New Mexico court allows lawsuits for actions of tribal officers

The headquarters of the tribal police department. Photo from Pojoaque Pueblo

A New Mexico county has revoked law enforcement commissions with a dozen tribal, local and federal agencies after the state's highest court paved the way for lawsuits against their officers.

In Loya v. Guiterrez, the New Mexico Supreme Court held that Officer Glen Gutierrez from Pojoaque Pueblo in qualifies as a "public employee" under state law. That means Santa Fe County can be held liable for a lawsuit that alleges excessive force in the arrest of Jose Luis Loya, a non-Indian motorist.

"Officer Gutierrez was enforcing state law, not tribal law, when he arrested Loya and charged him in state court for violating state law, thereby acting as a state officer and not a tribal officer," Justice Richard Bosson wrote in the unanimous opinion.

"When Officer Gutierrez made the arrest, he was acting on behalf of the County, not the Pueblo, which continued through Officer Gutierrez’s prosecution of Loya in state magistrate court for the state traffic offense," the decision continued.

The May 11 decision prompted Sheriff Robert Garcia to cancel cross-commissions with officers from Tesuque Pueblo, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and other federal and local agencies. Commissions had already been revoked for Pojoaque Pueblo due to complaints from non-Indians.

The case could be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Get the Story:
NMSP ruling holds county sheriff's department’s liable deputized civilians (KOB 5/17)
Santa Fe County cancels deputy commissions after found liable for deputized tribal officer (The Albuquerque Journal 5/13)

New Mexico Supreme Court Decision:
Loya v. Gutierrez (May 11, 2015)

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