Q: You’ve been campaigning, but a lot of people don’t know you. Tell us about yourself, what you do.
My wife and I own a company called Covenant Special Projects, better known in El Paso as Tactical Ranch. It’s a firearms and tactics training center where we train local, state and federal law enforcement agents and agencies with my team of former Green Berets, Navy SEALS, Marine special operations and Air Force special operations. We also train military special operations forces for the global war on terrorism and the threats that domestic law enforcement and our military face.
We also provide very discrete protective services for U.S. diplomats, allied nations, heads of state and affluent individuals in some of the world’s most austere environments.
Q: What is your background?
I served 23 years in the U.S. Army, about 19½ of that in special forces. I’ve served in all capacities in the special operations community, from demolitions and engineering to weapons to intelligence. I was promoted to the most senior rank in the special forces regiment, sergeant major.
I had tours to over 52 nations in all hemispheres, conducting not just direct action or military combat operations, but also humanitarian, civil affairs, nation-building and community-building operations as well.
I retired from the military in late 2005-early 2006. My wife is originally from El Paso, grew up in Northeast. So we made the decision that of all the places in the world we could retire, it was here in El Paso.
We came back to El Paso. I also was hired by a company called Blackwater, our nation’s largest private security firm, where I served at an executive level responsible for their high-threat division.
We later made the decision to start our own company, move to El Paso and do what we’re currently doing.
Q: Why did you decide to run for El Paso County sheriff?
Because of my experience working with law enforcement in the past 12 years in a training and advisory capacity, I’ve known law enforcement personnel throughout our nation. About 18 months ago, men and women of the El Paso County Sheriff’s Department, Border Patrol and some of the smaller municipalities here started coming to the ranch and encouraging me to run for sheriff.
They did so because of what they identified as a degradation of former Sheriff Leo Samaniego’s department because of Mr. Wiles’ leadership or lack of, and because of the policies and procedures that don’t allow them to exercise their initiative as officers to truly protect and serve the community.
As a nonpolitical person, I laughed at it originally. Then I got a little more educated and learned more about the issues facing our law enforcement and the issues that adversely affect the public here. My wife and I, as Christians, prayed on this decision. I reached out to law enforcement throughout the region and asked them if they thought I was a good fit. They encouraged me to run.
Q: Who has endorsed you?
I’ve been endorsed by the El Paso Municipal Officers Association, the El Paso Sheriff Officers Association. I’ve also been endorsed by former Sheriff Jimmy Apodaca and Leo Samiengo’s family, Hudspeth County Sheriff Arvin West, a Democrat; Socorro Independent School District officers and city of Socorro officers, as well as officers in Anthony, Texas and New Mexico.
Q: When you say the sheriff isn’t letting people use their initiative and about degradation of the department, what do you mean?
The morale in the Sheriff’s Department is nonexistent. There’s been a division created by Mr. Wiles and his administration between the detention officers, the deputies, the dispatchers and so on. That’s not conducive to a high-performance team. It has to have one common objective – to protect and serve this community.
When I’m elected sheriff, I will assume responsibility for everything that office does or fails to do. That includes morale. The culture in the sheriff’s office is 180 degrees different from when Mr. Samaniego left after 21 years. The issues that have been presented in this campaign were nonexistent 15 years ago under Samaniego.
Q: There’s conflict between the three operations of the Sheriff’s Department – the deputies, detention guards and dispatchers?
Q: Caused by what?
Caused by lack of team effort. Everything that office does is the responsibility of that sheriff. Leadership is the process of influencing your team members in such a manner as to accomplish a mission. That mission can only be accomplished when all three groups, or four if you include civilian support services, work with a common objective. That’s exactly what’s not occurring.
We have a regional training academy at the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office, and other regions and smaller municipalities used to train there and now they don’t.
When I went to Juárez and met with the chief of police, I learned there was no liaison or coordination of effort between the sheriff and the chief of police and our sister city.
When you look at the department’s training standards, they’re abysmal. Recently, three female deputies that graduated the deputy academy required nine times to qualify with their sidearm, their pistol. That’s not a standard. That’s a social experiment to get people into positions.
Q: I saw a video of you addressing this issue in August. I asked Sheriff Wiles about it, and he said only 6 percent of the deputies in the department are women. He said in the Police Department, it’s 16 percent and that’s bad, but 6 percent’s abysmal.
Q: Wiles said he went out of his way in a number of instances to help women who were getting through the academy physically and otherwise with their firearms training. He said they did qualify and are now working as deputies. But in the video, you said if you’re elected sheriff, they’ll be working for Walmart.
Q: Would you dismiss them from the department?
No, we’re going to go back and train. I’m not going to go in and relieve anybody, but we’re going to correct the deficiencies in the Sheriff’s Department. No. 1, I’m going to change the culture immediately because the culture wants to change. I campaign every day with men and women off duty, not in uniform using non-county assets of men and women of the Sheriff’s Department, the Police Department, Border Patrol, retired Border Patrol.
Every day, we do this. They want tough standards. Mr. Wiles says he helped them with a standard. That is not a standard. A standard is the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement standard to graduate from the academy. They will meet the standard or they’re terminated from that position and go back to the detention officer ranks. They can reapply and go through the vetting and hiring process and academy again. What we can’t do is reduce standards.
Q: You have described Wiles as oppressive as sheriff and as police chief before that. What do you mean?
The primary goal of the sheriff of any county is to defend the constitutional rights of the people. Immediately following the Feb. 28 unanimous vote by the El Paso County Sheriff’s Association to endorse me, we had people putting on bumper stickers and going to Juárez to get their car decorated, “Buchino for sheriff.”
Q: Deputies and their personal cars?
Yes. But immediately following that, those cars were being photographed. While they were at work, chief deputies assigned to work as Mr. Wiles’ administrators were out taking photos of deputies’ cars. Those individuals, 22 most recently, have been called in for mandatory random urinalysis tests.
So when we talk about oppressive acts, we’re talking about fear, intimidation, and people being told if they don’t do this, they will be moved out of their position.
We’ve had individuals that have taken exams for lieutenant and scored very well, but they are overlooked and passed over for promotion because they’re not closely connected to Mr. Wiles.
Q: Wiles implemented a new schedule for deputies and jailers that includes 12-hour shifts, an 84-hour pay period, three-day weekends every other week. He says it’s saved the county more than $4 million a year in overtime and allowed the county to avoid tax increases. But I understand the officers do not like it.
No, they do not like it. About the $4 million, it depends on which day you catch my opponent talking about the money he’s saving. I’ve heard $20.5 million, $5 million and I’ve heard $4 million. I’ve looked through the budget, and I don’t see the cost savings.
When you look at the 84-hour workweek, understand that was in the contract and the men and women of the union agreed to that.
Here’s some adverse things we haven’t looked at about the 12-hour day. We haven’t looked at the physiological and psychologic aspects of these individuals working 12 hours. These people are undermanned, especially in the jail system. So we have jailers that are working 12-hour shifts that don’t have a 30- or 40-minute lunchtime to go somewhere. They’re eating at their station.
Looking at sheriff’s deputies, you have them in the vehicle for 12 hours. Has anybody conducted a study to see what the adverse effects are? When they get home, I can imagine what they do is eat a little something and go to bed and wake up and do it again until they get their break.
Various organizations in the community, from the Boys and Girls Clubs to the little league and religious groups, say they’re not seeing involvement by Sheriff’s Department employees. Well, they’re working 12-hour shifts.
Before going to 12-hour shifts, deputies worked a 10-hour work shift and jail personnel worked an eight-hour shift. It seems none of these people are physically happy with the 12-hour shift.
Q: What would you say about the working relationship between the Sheriff’s Department and the Police Department? And would you work closer with the police than Wiles’ department?
I’d like to think that. I’ve met Chief Greg Allen and have the utmost respect for his service to this community. He’s not political. He’s a police chief who operates the department to protect and serve the community.
He has a warrior mentality, but he is compassionate and professional, and I believe that because I am not a political person. I am running to be sheriff, not a Democrat sheriff or a Republican sheriff. I’ve never read a law that has a D or an R next to it. It’s about enforcement of the law.
My opponent is a politician. He operates to serve the political aspect of this community and the political elite. I won’t.
The sheriff is supposed to be the chief law enforcement officer in this county, and not just the guy in charge of the Sheriff’s Department. In my opinion, that means that the sheriff should be working closely with the smaller municipalities’ police chiefs, El Paso’s chief and the chief of police in Juárez.
Q: Is that not going on?
It’s not going on. When I went to Juárez, the chief of police was thrilled I was there and endorsed me if I wanted to use his endorsement. But he said he’d never met anybody from El Paso law enforcement.
Q: Including the Police Department?
He said he’d never met the sheriff.
Q: Has he met the El Paso police chief?
I did not ask him.