Judge: Tucumcari mayor innocent of animal cruelty charges

By Thomas Garcia: Freedom New Mexico

After seven hours of eyewitness and expert testimony, Quay County Magistrate Judge Joel Garnett on Wednesday found Tucumcari Mayor Antonio Apodaca innocent of an animal-cruelty charge.

“Thank God that justice prevailed and is well and alive in Tucumcari,” Apodaca said after Wednesday’s court appearance.

Apodaca, 61, was accused of dragging a dog with his car, a misdemeanor alleged to have occurred on April 19.

Jean P. Corey, Tucumcari Animal Hospital veterinarian, was among eyewitnesses who testified on Wednesday.

“It is my professional opinion that the dog in question had no injuries to support being ran over or dragged on April 19,” Corey told the court.

Corey said the dog identified as “Haba” did not appear to be malnourished, abused or neglected.

“Usually after testimony like that the case would be over,” said Don Schutte, Apodaca’s attorney. “But with all the publicity and some of it negative, we wanted to present all the evidence and see the case through.”

Police had alleged Apodaca dragged the dog alongside his car, striking him with the rear tire of the vehicle.

“Mr. Apodaca was trying to retrieve his dog to the best of his physical abilities,” Schutte said in his closing arguments.

Apodaca told the court he had lost control of Haba while walking in North Side Park. He said Haba pulled away from him and he lost the grip on the dog’s leash.

“I tried to call out to Haba to return,” Apodaca said. “I had aggravated my knee and decided to go home (a residence on Third Street) and rest for a bit.”

Apodaca said 10 minutes later he was calling for Haba with no luck and decided to go look for him in his vehicle.

“I found him on Fourth Street,” the mayor said. “I got out of my car, grabbed his leash and led him back to the car.”

Apodaca said he drove slowly to the intersection of North Fourth Street and Campbell Avenue, holding the dog’s leash as Haba walked beside the vehicle. He said he turned left and as he was driving Haba jerked the leash and broke free once again.

“I looked back in my rear-view mirror and saw that no cars were coming so I parked my car,” Apodaca said. “Haba was standing in the middle of the road, so I went over, grabbed his leash and led him home.”

State prosecutor Orlando Torres said he felt the state proved its case against Apodaca, but “Judge Garnett determined the facts of the case. He then applied law to the fact, evidence and exhibits presented to him and made a decision.”