Sheriff recall headed to vote

De Baca County Sheriff Gary Graves is accused of misappropriating funds and mistreating prisoners. He denies the allegations. (Staff photo: Andy Jackson)

By Andy Jackson: CNJ staff writer

FORT SUMNER — Lisa Lee stood outside the De Baca County Sheriff’s Office on Saturday while on break from her job as a dispatcher. About 30 feet to her right was a sign that read “vote here,” a reminder of Wednesday’s recall election that will determine the fate of Sheriff Gary Graves.

Lee is among the county residents who would like to see Graves removed from office.

“I used to work for the sheriff (as his secretary) and I’d be very happy to see him leave,” Lee said. “It’s time for the county to start healing from a lot of hurt.”

Gary Gaitner and Elaine Gaitner, owners of the Billy the Kid Motel, don’t believe Graves has done anything wrong. The Gaitners have a sign in front of their business supporting the sheriff.

“I don’t think this recall is necessary. I will vote my conscience, Graves is innocent,” Elaine Gaitner said.
“We support Graves and believe an injustice has been done against him,” Gary Gaitner said.

Carol Zamora said Graves is honest and has done a good job.

“He (Graves) didn’t get a fair chance. Once they (the De Baca Concerned Citizens) got started, they didn’t quit. It’s a bad deal. You can’t work when people are picking on you,” Zamora said.

Others queried Saturday in Fort Sumner about the sheriff situation preferred to remain silent or were non-committal.

Fort Sumner Mayor Raymond Lopez said he doesn’t want to sway public opinion before the election by stating his opinions on the allegations Graves faces.

He did say, however, the impact of the recall vote could ripple throughout the state.

“This could be the first time a sheriff is recalled in the state of New Mexico,” Lopez said.

Graves, who has asked the state Court of Appeals for an emergency stay in an effort to put off the election, is accused of misappropriating funds and mistreating prisoners. He denies the allegations.

The sheriff’s attorney, Bill Robins III, is appealing an August ruling in which state District Court Judge Joe Parker found there was probable cause to believe that Graves committed acts of malfeasance while in office.

The ruling allowed a group of county residents, De Baca County Concerned Citizens, to proceed with the recall effort.
The group alleged that the sheriff transported prisoners at speeds in excess of 100 mph, failed to keep proper financial records and improperly used public money for his own use.

Graves said he did not mistreat prisoners or take public money. He said if recalled he plans to challenge the results.
“I feel this is a premature case. Lots of issues will be overturned in appellate court,” he said.

Gene Sherman, 82, a Fort Sumner resident for 46 years, said he’s in favor of the vote, although he wouldn’t say where his support lies on the issue. He said Sheriff Graves is a good person who has made mistakes.

Barry Massey and Chuck Massey make and sell barbecue sandwiches and hot dogs out of a covered wagon they call Chuck Wagon BBQ on U.S. 84. They’ve only been in Fort Sumner three weeks, they said.

“I sold the sheriff a sandwich — he seemed like a nice guy,” Chuck Massey said.

The Massey brothers said they didn’t plan on voting in Wednesday’s election.