New Mexico sheriff convicted of cattle country crime

SABINOSO, N.M. (KRQE) – It’s a crime right out of the Old West, and the culprit is a lawman. So why would a New Mexico sheriff knowingly break the law?

Harding County Sheriff Raymond Gutierrez, a man elected to uphold the law, is also convicted of a crime — and it’s one that’s plagued ranchers in New Mexico for more than a century.

“It was malicious,” explained Roderick Lujan. Lujan has a state land lease right next to Sheriff Gutierrez’s property in neighboring San Miguel County.

After Lujan put up a brand new barbed wire fence in 2015, he was shocked to see what the sheriff did to it. “Mr. Gutierrez cut my fence – fencepost to fencepost,” Lujan told KRQE News 13.

The sheriff’s cattle were found grazing on Lujan’s land. What’s more concerning Lujan said, is that the sheriff could have used Lujan’s unlocked gate near the road, which is less than 100 yards from where the sheriff cut his fence.

“He didn’t need to cut the fence and he did so in such a manner that it couldn’t be easily repaired,” Lujan explained.

Cutting or “injuring a fence” in the ranching community is a big ‘no no,’ a crime punishable by law. The New Mexico Livestock Board launched an investigation and according to its report, Sheriff Gutierrez confessed to cutting his neighbor’s fence and claimed he was landlocked out of another piece of his property.

[caption: Lujan says sheriff added this makeshift fence after he cut barbed wire]

The sheriff was found guilty of “injuring fence” and “livestock trespassing,” ordered to pay $1,676 in fines and was sentenced to 364 days probation.

“It’s a big deal because this grass is my livelihood,” explained Brian Greene.

Greene is a rancher in southern Torrance County. His fence wasn’t cut, but he helped put the case in perspective.

“I’m not a particularly violent person but I know a lot of my neighbors if it were to happen to them, it might be shooting-type response,” Greene told KRQE News 13. “I mean it’s that serious.”

It’s a crime right out of the Old West, dating back to the years when ranchers first started fencing.

“There had been a series of almost wars over fencing,” explained Rick Hendricks, New Mexico’s State Historian. “The individual who committed that crime is very fortunate that he’s living now and not when he might have been five years in the penitentiary for it.”

Hendricks said barbed wire was patented in 1874 by a farmer in Illinois. “The railroad arrives here in New Mexico in 1879 and then by 1880s, coils of barbed wire are arriving constantly on the train, and it becomes a huge issue here.”

Back then, cutting a fence was a form of protest by those who felt they were being fenced out of natural resources, Hendricks explained.

“in San Miguel county they arrested 21 people the first time on 24 counts of fence cutting,” said Hendricks. He said New Mexico is unique with both open range and a fair amount of ranchers who choose to fence.

Fencing in New Mexico served to protect land, cattle, and the state’s livestock industry; an industry that’s still alive and well.

[caption: Lujan says sheriff could have used this unlocked gate to access property]

Though penalties have softened over time, fence cutting still carries a price.

“I’m sure he [Gutierrez] would know the law and I would guess that he probably had to enforce it on many occasions as well,” Hendricks said.

KRQE News 13 tried talking to Sheriff Gutierrez, but he declined an on-camera interview. He wasn’t in town when KRQE News 13 paid his office in Harding County a visit. Over the phone, the sheriff said he’s appealing the case and suggested calling his lawyer, but she never called back.

Despite a court order, Lujan said the sheriff still hasn’t made things right. “He’s never apologized,” Lujan said.

The sheriff put up a makeshift fence after the Livestock Board Inspector told him to, but neighbors claim it’s not enough. Cattle continue to do damage to the weakened fence and the sheriff has refused to fix it.

“It costs a lot of money to put up something like this,” Lujan said, referring to his barbed wire fence which stretches more than a mile long. “It speaks to his character.”

Greene told KRQE News 13 he believes the sheriff violated the public’s trust. “He’s been elected to uphold the law in his county. It just doesn’t say very much for his personal integrity.”

Even though the sheriff claims he was landlocked, an NMLB Inspector said there’s another road the sheriff could have used to get to his property rather than through his neighbor’s fence.

(App users click here to view Judgement and Sentence for Raymond Gutierrez) 

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