Tensions ease between police, judge

By Mike Linn

Portales police and Municipal Court Judge Fred Arnold may not have the greatest working relationship, but the tension may be beginning to thin.
After not filing any citations in municipal court for roughly six months after officers were slapped with contempt of court charges, police are once again filing penalty assessment citations there, police and court officials say.
However, police say they still don’t feel comfortable enough to file criminal charges that involve officers showing up to court — at least not yet.
“Like anything else, once you spend some time working things out the more issues get resolved as you go on,” Portales Police Capt. Lonnie Berry said. “If we continue having a very good working resolve, I can see it coming to light more in the future.”
Arnold was out of town Saturday afternoon and could not be reached for comment.
Police officials’ wariness to file in municipal court began after Arnold filed contempt of court charges against three officers for missing court dates almost a year ago. A district judge threw out one of those charges on June 3 and Arnold dropped the remaining two on June 21.
Shortly thereafter, Portales police began once again filing penalty assessments in municipal court, citations which safeguard police officers from contempt of court charges because court appearances are not necessary.
In July, police filed 154 penalty assessments in municipal court, and court officials said they’ve seen a rise in workload since Arnold dropped the contempt of court charges against officers.
The first five months of the year police filed few if any citations — penalty assessment or otherwise — in municipal court, opting instead to file all traffic citations and court cases in magistrate court. The magistrate court is typically used by county and state law enforcement agencies.
Municipal Court Clerk Michele Mitchell said she has noticed the rise in penalty assessment citations. But she said police have not been filing public nuisance, driving under the influence or minor in possession charges in municipal court.
Before the feud began police filed nearly all cases in municipal court, police officials said.
Since Arnold dropped the charges, police have filed shoplifting charges in municipal court only two or three times, Mitchell said.
At a Portales city council meeting last spring, Arnold requested a public meeting with no mediator to attempt to resolve issues with the Portales police.
But that meeting has yet to take place, and Berry said there has been no mediation since Arnold dropped the charges.