Memorial Day is a day set aside to remember and honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in the service of our country. I want to dedicate this blog to the memory of a local hero who was executed in the streets of Rio Rancho on Memorial Day, May 25, 2015. Officer Gregg “Nigel” Benner was a veteran. He served his country honorably as a member of the United States Air Force, including several tours overseas. After being discharged, he continued his life of public service by joining the Rio Rancho Police Department.
Officer Benner was a beloved family man and proud member of his community. His selfless service to others was remarkable to all those who knew him. It is ironic that on Memorial Day, his family, friends, and loved ones remember and honor him — not for being killed by a foreign enemy while serving and protecting our country—they will remember him on this day as being gunned down by a career criminal, while serving and protecting our community.
The person who murdered Officer Benner (I will not publish his name to give him any more notoriety) was a career criminal when he entered Rio Rancho on that fateful day to continue a crime spree of armed robberies that had begun in Albuquerque and continued in Albuquerque after he left Officer Benner to bleed to death in the street. The tragedy of Officer Benner’s murder is amplified by the fact that his killer should never have been on the streets in the first place. He had already been incarcerated in the New Mexico State Penitentiary twice. He was on probation. Officer Benner’s murder sparked an outcry around the state and many called for stricter laws and sentences for repeat violent offenders. While some progress has been made in this regard, we still see far too many repeat violent offenders who migrate from larger communities like Albuquerque to the smaller communities in Cibola, Sandoval and Valencia Counties to commit atrocities against our citizens. Armed with the statistics of the alarming increase in violent crimes in our district, I will fight in the legislature to get a bigger slice of the resource pie, by dispelling the myth that our “rural” district doesn’t need as many crime fighting resources as the bigger metropolitan areas like Albuquerque.
While I am an advocate for diversion programs to assist first time non-violent offenders who wish to leave the criminal path and return to productive law abiding citizens, I have no sympathy for those who have been given multiple opportunities to correct their life styles and refuse to do so, ultimately harming and even destroying innocent lives. During the course of leading the prosecution team for Officer Benner’s killer, I became acutely aware of how profoundly the murder of a police officer affects the entire community. I have implemented a no-plea bargain policy for crimes of violence committed against peace officers during the course of their duties. My policy is to treat these crimes as if they were enumerated crimes, giving the harmed officers all of the rights afforded to other victims of crime in New Mexico. This means that none of these cases are dismissed or pled to lesser charges without consulting with the affected officer.
Additionally, as part of my monthly meeting with local law enforcement agency chiefs and supervisors, we developed a Chronic Offender Task Force wherein the police officers, probation and parole officers, and prosecutors collaborate to identify the worst of the worst in Sandoval County and coordinate strategies to investigate, apprehend, and prosecute these individuals in a concentrated effort to get them off of our streets for good. This will be implemented in all three counties once I am elected.
As your District Attorney, I will always stand behind the men and women who risk their lives every day for our safety. That is not to say I will rubber stamp everything they do. I will demand high quality and professional policing and investigation to ensure the best possible prosecution outcome. But, make no mistake. If anyone intentionally harms a police officer in the line of duty, I will not hesitate to prosecute to the full extent of the law. Imagine, if someone is willing to shoot and kill an armed police officer in broad daylight, they will not hesitate to kill any one of us or our family. Repeat violent offenders will not find a safe haven in Cibola, Sandoval, or Valencia County under my administration.
Rest In Peace with the Angels Nigel!
“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” [John 15:13]