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Sheriff's jail takeover abruptly ends after restraining order issued by Dona Ana County manager

Sheriff Vigil issued restraining order from county

LAS CRUCES, N.M. - Dona Ana Sheriff Enrique "Kiki" Vigil was served with a temporary restraining order on Tuesday, ending his short takeover of the Dona Ana County Detention Center.

County Manager Julia Brown handed Vigil the restraining order during a news conference. 

"I'm holding a press conference and she approaches me like this," Vigil said. "This order was obtained with out even notifying me, nothing like that." 

"It was probably the only opportunity we'd have to see him since he won't talk to me," Brown said. 

The exchange between Brown and Vigil stemmed from the arrest of Dona Ana County Detention Center administrator Chris Barela. 

Barela was arrested early Tuesday morning and has been charged with embezzlement over $20,000, fraud over $20,000, bringing contraband (a dangerous weapon) into the jail, and willful neglect of duty. The charges are related to the jail inmate welfare fund.

Vigil said after the arrest, he had no choice but to take over the jail. He repeatedly said at a morning news conference that his takeover of the jail was temporary.

The restraining order, given to the sheriff by the Dona Ana County manager, forces Vigil's staff to leave the detention center immediately.

"We certainly hope that ultimately he is proven innocent however if he is guilty of the allegations that are made against him then he should be punished accordingly," Dona Ana County Manager Julia Brown said. "I believe it was an illegal and inappropriate activity,"

Brown said the authority for running the detention center has resided by county management since Jan. 1, 1990.

Vigil announced Barela's arrest during the county commissioners court meeting Tuesday morning.

In a prepared, eight-minute statement, Vigil told commissioners that jail Barela was arrested shortly after a warrant was executed at 6:30 a.m.

Vigil said the charges pertain to the jail inmate's welfare fund. He also said the jail was under lockdown.

Vigil did not take questions after his statement to commissioners court but did have a news conference at 11 a.m.

The Las Cruces Police Department issued a statement shortly after the sheriff's announcement, stating, "We have been asked by county government to assist at the County Jail. We have declined assisting in this situation unless it becomes a public safety matter. We have also reached out to New Mexico State Police to let them know what is going on in case we need their assistance."

The announcement of Barela's arrest appeared to come as a shock to the commissioners, according to the New Mexico Mobile newsroom reporter in the conference room at the time of the announcement.

Vigil and the district attorney said at the news conference that each county commissioner was briefed last week about "what was coming down."

Vigil also alleged that the county attorney and county manager showed up at the jail in the morning after the takeover, "trying to cause turmoil."

He added that the county attorney and county manager are not cooperating and reiterated that this is only temporary.

Vigil said that the district attorney's office was aware of the allegations a year-and-a-half ago and that he was made aware of them when he took office.

An investigation came to light in mid-August related to the Dona Ana County inmate welfare funds.

Four subpoenas were served to the county's legal department.

They requested information on how inmate welfare funds at the Dona Ana County Detention Center were spent.

The subpoenas also requested the case file on any internal affairs investigation that was completed by Kim Stewart about the possible misuse of the inmate welfare funds.

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They also requested information about any possible missing gym equipment involving Barela from November 2008 to April 2009.

Stewart was a former internal affairs investigator, who was awarded $1.3 million in July by a jury after she sued Dona Ana County over alleged retaliation by its management.

Brown in mid-August confirmed an investigation regarding inmate welfare funds is underway.

"Obviously we want to be cooperative in the investigation and with law enforcement we just got these a few days ago and were in the process now and looking through records and files to see what we have which can be provided in response to the subpoenas," Brown said in mid-August.

In late August, Vigil said Barela was connected to things missing from the jail.

Barela said in late August that a new investigation into old allegations is an attempt by the sheriff to take control of the jail and its budget. Barela says the issues brought up were investigated in the past by multiple agencies. Vigil called Barela's allegation "harsh."

Barela Previously Arrested, Temporarily Removed As Administrator

Barela was previously arrested and removed as jail administrator for a few weeks in early 2007.

Barela was placed on paid administrative leave by then-County Manager Brian D. Haines pending an internal investigation into Barela's Feb. 17 arrest by Las Cruces Police Department officers.

Dona Ana County officials said in a statement back then that an internal investigation revealed minor lapses in booking protocol at the Doña Ana County Detention Center when Barela was brought to the facility by Las Cruces Police.

Barela was not found to have sought any special treatment, however.

Barela faced petty misdemeanors back then that he disputed.

Sue Padilla, who was assistant Dona Ana County manager in 2007, reinstated Barela as jail administrator on March 2, 2007.

More On Barela

Barela was hired as jail director in December 2005 out of a pool of 13 candidates.

Before he was hired as director he was an employee at the detention center since January 2001. He attained the rank of major, and he helped to oversee support and operation functions for the facility. He has experience in preparing the facility's annual budget, and he has worked closely with all the facility's vendors and contractors.

Barela holds a bachelor's degree in public programs from Arizona State University and a master's degree in business organizational management from the University of Phoenix. He also is a veteran of the United States Marine Corps.

ABC-7's Tom Scott and Stephanie Valle contributed to this article.


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