Monday, August 19, 2013

ROUNDHOUSE ROUNDUP: David Roybal's Chief of Police

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican 
Aug. 18, 2013

I’ve seen lots of funny things in the 13 legislative sessions I’ve covered. But I’ve never seen a cop rappel down to the House chambers from the gallery above to deal with protesters who had breached security and barged into a floor session.

But apparently that happened in 1966, shortly after the Roundhouse was built. The incident is documented in Chief of Police, a new biography of former state public safety secretary and former state police chief Richard CdeBaca by my former New Mexican colleague David Roybal.

The book, published by Sunstone Press, is subtitled The Career of Richard CdeBaca During Extraordinary Times in New Mexico 1956-1994.

Extraordinary is right. CdeBaca’s state police career gave him a front-row seat at some of the most notorious events in state history, including the 1967 raid on the Tierra Amarilla courthouse; the 1969 peace demonstrations at The University of New Mexico that ended up with 11 people bayoneted by the National Guard; the 1980 prison riot in which 33 inmates died gruesome deaths; and the still-unsolved murder of Father Reynaldo Rivera in 1981.

But while CdeBaca’s perspective on big events like riots and rebellions indeed are compelling, it’s the insight offered in some of CdeBaca’s lesser-known stories that makes Roybal’s book a treasure.

There are tales of car chases, including an Alamogordo officer who ordered his 70-year-old partner to shoot at the tires of a fleeing vehicle. The codger cop succeeded only in blasting the police car’s spotlight and hitting his own fender.

CdeBaca in 1956
There are encounters with LSD-crazed hippies, such as the guy in a Gallup trailer who claimed to be Hercules and used barbells to attack police.

And there’s the time when CdeBaca met Fats Domino at a roadblock near Gallup.

CdeBaca tells of his experience with the old justice-of-the-peace system when he was a young patrol officer in the late ’50s and early ’60s. CdeBaca calls that system “one of the most embarrassing forms of justice.” But he admits fondness for some of the JPs he dealt with. One was Nelson Naylor, who held court in his gas station on U.S. 54 in Orogrande, south of Alamogordo.

Author David Roybal
Quoting CdeBaca’s notes, Roybal writes, “When a violator would appear with a ticket, Judge Naylor would have him wait until he finished servicing a car: checking the oil, water, tires and cleaning the windshield. … When he banged his gavel on top of his desk, his sleeping cat would jump off the desk and land on top of one of the shelves.”

Naylor later was tried for murder after he shot and killed a man during a confrontation at his service station. The JP claimed self-defense and was acquitted.

There is plenty in Chief of Police for political junkies as well.

CdeBaca, who was providing security for the Legislature in the late 1960s, tells how then Lieutenant Gov. E. Lee Francis demanded that state police provide him with round-the-clock police protection as well as a restraining order against then Gov. David F. Cargo.

Francis claimed his running mate had threatened him because of his tie-breaking vote to kill a liquor-reform bill Cargo was backing. (Cargo would deny the accusation and, according to CdeBaca, the state police brass didn’t believe Francis anyway.)

CdeBaca talks of driving a McKinley County lawmaker to his hotel room during that era. “Inside his room, he showed me a case of hard liquor, which he said had been given him by the liquor lobby.”

The Legislature, as described by CdeBaca, seemed a little rowdier back then.

Tommy only wanted to salute the
jackalope flag on the House floor
Not only was there that incident that prompted CdeBaca to get a rope and rappel down to the House floor to get rid of those protesters.

There was another incident in which the late Santa Fe artist and frequent political candidate Tommy Macaione stormed onto the House floor and bellowed, “Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of personal privilege.”

CdeBaca personally escorted Macaione out of the Capitol. “The man’s clothing was covered with dog hair and I got it all over my uniform,” he said of Macaione, infamous for keeping dozens of dogs and cats.