Deputy police chief on paid leave; department reviewing policies

By David Stevens: Editor

Portales’ deputy police chief is on paid administrative leave and the department is reviewing its policies and procedures related to paperwork, Chief Jeff Gill said Thursday.

Deputy Chief Lonnie Berry is on paid leave until the district attorney’s office completes an investigation it started on Wednesday, Gill said.

Berry, 53, long the department’s public information officer and its most visible representative, confirmed he’d been placed on leave but declined to answer questions.

Gill said he’s not sure of the full scope of the prosecutors’ investigation, but “traffic citations is something they’re looking at.”

He said he spent much of Wednesday night and Thursday reviewing and reinforcing department policies with officers and staff. Specifically, he said keeping track of police records and following procedure for access to records and disposal of records has been a focus of his meetings with personnel.

“I can assure the public that Portales police officers are honest and doing their jobs to the best of their abilities,” Gill said.

“To the best of my knowledge, this (investigation) is limited to an isolated issue and one person. We’ve tightened up our policies and procedures.”

Portales City Attorney Steve Doerr said District Attorney Matt Chandler told him investigators were “doing a search” at the Portales Police Department in connection with an investigation of an undisclosed nature.

Doerr and Gill said investigators have told them they hope to have their investigation completed by today.

Doerr said Chandler told him the prosecutor’s office had obtained a court order related to the search of police records but that order has been sealed.

Chandler issued the following statement: Agents from the District Attorney’s Office, along with the assistance of the New Mexico State Police, are conducting an in-depth investigation into allegations of possible criminal conduct. Due to the fact that this is an ongoing investigation we cannot release any further details at this time.”

Berry has worked for Portales police for more than three decades, according to Portales News-Tribune files.

He began his law enforcement career as a patrolman in 1985. He was promoted to captain in 1996 and designated as deputy chief in the fall of 2009.

During his time with the department, Berry has received numerous commendations, including the 1994 Governor’s Award for Children Advocacy.

He’s headed the “Santa Cop” program, in which police gather toys for kids, since its inception in 1998.

Berry also writes a weekly column for the Portales News-Tribune, mostly chronicling his efforts to stay in shape as he ages.

Berry announced his retirement from Portales PD last month, with his last day scheduled Dec. 30.

Gill said he does not believe the investigation is connected to Berry’s retirement plans.