City councilor named undersheriff of Doña Ana County


Las Cruces City Councilor Tessa Abeyta’s last scheduled council meeting will be Dec. 17, but she starts her next job the very next day: as Doña Ana County’s undersheriff.

Sheriff Kim Stewart announced Abeyta’s appointment as her second-in-command at a press conference Tuesday morning, saying Abeyta would be an “outward-looking undersheriff” with no law enforcement role.

Abeyta lost her bid for a second term in the nonpartisan municipal elections of Nov. 7 when she was narrowly defeated by former Las Cruces mayor Bill Mattiace for the District 2 seat. Stewart, who is nearly one year into her second term, and Abeyta are both Democrats.

Stewart on Tuesday described Abeyta’s future role as an advocate for the sheriff’s office, building relationships with other agencies and lobbying for funding and other favorable legislation at the state Capitol. She would also have a large role in communications for the agency, which has no public information officer. A two-page job description provided by the sheriff makes no mention of law enforcement or direct management of day-to-day operations.

Stewart said the appointment of someone with no law enforcement background represented a re-envisioning of an undersheriff’s role, and that the unusual selection had met with the approval of others in DASO command.

As undersheriff, Abeyta would rank between Stewart and Major Jon Day and hold the powers of undersheriff, but Stewart emphasized that Abeyta’s role would be discrete from the law enforcement operations, which would be carried out by sworn, certified law enforcement officers.

Abeyta’s charge would be “to link us back to our community, to be ears and eyes on the ground out there and in ways we’ve maybe never been … as well as bringing our voice to Santa Fe,” Stewart told reporters.

In a brief address, Abeyta said, “I look forward to bringing my skills in advocacy and organizational development to the department in what will be a small area but very much a part of a wonderful team.”

Abeyta worked as a registered lobbyist during the 2019 legislative session in Santa Fe and later led the New Mexico Public Health Association as executive director. She holds a bachelor’s degree in government from New Mexico State University and was elected to the city council in 2019.

Stewart referred to Abeyta as being only her second undersheriff since Stewart took office in 2019 with Jaime Quezada as undersheriff. She was not counting the temporary appointment in 2021 of Andrea Ferrales-Narvaez, a secretary at DASO, who also had no law enforcement role. Stewart told the Las Cruces Sun-News in 2022 that she made the appointment in order to raise the secretary’s salary based on the extent of her work for DASO, but argued she had been undersheriff by title only. Ferrales-Narvaez left the county approximately 15 weeks after the appointment.

In 2020, Stewart announced she was eliminating the undersheriff position, which she called “antiquated” at the time, but since then had occasionally aired the possibility of bringing back an undersheriff in a reimagined capacity.