Tucumcari prosecutor to put Clovis police officer on trial

Sharna Johnson

10th Judicial District Attorney Ron Reeves of Tucumcari will prosecute a Clovis police officer charged with vehicular homicide.

District Attorney Matt Chandler said in the interest of avoiding any appearance of conflict, he decided to transfer the case against Stephen Gallegos to Reeves.

“Every prosecutor within our district has a strong professional relationship with the Clovis Police Department,” Chandler said in an e-mail.

“Since the accused in this case is an officer of the Clovis Police Department, I believe it’s in the best interest of all parties involved to transfer the case to an outside, independent, prosecutor to avoid any perception of impropriety.”

The case remains assigned to the court of 9th Judicial District Judge Robert Orlik.

A Curry County grand jury indicted Gallegos, 33, Jan. 21 on charges of felony vehicular homicide and great bodily harm by a motor vehicle.

The charges stem from a Nov. 17 crash that killed 56-year-old Mary Castillo and critically injured Edith Payton, 40.

Payton was later released from a Lubbock hospital.

Police said Gallegos was speeding —driving at 56 mph in a posted 35 mph zone —when he ran a stop sign at Sycamore and Grand, crashing into a pickup truck driven by Payton.

Casillas, a passenger in the truck, was airlifted to a Lubbock hospital, where she died the following day.

Gallegos was not injured in the crash.

Following the indictment, the Clovis Police Department placed Gallegos, who has been a Clovis officer more than a year, on paid administrative leave.

Gallegos’ attorney Dan Lindsey said his client is struggling with the crash and remorseful.

“This is a terrible accident. He didn’t mean for it to happen (and) he’s tore up about it. He’s very emotionally distraught,” Lindsey said. “He ran a stop sign, it could have happened to anybody… he didn’t mean to hurt anybody, not a soul.”

Lindsey said he plans to review media coverage of the crash and investigation and talk with his client to determine if he will ask for a change of venue in the case.

“I just don’t know,” he said. “It’s possible, (but) the people of Curry County have always be extremely fair and thoughtful jurors.”

Lindsey said Gallegos has continued to cooperate with investigators and testified before the grand jury.

“He’ll do what ever he can to help the (families),” he said.

As of Thursday, no hearings had been scheduled in the case, Lindsey said.