Police chief says he knows he inherited problems; working hard to fix them
By Robin Fornoff
CMI projects editor
One evening in January, a Wal-Mart employee alleged uniformed Portales Police Officer Fred Hamner walked up to her and unzipped her jacket.
She gave investigators this account of what happened next:
“(Hamner) says he has fast hands. I … move away and he starts to follow and says he can show me. I said no thanks.”
A few days later, two frightened Eastern New Mexico University students were victims of a home invasion. They notified police, Hamner responded to their call for help, and the students claim Hamner told them: “‘You both are very beautiful girls. I don’t blame him for walking into your house.’”
Both women told investigators that in the 45 minutes Hamner was in their home, he repeatedly attempted to show them self-defense moves. “… (E)very move he showed us involved touching our face, ears, hands and something he called a ‘breast-plate,’” one of the students reported.
“He (Hamner) also said he had gone to a conference and was informed by a woman (instructor) that when a rapist attacks, you should ‘sit back and enjoy it,’” she told investigators.
She said Hamner also “started to talk about a movie where a preacher beats his daughter and then makes her do nasty things on her knees.”
Her roommate gave a similar account. “He made us feel less safe than we did before,” she said.
Sex, violence and ethics are hot-button issues that continue to dog the Portales Police Department, despite a new chief and regular house cleanings. Hamner is one of at least eight Portales officers in the last 18 months accused of misconduct, convicted of felony crimes or who have left the department under questionable circumstances.
They represent about a third of the department’s 21 uniformed officers.
Chief Doug Jones acknowledges he took over a troubled department last November, “…knowing that it was wounded and to try and mend those wounds.”
Jones said he and all officers and staff are working hard every day to address issues like ethics and professionalism.
“We’re sending officers to specialized training that they’ve never had in the past,” said Jones.
He also cited a recent series of drug arrests and special hostage-situation training as the face of the new Portales Police Department.
“We are addressing professionalism,” said Jones. “We are addressing ethics.”
Some of the problems in the department are well documented.
Former Deputy Chief Lonnie Berry pleaded no contest in February 2012 to three charges for fixing tickets in 2011. Former school resource officer Victor Castillo was sent to prison in April for having sex with a female student he was charged with protecting.
Other problems have been kept under the radar and only recently discovered through public records requests by Clovis Media Inc.
Hamner’s alleged misdeeds are among the revelations in documents never before made public by the department.
CMI’s investigation also uncovered a never-announced $10,000 settlement the city paid a man who said he was choked and assaulted by Officer Larry Garrison while handcuffed in Garrison’s squad car.
Documents obtained by CMI also show results of a criminal background check weren’t completed on new-hire Daniel Gonzalez until the day he reported for work in Portales. The report showed he was completing a six-month, state-ordered suspension for stalking and sexting a juvenile girl while a Lovington police officer.
Personnel records show Gonzalez reported for work at Portales on Jan. 8 while still on suspension by the New Mexico Law Enforcement Academy (LEA) board. An LEA suspension prohibits police officers from carrying a weapon or making arrests.
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Garrison’s alleged attack against a man in handcuffs was caught on tape by surveillance video cameras at Roosevelt County jail in 2010. (View the surveillance video on YouTube)
Unlike Hamner, who resigned from the force soon after the allegations were made against him, Garrison remains a Portales police officer despite a history of controversy prior to his resignation as a Curry County Sheriff’s Deputy in 2007.
Garrison is also the recent target of a Portales internal investigation over claims he used his position to take financial advantage of an 88-year-old Portales man.
Jones declined to comment on the internal investigation. City Attorney Randy Knudson also declined to discuss what he and Jones call personnel issues in the Garrison and Hamner cases.
Neither Hamner nor Garrison responded to attempts to reach them for comment.
District Attorney Matt Chandler said he was not aware of Hamner’s alleged touching of the Wal-Mart employee and Portales hasn’t forwarded the information to him for possible prosecution.
Garrison’s problems in Portales mirror allegations that preceded his leaving as a Curry County Sheriff’s deputy.
Knudson’s law firm partner, Curry County Attorney Steve Doerr, represented the 88-year-old victim who prompted the internal investigation against Garrison.
Doerr didn’t respond to telephone calls for comment.
In 2007, Clovis police filed charges of assault and disorderly conduct against Garrison. According to a criminal complaint, Garrison cursed and yelled at a woman he wanted to purchase a vehicle from when she told him she was not going to sell it.
Garrison pleaded guilty to the disorderly conduct charge in exchange for the district attorney dropping the assault charges. He resigned from the Sheriff’s Department in 2007 and was hired by Portales about a year later.
The victim prompting the recent Portales internal investigation of Garrison, Maurice “Lee” Miller, alleged Garrison befriended him after he fell and injured himself in his home. Garrison later offered to purchase Miller’s 2011 GMC Denali.
Miller said Garrison and Garrison’s wife signed a contract to purchase the Denali dated Feb. 10, 2012, calling for a $600 a month payment on the 20th of each month.
Miller alleged Garrison failed to make a single payment.
In May 2012, Doerr’s assistant hand-delivered a letter to Garrison at the Portales Police Department demanding return of the vehicle within three days. Doerr alleges in a letter to Garrison’s attorney that within hours of presenting Garrison with his demands, “Garrison confronted Mr. Miller about this letter. Mr. Miller said he was reluctant to speak with Mr. Garrison and asked for police assistance. The State Police became involved and I believe a report is pending.”
The civil suit filed by Miller against Garrison was settled April 12 after both parties agreed to undisclosed terms.
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During an hour-long interview Thursday, Jones frequently noted many of the problem officers were hired by former Chief Jeff Gill and their issues cropped up before Jones came on board. Jones was flanked by Knudson for the entire interview and both men repeatedly declined to discuss individual officers, saying these were personnel issues.
Gill did not respond to a request for comment.
Jones said the special training he has started, combined with a shortage of staff, is forcing all officers to work 12-hour shifts. He said the department has ramped up recruiting efforts and is poised to hire at least one new officer in the next few weeks.
Jones also said the department is preparing to request bids for replacing its antiquated dispatch system with a more modern, computerized system. He said the system the department has now should have been replaced long ago.
The emphasis, Jones said, is on professionalism and ethics, and customer service — how officers treat members of the public — is a priority.
“Those things are important to me,” Jones said.
Here is a list of Portales police officers recently convicted of crimes, disciplined or leaving under suspicious circumstances, compiled from interviews, police records and court documents:
- Deputy Chief Lonnie Berry — He pleaded no contest in February 2012 to tampering with public records. Berry resigned, was sentenced to 18 months probation and fined $500, and is now drawing a retirement pension, officials have said.
- Victor Castillo — He is serving a 25-year prison sentence after pleading guilty in April to felony charges of maintaining a sexual relationship with a minor girl he met while serving as the department’s resource officer at Portales High School. Castillo’s admission was part of plea bargain to drop all but 17 of the original 34 charges he faced.
- Michael Aguilar — He resigned from Portales PD in 2012 after being suspended by the state for 120 days for having sex with a minor girl in his squad car while employed as a Roswell police officer. He was hired by Portales police in 2011 while still facing the state charges. Then-Portales Lt. Mark Cage said Aguilar passed a thorough background check.
- Tyler Marney — He was the officer who blew the whistle on Lonnie Berry’s ticket fixing and left the Portales department several months later under secretive circumstances. His attorney, Kirk Chavez, said Marney has a “confidential agreement” with the city that neither side will discuss reasons for his departure. Chavez said only that Marney had reached agreement with Portales to leave the department. Marney is now a police officer in Tucumcari.
- Candi Garcia — Cage said she was disciplined in 2012 for her part in a bar fight erupting during an argument over a pitcher of beer. She fled the scene with a friend, according to Cage, who declined to specify details of her discipline. She remains a Portales police officer.
- Fred Hamner — He resigned after allegations in January and February that he made suggestive remarks to young females and inappropriately touched a young Wal-Mart worker.
- Larry Garrison — He was disciplined for allegedly attacking a handcuffed prisoner while delivering him to Roosevelt County’s jail, records show. Garrison was issued a letter of reprimand and ordered to attend eight hours of use of force training in a class conducted by Eastern New Mexico University Police Chief Bradley Mauldin. Garrison completed and passed the course and remains a Portales officer. Records show the city paid the victim of the alleged attack $10,000 in May 2012 and dropped felony assault against a police officer charges against him.
- Daniel Gonzalez — He was suspended by the state in July for six months, accused of stalking and sexting a 17-year-old girl while a Lovington police officer. He reported for work in Portales in January. During testimony before the state board, Gonzalez admitted he had a drinking problem and was under treatment. Shortly after reporting for work in Portales, he was activated and deployed by a branch of the armed services and remains on deployment. Jones said he wasn’t sure when a criminal background was completed on Gonzalez, but said he knew of Gonzalez’s suspension and based his decision to hire the officer on a background check completed by an outside agency.