VAUGHN, N.M. - The police chief of the small eastern New Mexico town of Vaughn resigned Wednesday, leaving the town with just one certified member on its police force - a drug-sniffing dog named Nikka.
Dave Romero, attorney for the town, said Wednesday that police Chief Ernest "Chris" Armijo decided to step down after news stories reported that he wasn't allowed to carry a gun because of his criminal background.
State officials said Armijo couldn't carry a gun since acknowledging that he owed tens of thousands of dollars in delinquent child support payments in Texas. Armijo also faces new felony charges after being accused of selling a town-owned rifle and pocketing the cash.
Romero said Armijo is working to clear up the latest case. He said Armijo has not ruled out seeking the police chief's position again if his case is resolved and the position is open.
According to records, the only qualified member of the Vaughn Police Department is Nikka, a drug-sniffing dog. Vaughn's other officer isn't certified and pleaded guilty to charges of assault and battery last year. Noncertified officers can't make arrests and can't carry firearms.
But Romero said not having an officer qualified to carry a gun didn't put Vaughn at risk. "England doesn't allow police officers to carry guns," he said. "Sometime the strongest weapon in law enforcement is communication."
Vaughn, a town of about 450 located 104 miles east of Albuquerque, is a quiet town that is an overnight stop for railroad workers. And while residents say there is no crime problem, the town is set deep in what U.S. Homeland Security Investigations officials say is an isolated region of the state popular with drug traffickers. Officials say the desolate roads in Guadalupe County make it hard for authorities to catch smugglers moving drugs from Mexico.
Guadalupe County Sheriff Michael Lucero said since news about the police chief's record became public his department has helped patrol Vaughn. But he said those efforts have put a slight strain on his already short-staffed department.
"I visit the town at least once a month," said Lucero. "The important thing is to keep a presence so residents know we're there to help if we're needed."