ESPAÑOLA, N.M. (KRQE) – The retrial for Rio Arriba County Sheriff James Lujan is underway Monday, Nov. 29. Lujan is charged with bribery of a witness and harboring or aiding a felon for allegedly helping a former Española city councilor evade police after a high-speed chase back in March of 2017.
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Prosecutors say after the chase, Lujan drove Phillip Chacon away in his patrol car. Investigators say Lujan also told his own deputies not to tell anyone about it. Prosecutors say this was a blatant abuse of power while the defense argues Lujan was just questioning Española police.
During Lujan’s first trial in June, the jury could not come to a unanimous verdict. As his second trial got underway on Monday, the prosecution accused him of abusing his authority while the defense argued he was just trying to do his job.
“He is an elected official who used his power and ability to determine if his friend Phillip Chacon would be arrested that night, a man elected to uphold the law but feels he’s above the law,” said District Attorney Andrea Rowley Reeb.
“Sheriff James Lujan was concerned about two things, were Española Police conducting high-speed pursuits not safe, they were not in accord with safe pursuit act in the state of New Mexico,” said Defense Attorney Jason Bowles.
The defense also argues there is a lack of evidence in the case. Lujan is also awaiting trial for charges of resisting, evading, or obstructing an officer for allegedly refusing to hand over his cell phone when Española Police and Taos deputies served a warrant.
That trial is scheduled for January. Lujan is still the sheriff of Rio Arriba County. It would take a conviction or a recall election to force him out.