Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

DASO sheriff’s candidate speaks out on firing from Marshals Service

LAS CRUCES – Doña Ana County sheriff’s candidate Byron Hollister’s career as a US marshal ended after 20 years without the usual celebrations of a multi-decade career. Instead, the United States Marshals Service fired him, saying he violated the use of power and moonlighting policies.

An administrative judge substantiated the charges after Hollister appealed his firing nearly a decade ago. Hollister provided false information to the Marshals Service, violated policies regarding moonlighting, misused government resources, and tried to pressure a Las Cruces police officer.

On Tuesday, Hollister told the Sun-News that his bosses trumped up those allegations to retaliate against him. Hollister said his managers dredged up decade-old action to make good on a promise to get him fired. Hollister said he’s still fighting to have the rulings reversed.

The information comes as Hollister challenges the incumbent sheriff, Kim Stewart. Hollister bested another candidate to clinch the Republican nomination in June.

Hollister, 58, is a from California. He enlisted in the Army after high school. While stationed in West Germany and playing baseball against European teams, his play caught the eye of a New Mexico State University baseball coach on vacation. Hollister moved to Las Cruces in 1985 to play baseball for the Aggies.

After receiving his degree in criminal justice from NMSU in 1990, Hollister spent seven and half years with the Las Cruces Police Department, mostly as a detective. He was then offered a job working in the US Marshals Service. In 2005, Hollister became the co-commander of the Las Cruces outpost.

What happened, and when did it happen?

The US Marshals fired Hollister on Sept 27, 2013, according to documents generated by Hollister’s efforts to appeal his firing. After the Marshals Service dismissed Hollister in 2013, he appealed the decision and triggered a four-day hearing overseen by an administrative judge.

The judge found Hollister:

  • Provided false, misleading, or inaccurate information
  • Violated United States Marshals Service policy regarding outside employment
  • Associated with a person connected to criminal activities
  • Misused a government-owned vehicle
  • Engaged in conduct unbecoming a Deputy United States marshal
  • Displayed poor judgment
  • Misused position

At the time, Hollister contended his firing was retribution and not warranted. In addition, Hollister raised concerns that his superiors refused to give high marks when evaluating the performance of Hollister’s subordinates.

The administrative judge agreed that whistleblower rules protected Hollister’s concerns. However, Hollister’s superiors still had good cause to fire him, the judge said, regardless of his evaluation concerns.

On Sept. 2, the Merit Systems Protection Board, an independent federal agency that reviews firings in the federal government, denied Hollister’s appeal of the administrative judge’s ruling.

“In finding that the (Marshals Service) proved its charges and (Hollister) failed to prove that the removal constituted reprisal for whistleblowing, the administrative judge considered the evidence as a whole, drew appropriate inferences, and made reasoned conclusions on issues of credibility, ” the board wrote in its final order on the matter. “Under the circumstances, we see no reason to disturb those findings.”

Hollister contends that the first trial was not fair. He told the Sun-News he plans on taking the case to a federal court of appeals. His appeal centers on arguments that at least one witness was not entirely truthful. That witness wants to come clean, according to Hollister.

Since his firing, Hollister said Marshals Service also removed his bosses from their positions shortly after firing him. He told the Sun News that another marshal made a similar complaint. That complaint triggered an inspector general investigation into his former workplace.

Merit Systems Protective Board Hollister review | PDF | United States Courts Of Appeals | Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

Innocent by association

The charges against Hollister stem from two points; his use of agency resources to aid his business and the use of power to sway subordinates.

In one instance, the Marshals Service accused Hollister of attempting to sway an LCPD Codes officer to look the other way when citing a landscaper who’d had connections to Hollister.

The agency said the man — a convicted felon and former baseball teammate of Hollister’s — contacted Hollister when a codes officer wanted to cite the man for failing to obtain construction permits. The man asked Hollister to get rid of the problem. The Marshals Service allegedly obliged Hollister and met with the man and codes officer. They accused Hollister of showing up in full uniform with his gun, badge, and status as a marshal commander on full display.

Hollister described his relationship with the landscaper as insignificant. But, he said he’d previously denied the codes officer a chance to work in the Marshals Service.

“He did have a personal vendetta against me,” Hollister said, referring to the codes officer.

Other charges include findings Hollister started an inappropriate financial relationship with a subordinate and ordered an underling to serve divorce papers on his business partner’s wife.

Hollister said he merely passed along information but never induced the underling to serve the papers. However, the subordinate tested that Hollister personally asked him to deliver the documents.

Hollister also sold a house with an interest-free mortgage to another subordinate. The judge said Hollister displayed poor judgment when he did this since he effectively became his employee’s creditor.

A moonlighting marshal

The rest of the charges arose from Hollister’s role in his Las Cruces-based business, Hacienda Carpet and Tile, while working as a co-commander in the Marshals Service.

The Marshals Service said Hollister did not disclose his status as a partial owner of Hacienda Carpet and Tile. Hollister said he didn’t consider himself an employee, which the administrative judge found implausible.

Dozens of documents — including Department of Veteran Affairs loans, a letter requesting a zoning variance, and an emailed conversation between Hollister and a potential client — showed that Hollister took an active role in Hacienda Carpet and Tile while also employed by the Marshals Service.

The administrative judge found that Hollister used his work computer, email, cell phone, fax machine, and government-owned vehicle to do work for Hacienda Carpet and Tile.

A Marshals Service policy required by Hollister to be available on a 24/7 notice while working as a criminal investigator. Since he worked outside the Marshals Service, the administrative judge found he violated this policy while moonlighting.

Still, Hollister told the Sun-News that he’d been told that some work on his business was acceptable.

Today, Hollister continues to run Hacienda Carpet and Tile. He said he didn’t foresee conflict between his business and DASO if the voters made him sheriff in November.

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Justin Garcia is a public safety reporter for the Las Cruces Sun-News. He can be reached by email at JE [email protected].

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