Attorney hired for police oversight

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Corrales attorney Renee Barela-Gutierrez has been hired as the independent review officer for the city of Socorro’s new Police Oversight Commission, with an initial six month contract at $1,000 per month. The action was taken at the Dec. 19 city council meeting, after a brief discussion of her qualifications.

Corrales attorney Renee Barela-Gutierrez has been hired as the independent review officer for the city of Socorro’s new Police Oversight Commission, with an initial six month contract at $1,000 per month. The action was taken at the Dec. 19 city council meeting, after a brief discussion of her qualifications.

The city received only two bids for the job, one from Barela-Gutierrez and one from local attorney Roscoe A. Woods.

Barela-Gutierrez was recommended by the Police Oversight Commission because she’s from out of town, and because she has experience working with municipal government; her resume includes acting as city attorney for the town of Taos.

“She’s outside the city network, so she can be a true third-party observer,” Mayor Ravi Bhasker told city councilors before the official vote.

Barela-Gutierrez will review complaints to see whether law enforcement followed the official Socorro Police Department Standard Operating Procedures, as set out in a 350-plus page manual, and determine which complaints merit further investigation.

At a meeting of the Police Oversight Commission earlier in the day, City Clerk Pat Salome went over the terms of her contract with the oversight commission.

The initial six-month contract is to give Barela-Gutierrez a chance to get a feel for how much time will be involved. Salome said Barela-Gutierrez originally proposed an hourly rate, but the mayor negotiated the monthly fee instead, on a trial basis.

“She doesn’t know if she’s putting up 50 hours per month or five hours,” Salome said. “This is just to make sure we don’t sign a one year deal when we don’t know how it’s going to go, and give her a chance to get a feel for the process.”

If the number and complexity of complaints turns out to be more than Barela-Gutierrez bargained for, she’ll have an opportunity to review the terms of her contract in March, and then again at the end of the fiscal year in June.

Commissioner Betty Salazar asked if Barela-Gutierrez would keep the commission informed of her progress by email.

“I see it more as reporting to you at the monthly meeting,” Salome said.

Barela-Gutierrez was not able to be present at the Dec. 19 meeting herself, due to the weather.

Commenting on the choice of an attorney from out of town, Commission Chairman Gilbert Apps said, “I think it honestly helps that she won’t be exposed to the newspaper stories.”

Salome said there are two issues Barela-Gutierrez will be asked to review immediately. One involves allegations made in November by a man who said he was beaten up by officers at the police station after being arrested in a domestic incident involving alcohol.

Another involves a city resident who said his rights were violated when police searched him before allowing him to enter a city park for a Veterans Day celebration on Nov. 11.

However, now that there’s an oversight commission set up to formally look into these matters, there may be more complaints.

“The fact that we have it makes people more likely to use it,” Salome said.

In fact, two citizens who attended to the Dec. 19 oversight commission meeting said they were looking into filing a formal complaint. They chose not to speak at the public forum, but after the meeting said they came to find out the proper procedure to follow.

One was Jim Fogarty of Polvadera. Fogarty said he was there to offer assistance to his friend, Arlene Sessor, a homeless woman.

Sessor said she was assaulted at the homeless shelter, and called Fogarty to ask for his help, who told her to call the police. When she called the police, they arrested her and took her to the police station. Sessor said she wasn’t given field sobriety tests or asked to blow into the breathalyzer, but was taken to the jail after 45 minutes and booked.

Fogarty said he brought her to the oversight commission meeting thinking she could have her complaint heard there.

Although the public is invited to attend oversight commission meetings and speak in the public forum, all complaints must be submitted to the city in writing.

Sessor said she would be filing a written complaint shortly.

The next meeting of the Police Oversight Commission will be Jan. 10 at 5:30 p.m., in the city council chambers.

 


-- Email the author at sbarteau@dchieftain.com.

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