Inside the Capitol

Saturday, September 18, 2004

Sheriff Gary Graves

SANTA FE The three sheriffs carrying out the Billy the Kid Case Caper may not always have impressed New Mexicans with their thinking, but they have made New Mexicans think.
For example, people have had to decide if they cared whether Garrett shot the Kid, since the lawmen were saying he didn’t. But what got me to thinking was just what do officers of the law owe their communities as a part of their jobs?
And that same question seems to have gotten the Fort Sumner people thinking, since after a year of watching their De Baca County Sheriff Gary Graves running all over New Mexico trying to dig up bodies dead well over a hundred years in the pursuit of a murderer dead 96 years, they seem to have had their fill. They are in the process of having him recalled.
At least his two pals in this endeavor, Sheriff Tom Sullivan and Mayor of Capitan Steve Sederwall, who seems to go by the nick name “Deputy Sheriff” (since it is unclear that he is a real one), at times claimed that they were performing their antics to promote tourism in Lincoln County, or maybe in all of New Mexico.
The tourism claims were made when they were asked why they were spending taxpayer money on a criminal investigation of a 123-year-old murder. Tourism Secretary Mike Cerletti confirmed to me that there was no state tourism money involved, but at least the sheriffs’ motives sounded good-hearted.
But what about Sheriff Graves’ motives? Since the whole basis of the Billy the Kid Case evidently is to prove that Garrett did not shoot the Kid, it would mean that Fort Sumner’s tourist pitch “We’ve got the Kid” would have to be changed to “We’ve got the unknown cowboy.”
Somehow I don’t think that will fly. Even though law enforcement has nothing to do with economic development or tourism, at least his two compadres are staying on the right side of the tracks. But it was pretty clear to Fort Sumner residents that where Graves was heading was economic destruction, since their village depends on Billy the Kid tourism.
And when I looked at his use of public money for the Billy the Kid case, he was suspiciously billing his taxpayers for two different phones and gas for his infamous county vehicle called the “Golden Nugget” while his route took him and it all the way to Silver City for the Billy case hearing there last December 8.
His county commissioners wrote a unanimously signed letter opposing exhumation. Apparently they could think of better uses for their tax dollars. For example, one could guess that they were thinking about crime control since he was their Sheriff.
Also Graves has been very secretive about his own separate filing of the Billy the Kid Case in his De Baca County Sheriff’s Department. He never even answered my request for a copy, and as far as I can gather, I’m not alone in being given the cold shoulder.
What does he think he is hiding? Or like Sheriff Tom Sullivan in Lincoln County, is he worrying that his “murder investigation” will be interfered with if word gets out to Garrett that they’re after him?
Maybe I’m old fashioned or maybe I’ve watched too many cowboy movies. I thought a sheriff was the good guy who rescues people in distress (live ones) and then rides off into the sunset because he wasn’t looking for anything in return – such as book and movie deals.
Gov. Bill Richardson’s Attorney Bill Robins claimed he could speak for the dead Billy the Kid in New Mexico courts of law to help the sheriffs win their nonsensical case.
Maybe the lesson is that you couldn’t mess with Billy alive and it’s just as risky to mess with him dead. Because the only grave Graves seems to have been digging this past year is his own political one.


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