Frank Methola, 50, a veteran law-enforcement officer and the police chief of the tiny town of Loving, New Mexico, was criminally charged this week for allegedly attempting to make an arrest outside of his jurisdiction and tasing someone in the process.
The charges were not a shock to people who’ve had run-ins with Methola. Not only because what is alleged lines up with their description of a cop who they said has a history of going rogue and using excessive force, but because they could not fathom that Methola was still working in law enforcement.
The saga is one of countless examples of a larger national trend of seemingly problem cops bouncing around various agencies, even within the same state, and even getting promoted along the way.
“Methola is a police chief? You’re kidding me,” Steven Otero, who sued Methola over his use of force against him in 2006, told The Daily Beast. “I can’t imagine that he’s even still an officer. That’s ridiculous.”
Methola did not respond to a request for comment for this story.
According to a criminal complaint filed on Monday, Methola is charged with impersonating a peace officer and battery. Methola was driving in his Loving Police unit in August when he entered Carlsbad, New Mexico, a city about 12 miles away. According to the complaint, Methola attempted to stop an unnamed driver in a Ford F-250 for an unknown reason.
The driver of the car was “upset and yelling” at Methola because he knew Methola did not have jurisdiction to be in Carlsbad, the complaint said. But Methola allegedly tased the man and detained him, although no charges or citations were issued against the driver. After the incident, investigators attempted to meet with Methola three times to get a statement but were not able to, according to the complaint.
The Eddy County Sheriff’s Office, which has jurisdiction in Carlsbad and is the agency tasked with giving nearby agencies privileges to make arrests in the city, had not provided those powers to Methola, according to the complaint.
Mark Cage, the Eddy County Sheriff, told The Daily Beast that no one in the Loving Police Department, which only has four officers, has that power.
Cage said Methola’s charges came after his office referred the case to the Eddy County District Attorney’s Office. During the traffic stop, Cage said his deputies responded to the scene and released the man Methola stopped and tased.
The District Attorney’s Office did not respond to a request for comment.
Cage said that the stop was a “significant” distance away from where Methola is supposed to patrol.
Before the stop occurred, Cage said, he was aware of Methola being the police chief of Loving, but said he didn’t have a lot of interactions with him. “It’s not a good one,” he said of the incident, adding that since the August stop and the charges against Methola, he’s learned more about the officer’s checkered past.
“Yeah,” he said, “he’s had some problems in the past, is my understanding.”
Methola was first hired to the Loving Police Department in March and promoted to police chief in August, days before the incident in question occurred, according to department Facebook posts. The town has a population of less than 2,000 people.
The town’s mayor, Pete Estrada, did not respond to a request for comment.
Methola’s law-enforcement career began in August 2001 with the New Mexico State Police, according to a lawsuit he filed against the agency after his resignation in 2004.
In Dec. 2003, Methola told a supervising officer with the agency that he suffered from attention deficit disorder. When he was asked to submit to a psychological evaluation, Methola argued the exam was not “related” to his job and declined, according to the suit. He also claimed in the suit he was “harassed” during his time with the agency for his Hispanic and Italian heritage.
By 2004, Methola claimed, he had been forced to resign from the State Police.
His wrongful termination suit filed in 2005 never gained much ground, however, because Methola failed numerous times to serve the State Police with his lawsuit or respond to court requests, according to legal filings.
A spokesman for the State Police confirmed Methola worked for the agency between 2001 and 2004, but declined to release any information related to internal investigations or complaints against Methola.
By 2006, when Methola first encountered Otero, the cop worked as a deputy for the Valencia County Sheriff’s Office.
According to Otero’s lawsuit, Methola responded to the self-storage lot in Los Lunas, New Mexico, that Otero owned to write up a report about a motorcycle stolen from one of the units. Things went south, however, when Methola allegedly put on his lawyer hat and began advising the man whose motorcycle had been stolen that he could sue Otero.
After Otero told Methola he was out of line, the deputy became “angry and hostile” and “violently” arrested him, according to the suit.
“Boom, he threw me against the car and put the handcuffs on me and threw me in the car,” Otero told The Daily Beast.
Obstruction charges against Otero were dropped, according to the suit. Otero claimed that after the incident, he went to visit Sheriff Richard Perea at the time to complain about Methola and was told he’d be doing Perea a “favor” if he filed a lawsuit because he’d allegedly been trying to get rid of Methola.
When reached by The Daily Beast, however, Perea said he could not recall if he said that.
Perea said he did not hire Methola but that the cop was already part of the department when he became Sheriff in 2004. Perea said he left the department in 2007 and declined to comment on any disciplinary action taken against Methola during that time because it is a “personnel matter.”
But when told about Methola’s new position as police chief, Perea said, “Oh, wow,” and chuckled.
Otero’s lawsuit was later dismissed after Otero said he was paid a settlement under $3,000 and Methola apologized to him in federal court. Court filings show the two parties agreed to a “mutual understanding.”
But Otero said he caught wind of other incidents Methola was involved with, including another federal lawsuit filed against the officer in 2008 by a resident of Los Lunas who alleged Methola had also used excessive force against them under auspicious circumstances.
Dina Monarrez claimed in the 2008 suit that Methola and another deputy entered her mobile home unannounced and began rummaging through her living room without a warrant. When Monarrez confronted the officers and asked them to leave, Methola demanded her ID, threatened to have her deported, and later slammed her to the ground, according to the suit.
Although Monarrez was not charged, a response to Monarrez’s complaint by an attorney representing Methola argued that Methola’s actions were supported by probable cause—though the filings do not state any specific crimes Methola was investigating.
Monarrez told The Daily Beast that she still remembers that night and hearing noises coming from her mobile home. “I thought it was an intruder or somebody going to rob the house,” she said.
Monarrez said that when she confronted the officers about not having a warrant, only Methola grew enraged at her seemingly challenging his authority. “He got mad and just right away threw me to the floor.”
She described Methola allegedly grabbing her and slamming her head into the floor of her home, causing bruising on her face. She claimed Methola told her, “You should go back to Mexico,” at one point.
“I was born here in the United States,” Monarrez told The Daily Beast, still dismayed by the comment.
In March 2009, Monarrez’s suit was dismissed after the issue was independently resolved, according to court filings. Monarrez told The Daily Beast she received a settlement of $20,000.
By 2010, Methola was under fire again when he was arrested by a local judge who became unnerved by his failure to appear in court for several citations he’d received for his alleged careless driving while chasing a robbery suspect, according to The Albuquerque Journal. The citations came after the New Mexico State Police investigated the incident, according to the outlet.
Rene Rivera, the sheriff of Valencia County from 2007 to 2010, said that following the incident with Monarrez—and two instances where Methola allegedly “wrecked” a patrol unit—he moved to fire Methola from the Sheriff’s Office in 2010.
Orlando Montoya, the Valencia County director of human resources, confirmed to The Daily Beast that Methola resigned in October 2010 “in lieu of being terminated.”
Rivera said that during his time in the Sheriff’s Office, Methola had a number of complaints for being “kind of rough” against people of Mexican descent. However, he said he could not prove or disprove the allegations at the time.
He recalled speaking to Monarrez after her encounter with Methola and advising her to explore her legal options. “It’s my department,” he said, “but then again, I don’t condone anything like that.”
Rivera said he also launched an investigation into the incident and that he found Methola had not conducted himself in a “proper law enforcement manner” during the incident. Following the investigation, Rivera said, he put in the documentation to have Methola terminated.
Rivera said he heard about Methola bouncing around other agencies after leaving the Sheriff’s Office. Upon learning about Methola’s charges in Loving, Rivera said, he was very surprised to learn his old employee was a police chief.
And when Monarrez learned about the charges in Loving, more than 300 miles south of Los Lunas, where she first encountered him, she couldn’t believe the officer still had a law-enforcement career at all.
“I thought that they were going to take his badge or license,” she said.