About a week after being placed on administrative leave, the Lake Arthur Police Department’s chief of police resigned Thursday morning, leaving the small Chaves County town without any local law enforcement aside from sheriff’s deputies and officers from neighboring towns.
The sudden resignation of William Norwood comes after Lake Arthur Mayor Ysidro M. Salazar terminated the Lake Arthur Police Reserve Officers Association (LAPROA), a program implemented by Norwood in 2010, as well an article by Bloomberg Businessweek which suggests a link between the reserve unit and Robert Mercer, a New York billionaire, businessman and large contributor to the 2016 Trump campaign.
Bloomberg’s article titled “Robert Mercer’s Secret Adventure as a New Mexico Cop” from March 28 claimed Mercer was a member of LAPROA, though with sources that remain unclear.
Members of the reserve unit had been able to bypass concealed carry laws in all 50 states due to H.R. 218, the Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act of 2004.
On Thursday evening, Salazar began a regular town meeting by reading a media release, noting Ordinance 199, which gave Norwood the ability to operate the 150-member reserve unit.
“The town has been very satisfied with the program and proud of Chief Norwood’s efforts and hard work to accomplish just that,” Salazar stated. “We are grateful to those who have volunteered their time as well as numerous wonderful things that they have contributed for our community to include overall safety for our community.”
After conducting other town-related matters, Salazar addressed the situation. Nine community members were in attendance.
“Our chief of police started a reserve unit and the amount of reserves that he wanted got too big for him, I think,” Salazar said. “Because he was the only one administering the reserve unit and it got too big for him, and I think what happened with a lot of the — the reserves saw the opportunity and abused the system.”
Salazar further explained, after an Inspection of Public Records Act request, he was required to release names of the members of LAPROA.
“When I informed the reserve association that I was going to release their names and the years that they were here with us with the Lake Arthur Police Department, a lot of them got upset and resigned from the reserve unit,” he said. “When that happened, I chose to go ahead and dissolve the reserve association.”
A meeting attendee spoke out, asking Salazar if he had ever officially sworn in any members of the reserve unit. Salazar stated he had not.
“That was left to the chief,” he said.
Norwood was not present at the meeting.
Salazar said, in dissolving LAPROA, he has notified members of the unit of his decision and requested all law enforcement credentials issued be returned.
“So now we’re relying on the Sheriff’s Department, right?” an attendee asked.
Salazar confirmed with a yes.
“Yeah, good luck with that,” another man remarked.
Salazar then explained that each member of LAPROA had to volunteer a total of 96 hours a month in order to keep their position.
“They were only authorized to patrol with a certified police officer,” Salazar clarified with the public. “So they could only patrol when Will had the time or our other two part-time police officers that we had — that were certified …
“That’s what this press has done to us. It’s basically taking away our law enforcement. That’s where we’re at. So, like I say, have patience, we’re gonna work on it, and we’re gonna try to develop something that we can provide for you all.”
The council made a motion and accepted Norwood’s resignation.
After the meeting came to an end, the Daily Record had several questions for Salazar, including whether LAPROA offered any clear advantages to the town. Salazar explained years ago, the town had a drug problem.
“We even had a meth lab get busted just outside city limits,” Salazar explained. “It was in a trailer house, and the Chaves County Sheriffs busted it with the (Pecos Valley Drug) Task Force. They busted it and since that reserve unit was started, the problem went away — we didn’t have it anymore.”
Salazar said the town had hired Norwood in 2005, though he was only paid a dollar a year as chief.
“Really and honestly, ‘hiring’ is the wrong word, because we didn’t pay him,” Salazar said. “He was basically doing this (as a) volunteer. He was working for Hagerman, but he would come down here on his days off when he could, you know, when he didn’t have any personal things going on with family and stuff, he would come down here and patrol.
“Then he thought, ‘Well you know what, I can do a better job if I can start a reserve unit to help me out,” because he was out here virtually by himself, so he did, and we allowed him to.”
Salazar said Ordinance 199 allowed Norwood to start the unit, which began with 84 members.
“Then he came back to us several years later and asked us if he could increase his reserve unit to 150 guys,” Salazar said. “At first, we thought, well, you know, that’s a bit too many, but his explanation sounded reasonable to us. He said, ‘If I can get these guys in, then I can have a rolling law enforcement coming in — two or three guys, four guys, every week come in.’”
Salazar said Norwood was in the process of bringing in members of LAPROA to assist him with the paperwork aspect for the unit.
Salazar said Norwood had been volunteering because he knew the town was unable to hire a certified officer.
The last time Lake Arthur had a full police staff was in 1999 or 2000, Salazar said.
The newspaper asked if Salazar was aware of time clock records kept for the 150 people from 2011 to 2018. Salazar said he did not know.
In addition, Salazar said members of the reserve unit were responsible for purchasing their own badges, uniforms and firearms.
Members of the reserve were also only given the power to arrest or write tickets with the assistance or supervision of a certified police officer, Salazar clarified.
“They had their own vehicles,” Salazar said. “As long as they were with Will or following behind Will, they were within the rule that they could.”
The Daily Record then asked the mayor if he saw the potential for issues with reserve officers driving unmarked, civilian vehicles.
“Not really,” Salazar replied. “Not if Will was managing them. If they came with Will and left with Will, I don’t see where there’d be any miscommunication, because they had radios. I mean, they could talk to each other.”
The mayor said Norwood had held members of the reserve unit to academy standards, and that many were former members of the military.
“The way chief Norwood set up his reserve unit, and the way he handled it, I thought was sufficient for this community,” Salazar said.
Salazar said he was told by the chief many members of the unit already had a license for concealed carry.
“The only advantage to that was that they were allowed to follow H.R. 218. Which allowed them to carry firearms anywhere in the United States,” Salazar said. “That’s the only advantage to this.”
While Lake Arthur treasurer and town clerk Debra Sallee said Norwood told her Robert Mercer was an “honorary” member of LAPROA, there are currently no records to indicate such.
“It’s not on there — I can tell you it’s not,” Sallee said. “I have no paperwork on Mercer whatsoever, and that’s the truth.
“The records that I have, that have them redacted, that I will allow you to look at does not — Mercer’s not anywhere in them.”
The mayor said he simply doesn’t know.
“Mercer was never here in our community — I don’t know where he met Will to be involved with the reserve unit,” Salazar said. “I don’t even know if he was in our reserve unit, to be honest with you.”
Salazar said, in hindsight, he should have involved himself more in the police department.
“That’s my fault,” Salazar said. “I think he ran it well, it’s just that this — again, it got too big for him. For one person — and it was abused.”
In addition to Larry Barker of KRQE News 13, the Daily Record has submitted a records request for the names of the members associated with the Lake Arthur Police Reserve Officers Association.
Multimedia-Crime reporter Trevier Gonzalez can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 301, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.