Former TPD officer sentenced to 4 1/2 years in prison for arson

Dustin Lopez, center,  and codefendent Robert Sandoval, far right, stand as their sentences are delivered Friday by district judge Albert J. Mitchell.

Dustin Lopez, center, and codefendent Robert Sandoval, far right, stand as their sentences are delivered Friday by district judge Albert J. Mitchell.

By Thomas Garcia

QCS Senior Writer

Former Tucumcari Police officer Dustin Lopez was sentenced Friday to four-and-a-half years  in the New Mexico Department of Corrections on six charges related to a pair of arsons in 2014.

Lopez and co-defendant Robert Sandoval — sentenced to three-and-a-half years — both pleaded guilty July 24 to charges in connection to fires at the Payless Inn on East Route 66 and an abandoned home on Fourth Street.

Tenth Judicial District Court Albert J. Mitchell sentenced both to 15 years, but the plea agreements called for a five-year cap. The two will receive the remainder, and will serve five years of parole and probation following their release.

The two are to surrender to the Quay County Detention Center 5 a.m. Oct. 6.

Mitchell noted during the sentencing hearing that during the first fire, Lopez and Sandoval were aware of the consequences of their actions. They saw the house engulfed in flames, saw fire crews work to extinguish the fire, and then went to start the second fire.

During the sentencing proceedings Lopez had several individuals speak on his behalf. Those witnesses including Leonard Lauriault, his employer, and long time friend Jarred Jennings. Lopez also chose to address the court before his sentencing.

“I want to apologize, I put everybody in danger with what I did,” Lopez said. “I put the lives of the first responders, officers and public in danger. I took their trust and threw it away.”

Lawrence Phillip, owner of the Payless Inn, said he and his wife bought the Payless Inn and Apache Hotel with the intention of moving to Tucumcari because they saw potential in the city. He said he spoke with Lopez to keep the property safe.

“Lopez told me that he would personally make sure nothing would happen to our property,” Phillip said.  “It blew my mind when I later found out that Lopez was involved in the fire that destroyed the very building he promised to look after.”

The three buildings on the Payless Inn property, all of which were destroyed in the blaze, were valued at $155,155.
Sandoval addressed the court and spoke of his remorse for his involvement in the arson.

“I made some bad choices, but I’m taking responsibility for them,” Lopez said.

Sandoval’s attorney, Chico Gallegos, presented the judge with several letter from family and a petition from the community calling for a reduced sentence.

“My client has been remorseful for his actions from the very start of these proceedings,” Gallegos said.

District Attorney Tim Rose said that Sandoval showed remorse from the first proceeding, and leniency would be appropriate in the sentence.

Mitchell said Lopez and Sandoval have the potential to be productive members of society once they have served their sentence.

“I feel Judge Mitchell’s ruling was fair and held defendants accountable,” Rose said.

Lopez resigned from the Tucumcari Police Department on Oct. 2, 2014 the day after New Mexico State Police searched his home. Lopez did not give a reason for his decision to resign, said Tucumcari Police Chief Jason Braziel.

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