Law and order: Local District Attorney’s Office opened

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By Roger Snodgrass

Los Alamos County and the district attorney for the First Judicial District have completed a memorandum of understanding Monday, paving the way for a regular presence by an official of the DA’s Office in Los Alamos.

Los Alamos Police Chief Wayne Torpy, Chief Deputy District Attorney A.J. Salazar, Los Alamos County Attorney Mary McInerny and Los Alamos County Council Chair Jim Hall all played important roles in working out the arrangement.

According to the document, signed Monday, the two entities have agreed that the county will provide a furnished office and clerical support for an assistant district attorney to be present in Los Alamos at least one day a week.

“This has been in conversation one way or another for at least 10 years,” McInerny said Thursday.

According to Hall, Torpy had a lot to do with starting a new effort in this direction a few years back.

“When Torpy came in as the new chief, he was amazed at the lack of district attorney attention we were getting,” Hall said, adding that crime in Los Alamos almost always seemed to take a back seat to crimes in Santa Fe and Española.

At the same time, Hall said, public safety was a very important issue in Los Alamos.

“The feedback to the police from the public was pretty fierce about why they weren’t getting criminals off the streets,” he said.

After complaints about a lack of forceful prosecution in Los Alamos cases to DA Henry Valdez, talks began with his chief deputy, Salazar, about two-and-a-half years ago.

Salazar said he had started working on an agreement in 2005, and made progress to the point of a draft agreement by the end of the next year.

But then in January 2007, as a captain in the U.S. Army Reserve, he was called back for a second tour of duty in Iraq, and the discussions came to a standstill during his absence.

When he came back late last year, he resumed the effort, but then the former county attorney resigned. Progress started up again after McInerny was hired.

Salazar said Monday was his first day in the office. The space provided is located in the area once used by the Red Cross, in the basement of the Community Building where the county attorney is accommodated.

Salazar said the DA’s office doesn’t have any extra positions, but that he has been authorized to spend at least a day each week and otherwise supervise a member of the DA’s staff at the post.

According to the formal understanding, the ADA will be available to meet with Los Alamos Police Department officers, witnesses and other citizens and to actively and, in a timely manner, prosecute criminal cases arising in Los Alamos County.

“Having a physical presence indicates they’re really serious about prosecuting criminal cases that occur in Los Alamos,” McInerny said.

“I think it’s terrific,” Torpy said, adding that there has been an improvement in the prosecution of cases over the last two years.

“But until this agreement, it has continued to be an inconvenience to travel to Santa Fe and not to have a good direct focus on our community,” he said.

Editor’s Note: Salazar is one of three Democratic candidates in the race for the DA’s office. He is profiled today on page 1.