Everyone knows that cops have the best dope, right? We’ve been hearing it from the movies for years: There was Donald Sutherland’s turn as a cop in love with Jane Fonda’s prostitute smoking dope way back in 1971’s Klute. As recently as 2008 the hilarious Pineapple Express took us on a ride with a marijuana dealer and a corrupt cop committing murder.
But there’s nothing funny about law enforcement officials selling marijuana in New Mexico. It was no joke when a juvenile probation officer, Saul Velasco, was placed under arrest at a checkpoint of the U.S. Border Patrol located on U.S. Route 70 just a couple months ago. Allegedly he met with a dealer just north of El Paso and paid $2,500 for almost ten pounds of marijuana, supposedly with an intention to sell it in nearby Alamogordo. The marijuana was divvied up into ten bundles for easy distribution.
At the time of the arrest, Velasco was driving the government-issued vehicle that he used regularly on the job working with juvenile probationers. After he purchased the grass he then kept appointments with a couple of his clients, visiting them in their homes, even with the stash of grass in a large gym bag that he left in the rear of the vehicle.
The day after his arrest, Velasco was released on his own recognizance in a deal that is keeping him on the warm streets all the way through the holiday season. Normally, when someone is arrested but not indicted by a grand jury, the government must present its evidence to a grand jury within 30 days. However, Velasco waived the routine hearing, which adds 75 days to the government’s limit for jury presentation for a total of 105 days free on the streets. Altogether, Velasco will not have to answer charges until mid-January of 2013. In the meantime, there’s sure to be a plea in the works.
Most likely, Velasco is looking at felony charges. Presumably he can plea guilty, not guilty, or no contest. The government also has the option to dismiss the case. But what about someone who is selling marijuana in New Mexico who works within the framework of law enforcement? What about getting arrested while on duty with the drugs in a government vehicle? Should he even be allowed to take a plea?
According to Duane Barbati’s piece in the online edition of the Alamogordo Daily News, Velasco talked to a group of high school students at the high school in Alamogordo just the week before his arrest. Ironically, he advised them to consider their actions and the consequences of being held responsible for those actions. Maybe Velasco should take a long look in the mirror.
Following the arrest Velasco was placed on administrative leave with no pay. Hopefully his fellow probation officers will take a position protesting his actions and speak out against his return to the probation department. There is much more at stake than the availability of marijuana in New Mexico. Probation officers often serve as role models and mentors to their clients in the community, especially when they are juveniles. Velasco’s prosecution could affect a whole generation of people who are, right now, deciding whether to choose a straight life without drugs and crime—or not.