NM fire chief allegedly came to station armed, drunk

Darwin Yazzie, 28, showed up at fire station with guns, yelling, 'Let's get it on,' according to witness accounts

By Bill Rodgers
The Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE, N.M. — Velarde volunteer firefighters broke down a door and jumped a fence to escape Monday after their acting chief allegedly came to a monthly meeting of firefighters drunk and packing heat.

Darwin Yazzie, 28, showed up at the fire station with guns and yelling, "Let's get it on," according to witness accounts.

He was arrested at his home at Ohkay Owingeh about four hours later. Tuesday night, he was in jail on five charges of aggravated assault, according to an arrest warrant that sets Yazzie's bond at $50,000.

Rio Arriba County officials called a news conference Tuesday afternoon to announce that Yazzie had been fired.

Yazzie apparently has been the head of the fire department since former chief Eddie Velarde was fired in January, despite having at least four DWI arrests, including one in May, accord- ing to jail records.

Department member Fabian Valdez, 20, said Monday's incident follows months of political divisions within the Velarde fire department that started after former chief Velarde was dismissed.

Yazzie was Velarde's deputy chief, and the controversy over Velarde has spurred a round of charges and counter-charges, in court and otherwise, with Yazzie and Velarde on one side and other county officials on the other. The imbroglio includes allegations the fire department leaders doublebilled for attendance at a training session, which Velarde has denied, according to reports in the Rio Grande Sun.

According to a Rio Arriba Sheriff's Office report, Yazzie came to the fire station Monday night with handguns and a rifle.

Fabian Valdez, one of the firefighters, said the people inside included a mother and 3-year-old child, and attendees ran and hid where they could after Yazzie showed up.

The meeting, a regular monthly gathering, began normally, according to Valdez, with a review of the minutes from the previous meeting.

What allegedly happened next is detailed in the arrest warrant affidavit written by Rio Arriba Sheriff's Sgt. Abraham Baca:

A firefighter reported about 7:30 p.m. that Yazzie was at the fire station on County Road 50 with a rifle and was under the influence of alcohol.

Angelo Abeyta, also at the meeting, said he'd received a call from former chief Velarde, who said Yazzie was on his way to the meeting. Various witnesses described seeing a white car, with Yazzie in the passenger seat with his grandmother driving. Yazzie's cousins and cousins' children were also in the vehicle.

Witnesses said Yazzie got out of the vehicle and they could see he was armed with a rifle — some said it was an AR-15 automatic rifle — and two side-arms. He was also wearing a bulletproof vest, they said.

But sheriff's office spokesman Jake Arnold said Tuesday the office couldn't be specific about the type of rifle and that the "bulletproof" vest may have been a piece of firefighting equipment.

Abeyta, in the affidavit, is quoted as saying he grabbed Yazzie and walked him back to the vehicle, telling him to go.

Accounts from other witnesses stated Yazzie pointed the rif le before someone grabbed it and shoved it away. Another account said Yazzie pulled out the handgun and people fought with him to put it back in the holster before he got in the car and left.

One witness reported that Yazzie pulled out the assault rifle and walked up to the fire station yelling, "Let's get it on." He pointed the rifle inside the station and yelled, "You know who I am talking to."

Two men got the rifle from Yazzie and put it into the car, according to accounts in the sheriff's office affidavit. Yazzie then reportedly pulled out a pistol and pointed it at the fire station and again said, "Let's get it on." People got Yazzie to put the pistol down and get back into the car, which his grandmother drove away.

On Tuesday, Rio Arriba County spokeswoman Erika Martinez said Yazzie had been fired and the department would be under the leadership of county Fire Marshal Jerome Sanchez and county emergency ma nagement coordinator Mateo DeVargas temporarily.

The county will also conduct a review of the Velarde department, which could include a recommendation of background checks for volunteer firefighters, according to County Assistant Manager David Trujillo. Trujillo mentioned background checks in response to a question about Yazzie's court record.

Santa Fe County's Jail database shows Yazzie has been booked four times for charges of aggravated DWI and once for a charge of disorderly conduct. Online court records show another case from 2008 in Española.

Valdez said that divisions between Yazzie's faction and another group, including Valdez and made up of people who he said wanted to "move on," got worse since Velarde left.

Velarde himself was arrested by the sheriff 's office in March 2011, accused of obstructing operations during a brush fire, over which Velarde has filed a lawsuit alleging wrongful arrest. Velarde was eventually found not guilty of the criminal charges.

"We're split down the middle. ... It was pretty much a pissing contest," Valdez said.

Martinez said the county now would seek a restraining order against Yazzie.

On Tuesday afternoon, Sanchez was at the Velarde fire station with a locksmith who was changing the locks on the building.

Copyright 2012 Albuquerque Journal

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