Former worker claims McKinley sheriff is not certified

Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK, April 12, 2012

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M cKinley County Sheriff Felix Begay is under fire from a former undersheriff who claims that Begay has violated state law by not getting certified.

Dan Lewicki, a former state police officer, resigned as undersheriff Feb. 24 after serving in that position for about six months.

He said in an eight-page open letter given to the media that he left because of his concerns about the way Begay was running the department.

Lewicki said in the letter that working for Begay was "psychological warfare."

He claims that Begay was going around wearing a gun despite the fact that he had not gone to the administrative law enforcement training program that is given by the state's Department of Public Safety.

Lewicki said he was also concerned because Begay, on a number of occasions, personally conducted traffic stops.

In one case, Lewicki said, Begay stopped a woman who later complained to the department that the sheriff had been rude to her and yelled at her during the traffic stop. In that case no ticket was given but in another case, Begay called for another police officer, Lt. George Justice, to come to the scene and issue a citation.

Lewicki's position is that sheriffs must take the training course.

"If he hasn't completed that course, he's not the sheriff," Lewicki wrote.

Begay responded that state law doesn't require him to take a training course in order to be sheriff. In fact, once he becomes sheriff, state law gives him the authority to wear a gun and perform as sheriff, he said.

State law doesn't require that a sheriff have a law enforcement background. The training course was established to give sheriffs, who are elected, a general background on law enforcement matters and how to use a firearm.

Begay pointed out that before becoming sheriff he worked as a police officer for the Navajo Nation Police for 10 years.

He also said he has never been informed by the state that a training session, which lasts anywhere from one to three weeks, was being offered. If he had, he said he would probably have taken it as a refresher course.

As for the woman who complained that he was rude, he said if anyone was rude, it was the woman he stopped after he saw her driving erratically on U.S. 491 and in Gallup.

He said he was polite to the woman, and that she cursed at him for stopping her, saying she was on the way to the hospital because she had a broken arm.

"I couldn't tell if she had a broken arm or not," Begay said.

The woman also said she was bipolar, according to him, and he decided to let her go so she could get to the hospital. He gave he a warning to be careful.

Begay said he felt he had an obligation as sheriff to make sure that the roads and people in his jurisdiction are safe.

He doesn't stop people on petty infractions, he said, but if he sees someone driving recklessly and posing a danger to others, he will pull the person over. Not to do so, he said, would be a violation of the position he was elected to perform by the people of McKinley County.

Accused molester freed on technicality

A District Court judge in Gallup on April 2 ordered the release of a Fort Wingate, N.M., man who was arrested two months ago on multiple charges of child molestation.

Ernie Begaye, who had worked as a janitor at the Fort Wingate Elementary School, was charged with 11 counts of criminal sexual penetration of a minor and 14 counts of criminal sexual contact of a minor.

The charges filed by the district attorney's office were dismissed after the court decided that the area where the alleged crimes were committed is outside the jurisdiction of the state.

Which governmental entity does have jurisdiction is unclear - possibly the tribe, but limitations on what crimes the tribe can prosecute put this case outside its reach.

According to the indictment, Begaye, 49, lived in the teacher housing belonging to the school. He allegedly enticed the three non-Native children of a neighbor to his house on numerous occasions by letting them play on his piano and trampoline.

While there, the indictment said that he molested the three girls, ages 6 to 10, by touching their private parts.

District Attorney Karl Gillson said the jurisdiction problem in this case is not a new one.

For the past 20 years, the state has faced obstacles prosecuting crime that occurs in the Fort Wingate area because of conflicting interpretations over who has jurisdiction.

The land was administratively assigned to the BIA in the 1950s for the school, but previous cases in state and federal court raised the question of what status that confers on the land.

In the State v. Dick, the New Mexico Court of Appeals ruled that the land was a dependent Indian community and therefore not under state jurisdiction.

A few years later, however, the U.S. District Court in New Mexico ruled in another case, U.S. v. M.C., that it was not a dependent Indian community and therefore not under the jurisdiction of the federal government.

As a result, said Gillson, the only government that has criminal jurisdiction is the Navajo Nation, which currently is limited under federal law to handling misdemeanors. Sex crimes against children are usually in the felony category, outside the authority of tribal courts under present U.S. law.

While the Navajo courts, on occasion, have given a sentence of more than one year by combining misdemeanor charges, at best a sexual predator would end up serving a fraction of the time that he or she would if found guilty in state or federal court, Gillson said.

Because of this, Gillson said he will appeal the dismissal of the Begaye case in hopes that the state appeals court will realize that for the safety of people in that area, the state must assume jurisdiction.

If that doesn't work, he said, the only solution may be to ask Congress to resolve the jurisdiction issue through a change in the law.

Milan woman killed in Hogback

A vehicle crash with a pedestrian fatality occurred April 3 in Hogback, N.M.

Navajo police identified the victim as Clorinda Gallegos, 40, of Milan, N.M.

When police arrived at the scene, they found a body resting on the shoulder of the road. Upon checking it, they found it to be unresponsive and EMS officials declared the victim to be deceased.

Witnesses and the physical evidence at the scene indicated that the victim was standing near the roadway when the impact was made.

The driver of the vehicle - Veronica Billy, 27, of Kirtland, N.M. - said she was making a right turn into a residence and did not see the woman standing by the roadway.

The Criminal Investigations Department is still looking into the accident.

Officer collides with horse

A crash occurred April 4 but the victim here was a horse and the driver was a Navajo Nation police officer, whose name was not released.

The police report said the officer was on State Road 371 responding to a back-up request from another officer when a black horse appeared on the roadway and was struck by the police vehicle, which received heavy damage to the right front end.

The officer complained afterwards of neck and back pain, the report said.

3 die in Casamero Lake crash

A March 31 vehicle crash in the Casamero Lake, N.M., area killed three people but the names of only two have been released so far.

The two who have been identified were Rarrin C. Lyons and Brandon Perry - no ages or addresses given.

The only detail about the accident is that it was a one-vehicle rollover.

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