Voters recall sheriff, but Gary Graves’ fate still unclear

De Baca County Sheriff Gary Graves pauses during an interview Wednesday at the De Baca County Courthouse in Fort Sumner. (Staff photo: Eric Kluth)

By Andy Jackson: CNJ staff writer

FORT SUMNER — De Baca County voters recalled Sheriff Gary Graves from office on Wednesday, but a court hearing scheduled for Nov. 22 may ultimately decide the law officer’s fate.

Fifty-two percent of De Baca County’s registered voters cast ballots: 576 voted to recall Graves from office, while 150 voted that Graves not be recalled, De Baca County Clerk Laurie Pettigrew said.

De Baca County commissioners met in a special session Wednesday night and declared the voting official.

But even as voters cast ballots on Wednesday, a state appeals court ruled “the recall election … is stayed pending further order of the court.”

The court scheduled a hearing for 2:30 p.m. on Nov. 22 in Albuquerque.

Graves said Wednesday night he believes he is still the county’s sheriff, but that county commissioners told him they will take away his keys to county property today.

Graves said he will talk to his attorney this morning and “I’ll do what my lawyer tells me to do.”

De Baca County Commissioner Joe Steele said late Wednesday that commissioners will deliver a letter to Graves today, instructing him to turn in his keys. Steele said state police have agreed to assist the county with law enforcement until a new sheriff is appointed.

Court of Appeals Judge Jonathan B. Sutin ruled Monday in favor of a motion filed by Graves’ attorney to halt Wednesday’s vote.

But De Baca County’s clerk was instructed to proceed with the election by 10th Judicial Chief Deputy District Attorney Donald Schutte, court records show.

Graves’ lawyer, Bill Robins, requested orders of temporary restraint and contempt of court against Pettigrew from the State Court of Appeals on Wednesday, according to court records.

The Court of Appeals denied both of the motions against Pettigrew that Robins requested, court records show. It also maintained “The most appropriate procedure under the circumstances” was to place a hold on recall voting.

There were two options to choose from on Wednesday’s ballot: “for the recall” or “against the recall.”

Voters walked out of the county’s Annex building wearing stickers that read “I voted;” some carried oxygen tanks while others toted young children.

Jack Mullins said he voted against the recall. “I am happy to vote but I don’t think it’s necessary; we have a good elected official,” he said.

Jamie Wall voted to recall the sheriff. “I’m absolutely happy I got to vote. This is a moral issue because if citizens are held accountable for what they do so should the sheriff (be held accountable),” she said.

Graves is accused of acts of malfeasance while in office, including misappropriation of funds, mistreating prisoners, and sexual harassment. He has repeatedly denied the allegations.