Facing growing pressure to take stronger action in the wake of a harassment scandal, Doña Ana County Sheriff Enrique “Kiki” Vigil fired his undersheriff on Tuesday.
The move comes after an internal investigation substantiated allegations that, when he was undersheriff, Ken Roberts walked into a female employee’s office while she was alone, locked the door and sat on her lap while shaking his butt.
“I cannot condone this type of behavior under any circumstances, and will do all that I can to ensure that the sheriff’s office is free of sexual harassment or any other type of misconduct,” Vigil said in a news release announcing Robert’s firing Tuesday.
The decision was a shift for Vigil, who announced in late January that he was keeping Roberts on the job but suspending him without pay for 10 days and requiring him to apologize and go through anti-harassment training.
At that time, Vigil said of Roberts’ suspension, “I believe the action taken is in the best interest of the county and the taxpayers.”
But Vigil, a Democrat who has three primary challengers in this year’s election, faced harsh criticism for not firing Roberts. The author of this article was among the critics, writing in a recent commentary, “Roberts’ behavior is unconscionable. Vigil’s decision to keep him in his job is outrageous.”
In response to the Roberts’ situation and another harassment scandal surrounding County Commissioner John Vasquez, a coalition of groups that includes the Las Cruces Women’s March planning team, Indivisible and the Las Cruces Coalition for Reproductive Justice announced that they would protest in front of the Doña Ana County Government Center on Feb. 13.
And an hour before Vigil announced Robert’s firing on Tuesday, NMPolitics.net published a commentary in which Caroline Barr and others involved in those groups wrote that Roberts’ “continued presence makes each woman in the county question whether or not she can trust that she will receive fair and respectful treatment when relying on DASO for help.”
“That is an unacceptable condition of employment in our county,” they wrote.
Then on Tuesday, Vigil shifted courses.
“After further internal review and consideration of the extenuating circumstances, Mr. Ken Roberts has been relieved of all duties as undersheriff and has been terminated as an employee of the Doña Ana County Sheriff’s Office, effective immediately,” Vigil said in the news release.
A spokeswoman for Vigil wrote in an email that the sheriff would decline any requests for interviews about the situation.
Roberts’ troubles may not be over. The woman he harassed has obtained a restraining order against him. The two are scheduled to appear in court for a hearing on whether to extend the order on Feb. 9.
This BBSNews article originally appeared on NMPolitics.net.