Investigation clears deputies who let officer go after DWI

On Special Assignment

The internal affairs investigation into Otero County Sheriff’s Department deputies is now completed after they came under fire for how they handled the DWI case of a former fellow deputy turned State Police officer.

The deputies gave her a ride home instead of a ride to jail.

It started with a 911 call from a driver on Highway 82 near Alamogordo.

He reported that a driver in white pickup truck using high beams had forced him off the road.

“He almost hit me. I had to swerve off the road,” the caller said.

At about 7:15 p.m. on Monday, February 26, Deputy Chris Swanson found the white pickup truck described in the call, pulled over on the side of the highway, according to court documents.

Inside, Swanson found his friend, Jessica Turner, slumped over the steering wheel.

Turner was a State Police officer at the time and an Otero County deputy before that.

When she woke up, court documents say, Swanson told Turner “his ‘recorder’ was not on, but when he returned, it would be, so she had better get her s*** together.”

When it came time for field sobriety tests, Turner struggled to keep her balance and walk a straight line.

Deputy Swanson can be heard on dash camera video saying, “She’s hammered.”

Sgt. Sean Jett told Deputy Swanson to make the arrest.

“Unfortunately, Ms. Turner, you’re being placed under arrest for driving while intoxicated,” Deputy Swanson said.

“First of all, where have you found my keys in my vehicle?” Turner questioned.

“I have not found your keys,” he answered.

Still losing her balance while arguing, Turner said that without her car keys, they had no proof she had been driving. 

It is a critical piece of evidence that deputies are never seen on video even looking for.

Instead of investigating further, a third deputy on scene, Sgt. Steve Odom, agreed with Turner.

“I would have to say, let her go. Give her a ride,” Sgt. Odom told Deputy Swanson.

While the sergeants discussed it, Deputy Swanson quietly told Turner, “You’re good.”

He gave her a ride home in his patrol car.

Unlike the Sheriff’s Department, the District Attorney’s office does think there is enough evidence to show that Turner drove drunk and then hid her keys to get out of trouble. 

The DA’s office is prosecuting the case against Turner.

They say State Police video that has not been released publicly shows a brake light going on and an electronic warning bell can be heard along with the sound of “jingling metallic objects,” according to the Statement of Probable Cause prosecutors filed in District Court.

Prosecutors believe that proves Turner had her keys in the ignition when deputies first showed up.

News 13 interviewed Sheriff Benny House after he launched an internal affairs investigation and asked if Turner got special treatment.

“I don’t know,” he responded.

“That is unusual though, right, to tell someone they’re gonna be arrested but then they’re not?” KRQE News 13 asked Sheriff House.

“It’s very uncommon, very uncommon.”

The Sheriff says now the investigation is over.

He says it found that none of his deputies broke any policies or laws.

News 13 wanted to see the internal affairs report to better understand how the investigator came to that conclusion.

However, Otero County Manager Pamela Heltner refuses to release it to the public and refuses to do an on-camera interview about it.

While Otero County believes the internal affairs report is exempt from public records laws, other law enforcement agencies around the state do release them under the law.

Jessica Turner quit the State Police force as they were moving to fire her.

Her DWI trial is set for February.

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