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Wednesday, May 29, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Every County Needs a Sheriff, Says Sheriff

SANTA FE, N.M. (CN) — Already the strangest county in New Mexico, Los Alamos has a new distinction: the only county to be sued by its sheriff for trying to eliminate his job altogether.

Sheriff Marco Lucero sued Los Alamos County in Santa Fe County Court last week, claiming that a measure on the Nov. 8 ballot to eliminate his office is unconstitutional.

Los Alamos County is the home of Los Alamos National Laboratory, a major center of the Manhattan Project, which developed nuclear weapons during the 1940s. The odd, top-secret living conditions imposed on the scientists there were described in Nobel laureate Richard Feynman's autobiography, "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman."

Originally the county was fully administered by the federal government, but when the U.S. government withdrew control in the 1960s, the county was wholly incorporated into the municipality of Los Alamos. Los Alamos is the only city-county entity in New Mexico, and the smallest county in the state, with a 2010 population of 17,950.

Los Alamos Police Department provides law enforcement, but the county elects a sheriff who administrates and maintains the local registry of sex offenders.

The Los Alamos County Commission voted on July 7 to put an ordinance on the general election ballot to eliminate the sheriff's office.

But Lucero and the New Mexico Sheriff's Association say the state constitution requires there to be an active sheriff in every county and that it is illegal to place the Sex Offender Registration under the control of a police department rather than a sheriff.

Lucero told the Albuquerque Journal that people need to elect a sheriff and it's important to have a sheriff's office to avoid conflicts of interest between a governing body and its police department.

"I think it's important that the people have a law enforcement officer that's accountable to them," he said. "I believe we're going to do everything we can so the people of Los Alamos have that option to go to someone to look into the concerns they have. Every county needs a sheriff so you can go to them with allegations of corruption."

Lucero seeks declaratory judgment stating that the proposed ordinance is unconstitutional and an injunction removing it from the ballot. He's represented by John James D'Amato Jr., of Albuquerque.

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