Chief renews efforts for MOU with Navajo Nation

Navajo council delegate supports agreement

Steve Garrison
Navajo Nation police Officer Jonathan Johnson, right, speaks with Shiprock Police Lt. Phillip Joe and  Farmington Police Chief Steve Hebbe Aug. 7, 2014, during an investigation in a housing area in Ojo Amarillo.

FARMINGTON — Last week, a 23-year-old man suspected of armed robbery fled in a stolen vehicle from an east Farmington business to county roads 7100 and 7130 near Huerfano, where he surrendered.

Though Farmington police officers pursued the man for 25 miles on Tuesday, they could not make the arrest. The suspect surrendered where Farmington police have no authority: the Navajo Nation.

Farmington police Chief Steve Hebbe said last week that he will renew efforts to address that jurisdictional issue by establishing a memorandum of understanding with the Navajo Nation.

"When we are in hot pursuit of a dangerous suspect and we make the apprehension, we want the ability to bring them back and face justice," Hebbe said.

A formal agreement would not only allow Farmington police officers to arrest suspects who flee onto the tribe's sovereign territory, but it would further strengthen bonds between the Farmington Police Department and the reservation's law enforcement agencies, Hebbe said.

Hebbe said more than a dozen Farmington police officers assisted Navajo police in directing traffic and ensuring the safety of people attending the Northern Navajo Nation Fair in Shiprock earlier this month. Farmington police safety teams also continue to help Navajo school administrators with active shooter scenario drills.

"In Farmington, there will be some who are critical of that," Hebbe said. "But we have a lot of citizens here who are Navajos, and they have relatives that live on the Navajo Nation."

Farmington police Chief Steve Hebbe, left, and Shiprock police Lt. Phillip Joe speak with a man Aug. 7, 2014, at the City Market parking lot in Shiprock.

In August 2014, Farmington police officials were in discussion with Navajo Nation officials, including then Division of Public Safety Executive Director John Billison, to sign an agreement, Hebbe said, but the Navajo Nation's tumultuous presidential election disrupted those discussions.

Hebbe said he hopes to meet with the tribe's new public safety executive director, Jesse Delmar.

Delmar said in an email he would be interested in establishing a mutual aid agreement, but he would need to consult with his staff further on the matter.

Shiprock police Lt. Phillip Joe said he and his officers would support a memorandum.

“Pretty much across the board, we would be supportive of that effort,” Joe said.

Joe said jurisdictional issues involving memorandums have been hammered out in the past few years after New Mexico State Police signed an agreement with the Navajo Nation in 2012.

Navajo Nation Council Delegate Edmund Yazzie is chairman of the council’s Law and Order Committee and a former deputy with the McKinley County Sheriff’s Office. He said he would be willing to help Hebbe navigate the legislative process to reach an agreement.

“I’m in favor of it, but it has to be passed by the Law and Order Committee, and the president has to sign off on it,” he said. “I would love to meet with the chief.”

Yazzie said some Navajos fear such an agreement may lead to harassment on the reservation by Farmington police officers.

“That is a major concern,” Yazzie said. “If we approach this, I can hear our people saying Farmington police are going to set up speed traps on the rez. But I know Navajo police are shorthanded and this is only for extreme emergencies.”

Yazzie said Farmington police officers would need to receive training in tribal law before an agreement could be reached. Navajo police would need the same training in state law.

President Russell Begaye did not respond to a request for comment on the memorandum.

The suspect in Tuesday's chase, Lorenzo Martinez, was arrested by New Mexico State Police. Martinez was charged in Farmington Magistrate Court with armed robbery, vehicle theft and aggravated fleeing.

Steve Garrison covers crime and courts for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4644.