Taos County Sheriff candidates spar at forum
The two candidates running for Taos County Sheriff in the 2018 general election answered questions and debated important public safety concerns at a forum Thursday (Oct. 4).
Taos County Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe and Republican challenger Jani Davis sometimes found common ground, and at other times, disagreed strongly.
The forum, organized by The Taos News, the Taos County Chamber of Commerce and University of New MexicoTaos, started around 5:30 p.m. at UNM’s Bataan Hall on Civic Plaza Drive in Taos.
Davis kicked off the evening by telling the large turnout gathered that she believes law enforcement has reached a “tipping point” in Taos County. “They’re tired, ready to retire and they’re outnumbered,” Davis said.
She framed her statements around a picture of exhausted deputies and low morale at the sheriff’s office, an argument she would thread through other responses she gave throughout the evening.
Davis spent almost a decade in law enforcement before her career was derailed in 2015 when she was accused of using excessive force against a suspect. A jury later found her not guilty.
She acknowledged at the forum she made “a bad call” the night the incident occurred. She said her “grit and guts,” along with experience in the private sector, have imbued her with the qualities necessary to serve as an effective sheriff.
Hogrefe, with 30 years in law enforcement, countered that his office, while imperfect, has greatly improved during his tenure. He said his track record of regular fugitive roundups, major case investigations and Taos County’s recent incorporation into the Region III Drug Task Force, part of the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area initiative, are major steps in the right direction.
The sheriff also noted the addition of several positions under his leadership, including two deputy positions that were added within the last few months. But, he said he agreed with Davis that more manpower is needed. He has repeatedly approached Taos County for funds to add positions while also seeking grant monies from the state and federal government.
“I’m very proud of this office and the family and team that we have become,” Hogrefe said.
While both candidates treated each other with respect and shared in jokes onstage, things took a turn after Hogrefe was asked about his office’s recent raid of a compound near Amalia where five adults were arrested, 11 children were taken into custody and a twelfth child was later found dead.
“I wish that the federal agency (FBI) would have moved quicker,” he said as part of his response and reiterated that his office moved in once they felt they had sufficient probable cause.
He made waves when he walked out of a CNN interview in August after he was asked whether moving in sooner could have saved the life of the child.
Davis took the opportunity to point out that Hogrefe had created a “lip sync video” in the past year, arguing that, if she had been in office, she would have been working the case instead.
Tempers flared from there, with Hogrefe telling Davis, “You don’t know anything about that investigation.” He said he was proud of the video, which has become a popular means for law enforcement agencies throughout the United States to relate to the public.
Later in the evening, Davis would also take shots at Hogrefe for criminal charges that are pending against two of his sergeants, one of whom allegedly committed his crimes before Hogrefe took office and a recent petty misdemeanor battery conviction against one of his deputies, whom Hogrefe has kept on at the sheriff’s office.
Hogrefe responded that he has followed policy in all disciplinary matters and that his rulebook was developed in conjunction with seven attorneys and the Taos County Board of Commissioners.
In spite of the attacks, Hogrefe resisted taking similar shots.
In closing statements, both candidates reiterated their platforms. Hogrefe, a sheriff with many accomplishments under his belt but looking to do more, and Davis, deftly playing to a large turnout of supporters, reminding them of the qualities she put on display Thursday night: that she’s tough, calculating and not afraid to clash with those who oppose her.