The Lea County Sheriff's Office remains idle, until a Sheriff is named, forcing New Mexico State Police to assist.
Lea County Sheriff Steve Ackerman died in a car accident Jan. 17. Since his death, the county has not named an interim Sheriff. The void has invoked several questions regarding the actions of the department.
Lea County Undersheriff Tom Dunford stated in a letter: " As sworn commissioned personnel under Sheriff Ackerman, we were able to enforce the laws and civil service under his authority. But at this time, the question has been raised on whether we still have the authority until a sheriff is sworn into office and can swear in the personnel under their command."
Dunford's letter went on to state that the county's district attorney had concerns over the arrests and search warrants executed by the sheriff's office without an acting sheriff. Thus, the DA determined that being a witness and taking a minor report is still within the limits of deputies; however, making traffic stops and issuing certain writs shouldn't be accomplished at this time.
"I can't imaging the frustration of those deputies who have taken and oath and have sworn to uphold the laws of the state of New Mexico and they are unable to do that," New Mexico State Police Chief Pete Kassetas told ABC-7 over the phone.
Kassetas says he is now having to use resources from other districts to fill the void in Lea County. There were twelve officers assigned to the county, but now Kassetas says he will add an additional five officers a day, forcing him to strip all state personnel out of the surrounding counties (Eddie and Chaves) and will fill those vacancies with personnel from other districts.
"State Police are stepping forward and addressing the issue," Kassetas said. "Their crisis, though, has now become my crisis and that's not what sits well with me."
The county is scheduled to fill the sheriff's position on Feb. 6; however, Kassetas believes the process should be expedited. "This has the potential to put lives in danger, whether it is a police officer or the public," Kassetas said.
ABC-7 reached out, but is still waiting to hear back from the Lea County Commission and District Attorney Dianna Luce.