Academy revokes former captain's certification

Dan Schwartz
Shane Utley

FARMINGTON — The New Mexico Law Enforcement Academy Board has voted to revoke the law enforcement certification of a former captain in the San Juan County Sheriff’s Office after a previous finding that he lied.

According to law enforcement academy documents, Shane Utley, the former captain, traded an AR-15 rifle, a shotgun and ammunition for each firearm in December 2013 for a Honda dirt bike. The ammunition – valued at between $180 and $250 – was stamped with identification numbers that matched rounds kept in the Sheriff’s Office SWAT truck, according to the documents.

Utley testified in academy hearings that he didn’t know the ammunition was Sheriff’s Office property, claiming Capt. Brice Current gave him the rounds, according to the documents. But an academy hearing officer in early August stated that Utley “knew or should have known” who owned the ammunition, and, according to the documents, Current denied he gave Utley the rounds.

The hearing officer also determined in the August meeting that Utley had lied about his role in cutting two barrels down to make a sawed-off shotgun for the SWAT team. In documents from a Sheriff’s Office internal affairs investigation, Sheriff's Office Capt. Cory Tanner brought up the issue.

“Some of ‘em mentioned that you made a sawed-off shotgun and it ... is or was in use by SWAT,” he said, according to the documents, which were part of the academy investigation.

“If there is a sawed-off shotgun anywhere, it’s not mine,” Utley said, according to the documents. “I didn’t do it.”

But in a letter to the academy, Utley admitted to cutting down the barrels, according to the documents.

Utley did not attend the Oct. 21 academy board hearing in which his certification was revoked, according to James Hallinan, a spokesman for the attorney general’s office.

Efforts made last week to reach the academy’s director, Jack Jones II, were unsuccessful.

Utley, who worked in law enforcement for 25 years before retiring last year, did not return a phone call seeking comment for this story.

“It’s unfortunate that he worked that long in law enforcement and ended up this way, but this says a lot about character,” San Juan County Sheriff Ken Christesen said.

San Juan County Sheriff Ken Christesen

Utley and three other former employees of the Sheriff’s Office filed a lawsuit last year against Christesen claiming he retaliated against them with unjust demotions and work-place harassment because they wouldn’t support his re-election campaign. In early October, the county settled the lawsuit for $500,000.

Sheriff’s Office Capt. Brice Current, former Undersheriff Ron Anderson, the Sheriff’s Office, the county and its commissioners were also defendants. Lisa Haws, Matt Wilcox and Utley’s wife, Beth Utley, were the other plaintiffs.

The lawsuit claimed the accusations against Shane Utley were “bogus” and “nothing more than retaliation.” But Christesen says the academy determined Shane Utley is deceptive and lied.

Christesen described the lawsuit as a political torpedo aimed at his 2014 reelection campaign. He said the half-million-dollar settlement, a business decision by the county’s insurance company, has no bearing on accuracy of the claims made against him in the lawsuit.

“Everything we do is based on integrity,” he said.

Dan Schwartz covers government for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4606.