sheriffs’ & Police Association are fighting the bill—although neither calls their position opposition, per se.
FOP lobbyist David Heshley disputes the premise that an officer’s judgment might be “tainted” by a domestic violence conviction. “Our officers are more professional than that,” Heshley tells SFR.
SPA Executive Director Jim Burleson walked out of a Jan. 29 House Judiciary Committee hearing in evident disgust, after Rep. Antonio Maestas, D-Bernalillo, mentioned police brutality. “There’s a correlation between being a violent person, a controlling person and being a less-than-stellar police officer,” Maestas, who tells SFR he has prosecuted approximately 1,000 domestic violence cases, said.
That comment led former FBI agent and Rep. Dennis Kintigh, R-Chaves, to follow Burleson out of the room. Burleson was already hot after an earlier meeting with state Domestic Violence Czar Sharon Pino; her uncompromising attitude “pissed me off,” he tells SFR. Pino tells SFR the Republicans’ proposed amendments would have defeated the purpose of the bill.
Eventually, every Republican on the committee walked out of the hearing.
Rep. William Rehm, R-Bernalillo, showed concern for officers’ jobs. “All of us, in our marital life, have had some disagreement with our spouse,” Rehm said. “If my wife and I got in an argument and it was called in by a third party, an individual could be arrested for that and subsequently lose their career.”
If the House passes the bill this week, as expected, it will head to the Senate Judiciary Committee; a similar bill died in the Senate last year.