Commission apologizes for woman’s arrest

By Chelle Delaney: Quay County Sun

A Tucumcari woman who was arrested and handcuffed at her business for not paying $136 in fines received a public apology from Tucumcari city commissioners on Thursday night.

Hope L. Ortiz said she had been to City Hall three times over the past two months to pay her fines but had not been able to because city clerks could not find her name in the city’s computer system.

“It was embarrassing,” said Ortiz, who operates Lena’s Home Cooking restaurant on Main Street. Officers came into the restaurant and handcuffed her on Thursday morning, she said. “I asked them to take me out the back (door),” she said.

“We do realize there was a mistake made,” Mayor pro tem James Witcher said.

Witcher and city commissioners Jim Lafferty, Robert Lumpkin and Christopher Maestas apologized during the City Commission meeting. Mayor Antonio Apodaca was not at the meeting.

Ortiz said she had received three citations more than two months ago from the city’s animal control officer concerning a border collie she owned. Ortiz appealed the citations in Municipal Court, lost her appeal and was to pay the fines, she said. “They ended up putting the dog down,” she said.

After losing her appeal, “I came three times to pay the fines,” she said. “I came about two months ago, about a month ago and the third time about two weeks ago.”

Ortiz said her name was listed as L. Hope Ortiz in city records, instead of Hope L. Ortiz, and that’s why they could not find the records.
When fines are not paid, a bench warrant is routinely issued by courts, said Tucumcari Police Chief Roger Hatcher. “Once it’s in the courts it’s out of our hands,” Hatcher said.

Officers then serve the warrants and make arrests, Hatcher said.

The arrest and handcuffing of Ortiz was by the book, Hatcher said. “The officers did what they were supposed to,” Hatcher said.

Still unpaid is $25 in Municipal Court fees, said Ortiz, who is scheduled to meet on Tuesday with Municipal Court Judge Joe Dominguez. The $25 is the fee charged by the courts to cover the expenses of issuing a warrant.

“I don’t think I should have to pay the $25. It’s not my fault that they couldn’t find my name,” Ortiz said.

City commissioners also said they did not think Ortiz should have to pay the court fees. But that decision is up the court, Witcher said.
At the commission meeting City Manager John Sutherland said he hoped to find a way that Ortiz would not have to pay the $25 in court fees.

On Friday, Sutherland said he had discussed Ortiz’s problem with the city’s front line staff.

“We’ve looked at our computer system here and we do have the ability to scroll down and find all the Ortizes.”
The staff has been instructed to be more customer friendly, Sutherland said.

“Surely, that’s something that we can do to ease the pain of this situation. I’m just sorry it’s accelerated this far.”

Someone has also got to pick up the phone in situations like the Ortiz case.

“It’s not like this is Chicago or Los Angeles, we can pick up the phone. This is Tucumcari,” Sutherland said.