Heinrich calls for resignation of Bernalillo County sheriff

By:  Phil Casaus

In an unusual move laced with unmistakable tones of anger, U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich called for the resignation of controversial Bernalillo County Sheriff Manuel Gonzales on Tuesday, claiming Gonzales was inviting federal law enforcement agents — who he called “the president’s stormtroopers” — to Albuquerque.

CBS News obtained a memo showing the Trump administration planned to send federal officers to assist local police departments in Chicago, Albuquerque and Kansas City, Mo. According to the memo, the Department of Homeland Security is eyeing Albuquerque as one of a few cities where more than 175 federal officers could be deployed.

“Instead of collaborating with the Albuquerque Police Department, the Sheriff is inviting the President’s stormtroopers into Albuquerque,” Heinrich said in a statement. “If we can learn anything from Portland [Ore.], it’s that we don’t need this kind of ‘help’ from the White House. The President is currently using federal law enforcement agents like a domestic paramilitary force. That’s precisely how fascism begins and none of us should ever encourage it or accept it.”

KRQE-TV reported Gonzales, whose refusal to have his deputies wear body cameras has long been a source of frustration for some in Albuquerque, is scheduled to meet with Trump on Wednesday.

“I believe that it is time for Sheriff Gonzales to step aside and make room for someone who will make maintaining the peace and promoting the safety and protection of Bernalillo County residents our law enforcement’s top priority,” said Heinrich, a New Mexico Democrat.

In a statement, Gonzales said the Bernalillo County Sheriff's Office stands by its efforts to fight crime in the area and criticized Heinrich's statement.

"We are proud that our efforts have significantly and positively impacted crime in Bernalillo County," Gonzales said. "Regrettably, Senator Heinrich couldn’t be more political and out of touch with the local social problems and the great work being done by our deputies and the other first responders. BCSO continues to combat the Albuquerque crime crisis in partnership with federal agencies."

Department of Justice officials told KRQE the White House is expected to announce an expansion of a violent crime initiative, called “Operation Legend.”

According to the officials, the initiative includes a surge of agents from the FBI; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; the Drug Enforcement Administration; and the U.S. Marshals Service on American streets.

Rarely does a U.S. senator call for the resignation of an elected official, but Heinrich’s statement dripped with frustration.

Though he noted Gonzales’ opposition to body cameras, he concentrated his fury on the sheriff’s purported tie to the presence of federal agents. The Trump administration has been heavily criticized for its presence in Portland, Ore., where agents, dressed in camouflage, have thrown protesters into unmarked vehicles without telling them why they are being arrested or detained, according to published reports.

Portland has seen more than 50 consecutive days of protests. Protesters there have been staging nightly demonstrations since May in a section of downtown that includes the federal courthouse, forcing most businesses in the zone to close. Department of Homeland Security agents and others from within the agency arrived in force over the Fourth of July weekend.

Albuquerque was the scene of several protests in June after George Floyd was killed while in Minneapolis police custody. One protest turned violent when a man was shot.

Officials in Albuquerque also took a dim view of the potential placement of federal law enforcement in the city.

“There’s no place for Trump’s secret police in our city,” Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller said in a statement. “If this was more than a stunt, these politicians would support constitutional crime-fighting efforts that work for our community, not turning Albuquerque into a federal police state.”

“We coordinate with our federal law enforcement partners every day,” said Albuquerque police Chief Mike Geier. “What is being described is not real crime-fighting; it’s politics standing in the way of police work.”