Ex-Española police chief acquitted in child abuse case

April 13, 2019 GMT

TAOS — A former Española police chief accused in 2017 of striking his 13-year-old daughter in the face with a pair of shoes and taking away her cellphone at Big 5 Sporting Goods in Taos was acquitted this week in state District Court in Taos.

Matthew Vigil, who retired as police chief after he was indicted in the child abuse case and in a separate domestic violence case filed in 2016, celebrated Tuesday’s verdict with his wife and other family as his daughter and ex-wife wept nearby.

Vigil was charged with one felony count of child abuse and a misdemeanor count of interference with communications after his ex-wife reported he had struck their daughter with a pair of Nike Slides at Big 5 in March 2017.

According to testimony during the trial, Vigil and his wife, Vicki Vigil, a records manager in Taos County Magistrate Court, had picked up his daughter from his ex-wife’s house and took her to the sporting goods store to buy shoes.

A fight erupted as they were shopping, according to testimony, but conflicting accounts of the incident from Vicki Vigil and the girl cast doubt among jurors about what happened.

Matthew Vigil’s daughter said her father became angry and threw a pair of Nike Slides — a type of slip-on sandal — that hit her in the face, prompting her to run away and call her mother. Through tears, she told the court that her father then took away her phone and refused to return it.

She was afraid to be in the same room with him, she said, and felt intimidated by the large presence of family supporters who appeared in court to back him.

Vicki Vigil painted a picture of an emotional girl who had a tendency to blow matters out of proportion.

She testified that her husband never had the shoes in his hand during the exchange, and said he had swatted the shoes to the ground when his daughter tossed them at him after she became frustrated during a dispute about what size to select.

The girl’s cellphone was returned to her after they all returned to their car, Vicki Vigil said.

Taos police lapel camera footage showed Matthew Vigil telling officers that his daughter was never struck and was being a “brat.”

Officer Andrea Medina testified she saw swelling over the girl’s left eye.

Police reports said there were no video surveillance cameras in the store.

Matthew Vigil pleaded guilty in 2011 in Taos County Magistrate Court to a misdemeanor count of harassment, related to threatening text messages he had sent to his ex-wife’s new boyfriend following their divorce.

Later that year, Vigil was charged with drunken driving in Raton, but that charge was dismissed in 2014.

In 2016, Vigil pleaded guilty to battery against a household member, Vicki Vigil. The state also charged him with two counts of intimidating a witness on suspicion of coercing Vicki Vigil and a child at the home from testifying against him, but those charges and one count of child abuse were dropped.

According to court records, Matthew Vigil’s ex-wife has custody of their daughter, while Vigil continues to share custody.

A version of this story first appeared in The Taos News, a sister publication of the Santa Fe New Mexican.