Investigations

Former state cop accused of lying campaigns to be judge

SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) - He's campaigning for judge on his nearly 15 years of experience in law enforcement, but what he's not talking about is how that career ended.

News 13 reveals On Special Assignment that the New Mexico State Police Department wanted to fire Sam Sena for lying. Still, the former officer and current judicial candidate says the experience will make him a better judge.

Sena's law enforcement background is now at the forefront of his campaign to be a Magistrate Judge in Santa Fe County.

The Democratic Party of Santa Fe County's website shows Sena had a party to announce his candidacy in January.

Sena's biography and posts on his campaign page on Facebook highlight his time with State Police.

“As a New Mexico State Police Officer for over 15 years, I was honored to have served the citizens of Santa Fe County,” Sena wrote in a post titled, “Making A Difference.”

Employment records from the state show Sena worked as a Patrol Officer with State Police for 14 years.

More notably, though, records from the New Mexico Law Enforcement Academy, or LEA, show Sena submitted his letter of retirement in 2016, just two days after getting notice NMSP wanted to fire him for lying.

Deceptive behavior doesn't just get an officer in trouble with their department. It's also grounds for the state to suspend or even revoke someone's certification to be an officer with any other law enforcement agency in New Mexico.

“If they don't have credibility, then they can't do their job,” LEA Director Stephan Marshall said of police officers certified to work in the state. “They have to appear in court. They have to be able to convince others as to what they saw and evidence they collected, so integrity is everything in law enforcement.”

Marshall investigated Sena's case to see if he should keep his certification, but Marshall wouldn't talk with News 13 about the details.

Instead, News 13 obtained the public records.

The misconduct report that NMSP sent the LEA shows that it all started with firearms qualifications.

Sena was tasked with keeping track of officers' 2015 scores and entering them into a database, according to the report.

However, NMSP found that Sena never put them in the database, that he had a problem with his phone and lost the scores stored on it.

Instead of reporting that to supervisors, NMSP said Sena lied, that he made up scores when higher-ups requested them.

The department said that then resulted in those fake scores getting passed on to a Federal Law Enforcement Training Center.

NMSP quoted Sena as stating, “I would say about 90 percent of these scores are fabricated.”

Ultimately, LEA’s investigation agreed with NMSP in finding Sena guilty of wrongdoing. The investigation accused him of showing "a lack of good moral character."

The LEA Board voted last June to suspend Sena's certification for one year.

By that point, Sena had been working with the Pojoaque Tribal Police Department for about eight months following his retirement from NMSP, according to state records.

Those records also show that two weeks after the state suspended Sena’s certification, he was fired from the Department in Pojoaque.

Pojoaque Police would not discuss the circumstances of Sena's termination. Gov. Joseph Talachy said that information is confidential under tribal policies.

Sena, now a candidate for Santa Fe Magistrate Judge, did not want to answer News 13’s questions on camera.

Instead, he sent a prepared statement, saying he expected this issue would come up.

Read Sena's statement to KRQE News 13 >>

Sena said he didn't report the lost data to supervisors because he hoped to recover it and that the qualifications scores he provided were based on his "recollection."

He said his experience with State Police isn't diminished because of a single event and that it will actually make him a more effective judge—having perspective on making a mistake and learning from the consequences.

“This full disclosure and knowledge and transparency is essential,” said Kathleen Sabo, executive director of New Mexico Ethics Watch.

The nonprofit promotes accountability in government.

“Honesty goes to the heart of and is a pillar of judicial integrity,” Sabo said.

When it comes to the integrity of judicial candidates like Sena, the public will be the judge at the polls on Election Day.

Sena is a Democratic candidate.

The Democratic Party of Santa Fe County declined to comment.

        


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