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Mistrial declared in case of Rio Arriba County sheriff

June 4, 2021 GMT

TIERRA AMARILLA, N.M. (AP) — A state district judge on Friday declared a mistrial in the case of Rio Arriba County Sheriff James Lujan after jurors were unable to reach a unanimous verdict.

The 60-year-old sheriff was facing charges of harboring or aiding a felon and bribing a witness in connection with a 2017 incident. He was accused of helping former Española City Councilor Phillip Chacon evade police after a high-speed chase and telling a sheriff’s deputy who witnessed some of his actions not to tell anyone.

Lujan’s attorney had argued that the sheriff had no knowledge of the charges against Chacon at the time.

Española police began pursuing Chacon after he attempted to back into a police vehicle and failed to pull over despite the officer’s use of lights and sirens, The Santa Fe New Mexican reported. The chase reached speeds up to 110 miles per hour before officers abandoned the pursuit due to the danger to the community.

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Lujan is alleged to have gone to Chacon’s house after Chacon evaded police, told him to gather his belongings and took him away instead of surrendering him to police.

Former Rio Arriba County Deputy Cody Lattin testified that he encountered Lujan on the road and Lujan told Lattin to follow him to Chacon’s home so Lattin could help serve a restraining order requiring Chacon to leave the premises.

Lattin told jurors that he believed Chacon should have been taken directly to Española police but feared for his job if he reported the incident.

Special Prosecutor Andrea Reeb pointed to recordings of phone calls Lujan made to the dispatch center the night of the incident as evidence Lujan was trying to protect Chacon. She said the sheriff might not have known the exact charge Chacon was accused of, but he knew what he did was wrong.

“Any officer would be arrested for taking somebody that was wanted and getting them away from that situation,” she said.

Defense attorney Jason Bowles pointed to inconsistencies in the testimony of some of the state’s witnesses, including two officers who pursued Chacon that night.

“You can’t convict someone in this country on this amount of speculation,” he told jurors.

Lujan is also awaiting trial on three misdemeanor counts of resisting, evading or obstructing an officer in another case involving Chacon in which he is alleged to have shown up drunk at Chacon’s house in March 2020 as police were executing a search warrant and tried to take over the operation from local officers and New Mexico State Police.