Lea County deputies unable to make arrests after Sheriff’s death

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LOVINGTON, N.M. (KRQE) – Deputies in Lea County are powerless — they’re not allowed to make any arrests after their sheriff unexpectedly died last week.

Lea County Sheriff Steve Ackerman was killed in a rollover crash that left the county without a sheriff. Now, county commissioners are trying to fill his spot. The only problem, Lea County Sheriff’s deputies are not allowed to arrest anyone until that position is filled and that person gives them their power back. That decision was made by the District Attorney based on a state statute.

In a letter from the department to its deputies, they’re instructed to hold off on making arrests, traffic stops, or executing search warrants until the confusion over the law is cleared up.

KRQE News 13 spoke to some residents who said the department has done a good job of keeping crime at bay, but some are concerned that might change if a solution doesn’t come soon.

“I think it’s not fair to the residents and I really hope they can figure it out,” said Monica Baeza.

“It’s terrible you know, I just don’t agree with it you know. We need some protection and hopefully they get someone in that position,” said another resident.

In a statement to KRQE News 13, Lea County Commissioner Ron Black said the county will be interviewing possible candidates on Feb. 6 and hope to appoint someone soon after. State Police Chief Pete Kassetas said he will be sending officers from Eddie and Chavez Counties to help out. Residents now are nervous about what may happen in the meantime.

“Obviously it does and I’m sure it makes anybody nervous,” said Baeza.

“Hopefully nothing happens in between here and that’s tragic you know,” said a resident.

Sheriff Steve Ackerman was part of the department for 15 years before his death. He was elected sheriff in 2014.

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