Law and order
Law enforcement issues were big as 2018 entered Conejos County’s calendar.
A heated meeting attended by some 300 persons at the Sanford Community Center highlighted problems in Conejos County as burglars seemed to be entering properties and taking items at will.
Then-Conejos County Sheriff Howard Galvez addressed concerned citizens and expressed his own concern about the growing crime in Sanford and the surrounding rural area. Residents demanded answers as to why they have suffered criminal ctivity and burglaries with little help from law enforcement.
Sanford had been without a police department for several months.
In May, James Spratt, an experienced law enforcement officer who had been working for the sheriff, was hired as Sanford Police Chief and immediately began seeking another officer.
By February 2018, Galvez was on the way out. His resignation was accepted Feb. 22 following discussion and an agreement, and the Conejos Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) termed it a “retirement.”
BOCC Chairman John Sandoval signed along with Galvez, who added the date, 2-22-18. Accompanied by a document of irrevocable resignation and a letter of resignation, both signed by Galvez, the agreement was made public by the BOCC.
With three persons waiting in the wings for election to the post, the BOCC was working on a replacement for Galvez, possibly as early as March 2, which was to be the sheriff’s last day.
Conejos County’s new sheriff hit the ground running Friday, March 2. With 37 years of law enforcement experience under his belt and after a three-year break, Robert J. Gurule was appointed to replace Galvez. Martin Gonzales, 12th Judicial District judge, swore Gurule in as sheriff.
Soon afterwards, retired Colorado State Patrol Trooper Garth Crowther tossed his hat in the ring for the county’s top badge, opposed by fellow Republican Marvin Thomas and Democrat Jacob Ortiz.
Crowther emerged victorious and began working for the sheriff’s office, helping the staff adjust and advertising for new deputies where needed.
The downside was defeat of a proposed countywide sales tax to support law enforcement and the county emergency medical services.
In a related case, Joshua Martinez, 26, of Manassa was sentenced to 15 years in prison, closing out 17 separate cases of burglary and showing frustrated citizens that something can be done.
Martinez appeared in Conejos District Court Oct. 26 to hear arguments by both prosecution and defense in support of a sentence that had already been agreed upon in an earlier plea agreement. Martinez admitted committing six burglaries, with the remaining 11 still under investigation to determine restitution.
Martinez’s bond was set at $130,000 for all three pending cases. He has been remanded to the state Department of Corrections (DOC) to serve 15 years behind bars.
There was no demand for leniency and Deputy 12th Judicial District Attorney Ashley McCuaig pointed out that the 17 cases involved more than 40 victims, each of whom felt upset and violated.
“These victims lost not only possessions, but trust, the feeling of being safe at home.”
While the loss was various items, the thefts did violate the persons of those suffering the losses, McCuaig told 12th Judicial District Judge Martin Gonzales, who levied the DOC sentence.