Kenneth Clarke
Kenneth Clarke (Courtesy of San Juan County Adult Detention Center)

FARMINGTON — The San Juan County Sheriff's Office deputy who was arrested earlier this month will soon return to active duty.

Kenneth Clarke, 50, was arrested Jan. 15 after he allegedly obstructed a state police investigation. A New Mexico State Police officer said in an affidavit for Kenneth Clarke's arrest that he was trying to take the man's 6-year-old stepson and return the child to his biological father when Kenneth Clarke and his wife, Joy Clarke, placed the child in a vehicle, locked the doors and drove away from investigators. Joy Clarke is the child's biological mother.

The Clarkes returned the child to his biological father later that night, according to the affidavit.

The sheriff's office placed Clarke on paid administrative leave the day before he was arrested and completed an internal investigation. Clarke will return to duty at 3 p.m. Saturday. He will be on patrol and won't have any restrictions to his job, said sheriff's office Capt. Brice Current, who oversees internal affairs.

"After reviewing the state police case and speaking with Ken Clarke, it was determined that at this time it's unclear he violated any (sheriff's office) policies," he said. "We're waiting for the outcome of the criminal investigation."

The Clarkes' arrests came as state police were investigating allegations that the child's biological father had sexually assaulted him, according to court documents. The biological father has not been charged with a crime.

New Mexico State Police Agent Ray White said in court documents that an interview with the child revealed Joy Clarke coached the boy into making the allegations.

White told the Clarkes he had a court order to take custody of the child and return him to his biological father, which is when the Clarkes stopped talking to the investigator and drove away, according to court documents.

In addition to the obstruction charge, Joy Clarke was also charged with filing a false police report, which is a misdemeanor.

Steven Murphy, Kenneth Clarke's attorney, said the matter is a civil custody issue, and the criminal charges never should have been filed. He said police procedures called for the investigator to tell the child's biological father to file an order with the court, not for the officer to try to take custody of the child.

Murphy said state police brought charges against the Clarkes because the couple filed formal complaints against a state police sergeant and lieutenant after the Clarkes reported the suspected abuse several months prior and the Clarkes felt police didn't complete a thorough investigation.

State police spokesman Lt. Emmanuel Gutierrez said the charges filed against the couple stemmed only from an investigation of their case.

Prior to charging the Clarkes with misdemeanors, police tried to charge Kenneth Clarke with custodial interference, which is a fourth-degree felony, but prosecutors declined to sign off on the warrant, Murphy said.

Joy Clarke passed a polygraph that showed she didn't tell her son to make up stories of sexual assault, Murphy said.

Murphy also said the child made similar allegations of assault against his biological father to a school counselor and a psychiatrist, neither of whom were interviewed by state police.

"We still have problems. We have a little boy who reported sexual assault and no investigation," Murphy said.

Ryan Boetel covers crime for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4644 and rboetel@daily-times.com. Follow him on Twitter @rboetel on Twitter.