BELEN —Belen Police Chief Victor Rodriguez has been placed on paid administrative leave and is under investigation.
Belen Mayor Jerah Cordova said Rodriguez was informed of the decision last Thursday morning.
“We have initiated an investigation, which will be handled by an outside agency, based on complaints … inside and out of the police department,” Cordova said. “The complaints are enough to initiate an investigation.”
The mayor said because this is a personnel matter, he couldn’t be specific about the complaints and who made them. He also said the outside agency will be conducting the investigation because of an internal potential conflict of interest.
Belen City Manager Leona Vigil said Robert Caswell Investigations (RCI) is conducting the investigation, and interviews began on Wednesday.
“The bottom line, we (the mayor and council) have been meeting for several weeks in closed session to discuss ongoing issues,” Cordova said.
During the chief’s absence, Cordova said Sgt. Jose Natividad will be acting police chief. Because of recent departures from the Belen Police Department, there is no upper management on the force. Deputy chief Robert Miller resigned late last year from the department, and lieutenant Joe Portio retired in May.
“I don’t know how long the investigation will take, and what the outcome will be,” Cordova said. “We will also have a discussion with the city council in closed session on Monday about the investigation and overall situation.”
The city council did discuss the department during an executive session during Monday’s council meeting, but no action was taken. Cordova said after the meeting the council will wait until the investigation is completed.
During a phone interview with Rodriquez’s attorney, Eric Loman, last Thursday afternoon, he said both he and his client are confused about the city’s actions.
“Chief Rodriguez has done nothing that he can think of for the city to do this,” Loman said. “They did not given a reason (for being placed on administrative leave). I don’t know what the city’s plan is, and don’t know what he’s being investigated for.”
The attorney said he doesn’t know what the complaints are and neither does Rodriguez. Loman said when Rodriguez was hired as Belen’s police chief, he was asked to make changes and be proactive, and while doing so, “he might have ruffled a few feathers.”
The Belen City Council unanimously appointed Rodriguez as the police chief in January. He took over the top cop position after former chief Scott Conner resigned after taking a police chief position in Idaho.
Before coming to the Hub City, Rodriguez was a lieutenant with the Sandoval County Sheriff’s Office, overseeing the civil/court services and the criminal investigations divisions, the school resource program and the day-shift patrol officers.
When he was hired, he told the council, “The No. 1 goal is to serve the community, and provide quality services to the community, and that’s one thing I promise each one of you that the Belen Police Department will provide quality service, and will continue to protect and serve with excellence, integrity and professionalism.”
Clara Garcia is the editor and publisher of the Valencia County News-Bulletin.
She is a native of the city of Belen, beginning her journalism career at the News-Bulletin in 1998 as the crime and courts reporter. During her time at the paper, Clara has won numerous awards for her writing, photography and typography and design both from the National Newspaper Association and the New Mexico Press Association.