Tabitha Clay is an investigative journalist with a focus on criminal justice and policing. She previously reported for the Rio Grande Sun.

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Rio Arriba County Sheriff James Lujan is not above the law. Not anymore. That’s what a jury decided Wednesday after less than four hours of deliberations. The verdict was handed down in the mid-afternoon following his second trial for harboring a felon and intimidation of a witness. Lujan turned in his resignation following the verdict.

The charges followed a 2017 incident where Lujan, as sheriff, helped Phillip Chacon avoid capture by the local Española police department. 

Despite efforts by the defense to convince jurors that Lujan didn’t know that Chacon would be charged with fleeing Española police, or that he was concerned for public safety following a high-speed chase, the jury found him guilty on both counts. 

“Sheriff Lujan believes he’s above the law,” Special Prosecutor Andrea Reeb said during her opening statement, and the jury agreed. 

She called multiple witnesses during the case, including former Rio Arriba County deputies, and Española Police Department officers. 

Ernest Saucedo, a former Espanola Police Department officer involved in the high-speed chase and aftermath, testified during the trial corroborating much of the testimony given by former Rio Arriba deputy Cody Lattin. 

“Dedicating my life as a law enforcement officer I believe you’re expected to be held to a higher standard, especially if you are the sheriff of the third-largest county in the state,” Saucedo said after the trial. “This case was one of the most interesting cases I’ve been involved with based on the amount of political influence Lujan holds in the county, and the bias that created, but in the end, truth and honesty prevailed.” 

Multiple people in the community echoed Saucedo’s feelings that justice had been served in this instance, as did Reeb.

“I am extremely satisfied with the conviction,” Reeb said following the verdict. “The Santa Fe jury did the job they were asked to do. They showed everyone will be held accountable for criminal charges, whether in law enforcement or an elected official. The jury sent a message that no one, not even an elected official, is above the law.” 

Lujan submitted his resignation from the office of Rio Arriba County Sheriff via email Wednesday evening, just hours after being convicted. It is unclear who will take the helm of the long-troubled agency. Lujan’s predecessor Thomas Rodella left the office after being convicted of civil rights violations. He is still in federal prison for his crimes. 

Normally, the undersheriff would take the lead in such a situation, but in this case, it remains unclear, as Undersheriff Martin Trujillo, a close friend of Lujan’s faces his own felony charges related to Lujan’s criminal troubles. 

Trujillo faces charges of Criminal Solicitation to Commit Aggravated Assault upon a Peace Officer with a deadly weapon after he allegedly ordered deputies to draw their guns at Española Police & Taos County Sheriff’s Deputies as they served a search warrant for Lujan’s mobile phone in May 2020. His trial is set for March of next year. 

Lujan’s was sentenced to three years in prison, and was remanded into custody.