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Jury renders split verdict in Contreras trial

May 19, 2016 • Local News

Former Dexter police chief sentenced to 30 days in jail

After testim[auth] ony that he tickled a woman’s foot at a Town Council meeting, caressed the hand of a woman who worked at a Dexter convenience store and made sexual advances toward another Dexter store manager, the former chief of the Dexter Police Department was found guilty Thursday of battery and stalking charges, and not guilty of another stalking charge.

Mario R. Contreras, 45, was sentenced Thursday night by Magistrate Judge E.J. Fouratt to serve 30 days in jail after a day-long trial in Chaves County magistrate court.

The prosecutor, Andrea Reeb, said Contreras was a bad apple in the law enforcement community and used his badge, police uniform and position of authority to pursue women.

“He’s a police officer running around Dexter abusing his power with his badge,” Reeb said in closing arguments. “He could be working in Chaves County tomorrow. That is scary. He’s a bad apple.

“What he did was abuse that power. And if he becomes a cop tomorrow, he’ll do it again. It’s time for you to get him out of law enforcement.”

Contreras’ attorney, S. Doug Jones Witt, said Contreras may have flirted with women, but the allegations didn’t amount to criminal conduct.

“Let’s just assume that he’s a flirt,” Jones Witt said in closing arguments. “Touching someone’s leg is not equal to battery. What episode of the ‘Twilight Zone’ have I officially tuned in to?

“Is he a flirt? Maybe. Is he a little touchy-feely? Maybe. Does that mean you get to get charged with battery and stalking? A couple of these charges are completely ridiculous.”

Contreras took the witness stand in his own defense near the end of Thursday’s trial. He said he didn’t recall doing anything wrong.

One woman, a now 23-year-old store manager in Dexter, said Contreras hopped in her car after work one night in May 2014 and kissed her.

Contreras said he didn’t get in the woman’s car and did not kiss her.

Numerous other contradicting statements were made in court. The last witness, a rebuttal witness for the prosecution, said she saw Contreras rubbing the shoulders of another town employee. Contreras, on the witness stand, had denied anything happened with the town employee.

Reeb ridiculed Contreras at one point for his evasiveness, after he repeatedly declined to answer a question about the population of Dexter.

“You should have some serious questions about the defendant’s credibility after taking the stand,” Reeb told the jury in closing arguments. “He couldn’t even tell you the population of Dexter. ‘I don’t remember. I don’t know.’ The simplest things, he couldn’t tell the truth on.”

Contreras began Thursday facing three petty misdemeanor charges of battery and two misdemeanor charges of stalking.

The petty misdemeanor battery charges each had possible maximum sentences of 182 days in jail and a $500 fine. The misdemeanor stalking charges each had maximum possible sentences of 364 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Two of the petty misdemeanor battery charges were dismissed Thursday because of the statute of limitations, Reeb said, because Contreras’ trial wasn’t within a year of the allegations.

Fifth Judicial District Attorney Dianna Luce appointed Reeb, the Ninth Judicial District Attorney, as a special prosecutor in the case in January. The prosecution was referred to the Ninth Judicial District Attorney’s Office, which covers Curry and Roosevelt counties, because of a potential appearance of partiality with the Fifth Judicial District Attorney’s office, which covers Chaves, Eddy and Lea counties.

After an hour and a half of deliberations that ended at 7:10 p.m. Thursday, the four-woman, two-man jury found Contreras guilty of one count of battery involving the town employee and one count of stalking involving the Dexter store manager.

The jury found Contreras not guilty of one count of stalking involving the other store employee.

Fouratt sentenced Contreras to 182 days in jail on the battery conviction, suspending all of the sentence.

Fouratt sentenced Contreras to 364 days in jail on the stalking conviction, suspending all but 30 days.

Contreras will serve the 30-day sentence on weekends, starting in two weeks, Jones Witt said. He said Contreras would appeal his two convictions.

“I can tell you we respect the jury’s verdict, but my client has indicated a willingness to exercise his right to appeal and I agree,” Jones Witt said Thursday night. “So the fight will continue.”

Three women testified Thursday that Contreras made unwanted advances, always while wearing his police uniform.

A 44-year-old woman said Contreras would come into Dexter’s Allsup’s Convenience Store as many as six times a day. She said he was “really friendly” and would insert himself into her personal space behind the cashier’s counter, one time caressing her hand.

The woman said she told her store manager, police and Dexter Mayor Mitch Daubert, but didn’t tell Contreras his advances were unwanted. She said Contreras followed her home from work one night. She said she became so frightened of Contreras that she would no longer drive.

“I was afraid he was going to pull me over,” she testified. “I didn’t know what he was going to do.”

A Dexter town employee testified Contreras rubbed her shoulders while she was at work in the Town Hall.

“I said, ‘Please don’t do that,'” she said. She said she also complained to Daubert about Contreras.

Later, the town employee testified, Contreras played with her foot while the two of them sat at a table during a May 2015 Town Council meeting.

“He starts getting a pencil and starts messing with my foot,” she said. “I leaned over and said, ‘I told you not to mess with me. I told you not to touch me again.’ He had no business touching me at all, especially after I had told him he had no business touching me.'”

The town employee said no others saw the incident.

“That particular day, I told him ‘If you ever touch me again, I’m going to tell my brother,'” she testified.

A third woman, a Dexter store manager, surreptitiously recorded Contreras with her cellphone after she said Contreras had made advances.

The cellphone video was played for the jury.

In the video, Contreras can be heard and seen, dressed in his police uniform, asking the young woman to send him a video.

“Give me my freaking video, muy pronto,” Contreras said.

“Yes, sir,” the young woman said. “I’m going to get it. I really will.”

“When?” Contreras asked.

“I’ll get it today,” she said. “I’ll do it today.”

“That’s what you told me the other day,” Contreras said.

The woman said Contreras on numerous occasions asked to kiss her, and once asked to perform a sexual act on her.

“But what are you supposed to do with a cop?” she testified.

The woman said Contreras got in her car one night unexpectedly.

“I told him, ‘What are you doing in my car? Get out,'” she testified. “Then I finally told him, ‘If you kiss me, will you leave me alone for good?’ I was scared. I wanted him away from me.”

The woman said she “unwillingly” kissed Contreras, whom she said would text her asking for photos.

Contreras, a 1990 graduate of Roswell High School, testified he has been married for 22 years and hopes to resume his law enforcement career. He still maintains his law enforcement certification. Contreras was fired by the town of Dexter on Sept. 9, 2015, after six years with the Dexter Police Department.

Contreras testified he was often called to Dexter convenience stores to take theft reports. He said he didn’t recall touching the one store employee’s hand or following her home.

“I didn’t even know what type of vehicle she was driving,” he testified.

Contreras testified the shoulder rubbing of a town employee didn’t happen and he never touched her foot.

“If I did, it was unintentional,” he testified. “I don’t recall touching her with a pen or anything like that. I don’t do that kind of stuff, especially in uniform.”

Contreras testified he never asked to kiss the store manager, never offered to perform a sexual act on her and never asked her for personal photos.

“I don’t know what I was talking about at the time,” he testified regarding the woman’s cellphone video. “I know I was looking for a surveillance video.”

“You don’t really remember any of the details of any of these incidents other than that you didn’t do them?” Reeb asked.

“No ma’am,” Contreras responded.

Contreras was hired by the town of Dexter on April 13, 2009. He was appointed police chief in December 2014 and headed the four-officer police department.

Senior Writer Jeff Tucker can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 303, or at reporter01@rdrnews.com.

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