New Mexico -
A Santa Fe police officer investigated for possible affiliation with a motorcycle gang resigned from the police department Friday.
Officer Ben Chavarria, a 13-year-veteran of the department, became the focus of an internal investigation in February for his alleged affiliation with the Bandidos Motorcycle Club. Chavarria, assigned to the department's Community Relations Division, was investigated once before due to similar allegations but has denied any affiliation with the gang.
Chief Ray Real said that on Wednesday, he reassigned Chavarria to "non-police" duties, meaning Chavarria would only be able to perform clerical and administrative duties. "The investigation was completed," the chief said. "I reviewed the findings and reassigned him."
Rael said he couldn't address specific findings because it was a "personnel matter." Chavarria, after being reassigned, submitted his resignation, effective at noon Monday.
Chavarria said Friday in a telephone interview that the allegations that sparked the investigation in November 2012 were "wrong" and said he had no association with members of biker gangs.
In November 2012, a paid obituary for Stevan Roybal appeared in The New Mexican, listing Roybal as "a PROUD member of the Bandidos MC" and Chavarria as an honorary pallbearer.
The Bandidos Motorcycle Club is considered by federal authorities to be a worldwide criminal organization. Designated by the FBI as one of the "Big Four" outlaw motorcycle gangs in the United States, the Bandidos are listed along with Hell's Angels, the Pagans and the Outlaws.
KRQE-TV reported in February that Chavarria posted something about Roybal on Facebook that said Roybal was his "best friend," and that "I spent many a night riding Harleys with him. He made me the biker I am."
Chavarria said Friday that Roybal was a childhood friend and that he only went to the funeral to pay respects to the family. Chavarria said he has ridden motorcycles most of his life but has never been affiliated with a biker gang, and that he wouldn't even join law-enforcement biking clubs.
"Steve was my friend years before he became a member of the Bandidos," Chavarria said. "We had no association after that."
Chavarria also claims that three other Santa Fe police officers were at the funeral, but none of them were targeted in the internal investigation. Because of that claim, Chavarria said, he has filed a federal U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint against Rael, charging racial discrimination. "This is an unfair administration that unfairly targets certain individuals," Chavarria said.
Rael said Chavarria was only investigated because of external allegations of his involvement with the gang. "It was a fair, unbiased investigation," Rael said.
Chavarria helped begin the Santa Fe Police Department's Shop with a Cop program, which helps families in need during the holiday season, and has served on the regional board for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northern New Mexico. He recently completed his second term as president of the Santa Fe Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and was a key figure in Santa Fe's Neighborhood Watch organization.
"The entire time I was with the police department, my goal was to help people," Chavarria said. "I did everything because I wanted to do good for our community."