A Valencia County party leader has filed a petition in the 13th Judicial District Court challenging the candidacy of one person running for Valencia County sheriff.

In the filing, Michael Candelaria, the chairman of the Republican Party of Valencia County, claims Democrat Rodney Jones “is simply not a resident of Valencia County.”

Earlier this month, Jones filed to run for Valencia County sheriff in the June primary on the Democrat ticket. No other candidates filed to run against Jones in the primary, giving him a direct line to the November general election, where he would face Republican incumbent Sheriff Denise Vigil, who is also unchallenged in the primary.

Rodney Jones

In a statement provided via text message, Jones said he has been registered at his “place” in Valencia County since 1996.

“I have never intended to change my residence from Valencia County. My entire career I have worked in law enforcement in Valencia County,” Jones wrote. “In fact, I returned to VCSO after being shot five times.

“The voters have the right to a choice in this race and I have a right to appear on the ballot in the county where I have been registered to vote for 26 years.”

Jones, a member of the Isleta Pueblo, is currently the secretary on the Isleta Tribal Council and former chief judge. He is a former detective with Valencia County Sheriff’s Office and the Los Lunas Police Department.

Vigil said she was aware of the petition filed by Candelaria, who is also a member of the Isleta Pueblo, but wasn’t directly involved with the challenge.

“I was told by the party chairman that he, as chair, had the responsibility to file the challenge of residency,” Vigil said. “He said I didn’t need to be involved now, but might be needed later. I do know it has been filed.”

The challenge will be heard by District Court Judge James Lawrence Sanchez at 1:30 p.m., Monday, March 28, at the 13th Judicial District Courthouse in Los Lunas.

In the challenge, Candelaria alleges Jones does not live at the address on Tribal Road 28 in Valencia County which he used to file for candidacy, but rather at a home on Quail Court in Bernalillo County. Tribal Road 28 runs north off Peralta Boulevard, and Quail Court is in a subdivision east of Interstate 25 and north of the Pueblo of Isleta Elementary School.

Both properties are on the Pueblo of Isleta, which is south of the city of Albuquerque and lies in both Bernalillo and Valencia counties.

The petition claims Jones lives and works in Bernalillo County, a fact that is “well known in his community.”

In addition to being the Valencia County GOP chairman, the challenge states Candelaria is a percipient witness, meaning he has obtained knowledge about the case through his own direct observations.

“I personally know Rodney Jones and have known him for at least five years …,” Candelaria wrote in a declaration. “The Pueblo of Isleta is not a large community, and many, if not most, of the members know one another well.”

Candelaria provided photos of the property on Tribal Road 28, which is described as an empty lot, with nothing but some vehicles unsuitable for permanent residents and no utilities. The complaint says Jones previously lived on the lot in a trailer that was removed eight to 10 years ago, when he moved to his alleged current home in Bernalillo County.

In his declaration, Candelaria writes that the property on Tribal Road 28 has no fixed structures on it, and no hookups for utilities. When he was at the property, Candelaria claims there were only vehicles present, including an RV, which was not on jack stands or have any other outward indicators suggesting it was being used as a residence.

“Today, it is well-known in the community — including personally to Mr. Candelaria, whose cousin lives next door to Mr. Jones — that Mr. Jones lives exclusively at the single-family home on (Quail Court) … in Bernalillo County,” the complaint reads.

Candelaria also provided screenshots of Jones’ Facebook page purporting to show the Quail Court house and Jones claiming it as his house. He included an invoice, claiming he sold products to Jones in 2019, who billed for and shipped the items to the Quail Court address.

Candelaria’s challenge calls for the disqualification of Jones as a candidate for sheriff, arguing that the New Mexico Constitution provides the sheriff of each county must reside within his or her county.

“In cases of doubt about residence, ‘permanent residence shall be resolved in favor of that place shown on a person’s certificate of registration as his permanent residence, [but only] provided the person resides on the premises,’” the challenge reads. “Mr. Jones does not reside in Valencia County.”

Ultimately, the challenge asks the court to declare Jones is not a resident of Valencia County and not legally qualified to run for sheriff, and to order Valencia County Clerk Mike Milam not to certify Jones as a candidate or permit his placement on the 2022 Democratic Party primary ballot.

Candidacy challenge: Rodney Jones

Candidacy challenge: Rodney Jones

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Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.