Former Española chief acquitted in child abuse trial

By John Miller
jmiller@taosnews.com
Posted 4/11/19

Corrections appended.

A former Española police chief indicted in 2017 for allegedly striking his 13-year-old daughter in the face with a pair of shoes and taking away her cellphone at Big 5 …

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Former Española chief acquitted in child abuse trial

Posted

Corrections appended.

A former Española police chief indicted in 2017 for allegedly striking his 13-year-old daughter in the face with a pair of shoes and taking away her cellphone at Big 5 Sporting Goods in Taos was acquitted by a jury Tuesday (April 9) in Taos District Court.

Matthew Vigil, who retired as chief after he was indicted in the shoe case and in another domestic violence case filed in 2016, celebrated the verdict with his wife and family as his daughter wept with his ex-wife in the benches nearby.

Vigil was charged with one felony count of child abuse and a misdemeanor count of interference with communications after his ex-wife reported he had struck their daughter with a pair of Nike slides at Big 5 on March 31, 2017.

According to testimony at trial this week, Vigil and his wife, Vicki Vigil, a records manager in Taos Magistrate Court, had picked up his daughter from his ex-wife’s house and took her to the sporting goods store to buy the slides, which she needed for school sporting events.

A fight erupted as they were shopping, but conflicting testimony from Vicki Vigil and the young girl cast doubt among jurors as to exactly what happened inside the store.

Vigil’s daughter said her father became angry and threw a pair of slides that hit her in the face, prompting her to run away and call her mother. Through tears, she told the court that her father took away her phone and refused to return it.

She said she was afraid to be in the same room with him and felt intimidated by the large presence of family supporters who appeared for the trial to show him their support.

On the other hand, Vicki Vigil painted a picture of an emotional young girl who had a tendency to blow matters out of proportion.

She testified that her husband never had the shoes in his hand at any point during the exchange inside the store. She said he had swatted the shoes to the ground when the girl tossed them at him when she became frustrated during a dispute about what size to select. She claimed that the girl’s cellphone was returned to her once all three had returned to their car outside the store.

Taos Police officers Andrea Medina and Austin Barnes responded to a report of the incident, and Matthew Vigil intercepted them in the store’s parking lot.

Lapel cam footage played at trial showed him telling the officers that his daughter was never struck and was being a “brat.”

But Officer Medina testified that she did notice swelling over the girl’s left eye that evening during an interview at Taos Police Department. She took photos of the eye at the police station and the next day when she followed up at the girl’s home.

The images were displayed as evidence on courtroom monitors at the trial, but it was difficult definitively to make out an injury.

Police reports indicate that video surveillance was not installed within the store at the time of the incident to provide a more objective account of what had happened.

Tim Hasson, a deputy district attorney with the 8th Judicial District Attorney’s Office, said the officer’s testimony, the emotional account given by the daughter and the conflicting – sometimes defensive – responses by Vicki Vigil were enough for the jury to convict the former chief.

Vigil’s private defense attorney, however, claimed that Hasson had not proven beyond a reasonable doubt that child abuse or interference ever happened, an assertion that appeared to resonate with the jury, which returned the not-guilty verdict early Tuesday afternoon.

Criminal proceedings have not always swung in Vigil’s favor.

Vigil pleaded guilty in 2011 in Taos Magistrate Court to a misdemeanor count of harassment, related to threatening text messages he had sent his ex-wife’s new boyfriend following their divorce.

Later that year, Vigil was charged with drunk driving in Raton Magistrate Court, but that charge was dismissed in 2014.

In 2016, Vigil pleaded guilty to battery against a household member, Vicki Vigil. The state also charged him with two counts of intimidating a witness for allegedly coercing Vigil and a child at the home from testifying against him, but those charges and one count of child abuse were eventually dropped from the case.

According to court records, Vigil’s ex-wife currently has physical custody of their daughter, while Vigil continues to share legal custody. Vicki Vigil’s children continue to live with him at her residence.

The print version of this article published on April 11 incorrectly reported that Matthew Vigil had been charged with drunk driving a second time, had pleaded guilty to aggravated battery – as opposed to battery – against a household member in 2016 and did not share legal custody of his daughter with his ex-wife.

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