'I have not quit': Navajo police chief continues service

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — Navajo Police Chief Phillip Francisco continues to serve in the department's top office despite a report this week stating otherwise.

Francisco affirmed his status as police chief after a July 9 story by a regional newspaper stated that he quit on July 8.

The story stated that during the Law and Order Committee meeting on July 8, Francisco became frustrated when he was repeatedly interrupted by Navajo Nation Council delegates when responding to questions about the department's handling of a recent case.

According to the story, Francisco removed his badge, placed it on the table then left the meeting.

"I have not quit. It was a dispute at the Law and Order Committee, which I felt like they weren't giving me a chance to speak," Francisco said in a telephone interview on July 9.

Navajo Police Chief Phillip Francisco speaks on June 22, 2018 at the graduation ceremony for members of the Navajo Police Training Academy Class 52  at the Wildcat Den in Chinle, Arizona.

Delegate Eugenia Charles-Newton, who serves as committee chairperson, said she was surprised by Francisco's action.

"I was in shock at what I saw," she said in a telephone interview on July 10.

Francisco, along with Division of Public Safety Executive Director Jesse Delmar, were listed on the agenda to present a report about activities at the police department and the division.

Delmar did not attend the meeting and in a released audio recording, Francisco spoke during his report about the police academy, recruitment efforts and the new website the department will launch.

Francisco said rather than asking questions about his report, the delegates sought information about cases and investigations.

"My department was being questioned and everything else. It was getting to the point where they asked me questions, but they would not let me answer the questions being asked," he said.

The Law and Order Committee serves as the oversight committee for the Division of Public Safety under tribal law.

In the audio recording, Charles-Newton tells Francisco after his report that delegates have been receiving comments about the police department from community members.

In this file photo, Delegate Eugenia Charles-Newton, left, who represents Shiprock Chapter, speaks to U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., about the condition of the Shiprock Police Department during a tour on March 22.

She goes on to ask why a person in connection to a recent case was released, and expressed concerns about behavior displayed by police dispatchers and the process for families to receive information about cases.

Francisco starts to respond then stops because Delegate Eugene Tso says, "question," and is recognized by Charles-Newton.

Eugene Tso makes his comment, which is immediately followed by comments from Delegates Otto Tso and Raymond Smith Jr.

Francisco then asks if he can finish his earlier comments.

"I'm sorry but I have things to do," he said. "I've been sitting here all day, so I don't want to be lectured. I want to tell you why the reasons I'm being here, but I keep getting cut off so I'm just sitting here being lectured on stuff that I already know."

"You don’t need to get defensive," Smith replied.

From there the two men exchange comments, including Smith stating, "settle down chief," and Francisco stating, "I'm here to do a job."

After the exchange, Francisco says, "OK, here you go. I'm done. You guys can have this. Will see you later. Go find somebody to do a better job," then leaves the room.

Charles-Newton along with Vice Chairperson Otto Tso maintained on July 10 that the committee was only seeking answers to questions raised by constituents.

"When we get asked these questions regarding public safety because we oversee public safety, I think we can ask those questions because we're not pulling them out of thin air," Charles-Newton said.

"If we were to look at the three questions then I think it had nothing to do with investigations and it was geared toward public safety," she added.

Tso reiterated the questions raised during the meeting are being asked by community members.

"It was basic information that needed the answers," Tso said.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.