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Santa Fe deputy’s lifesaving efforts earn him medal from Crime Stoppers

August 19, 2018

The first time Joe Vigil had to bring someone back from the brink of death by overdose was the hardest.

Vigil, a deputy with the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office, remembers it well. It was Christmas Day of 2015.

He and another deputy were dispatched to the Arroyo Seco area, where a woman had overdosed. This was months after deputies had received training on how to use the opioid-reversal drug naloxone, also known by the brand name Narcan.

In those days, deputies had to assemble the parts of the nasal-spray container, unlike the easy one-squeeze dispenser they use today. But he managed. The woman came around within 30 seconds after Vigil sprayed the overdose reversal drug up her nose.

Medics took the woman to the hospital. Sometimes, Vigil said, he sees her walking about when he’s on patrol.

“The way I see it, that’s somebody’s dad or mom or brother or sister. If it was somebody from my family, I would want somebody to be there to Narcan them,” Vigil said. “You never know. … They could turn their life around.”

During the past three years, Vigil says, he has distributed Naloxone in 12 to 15 overdose cases.

These life-saving efforts are one of the reasons Vigil received a Medal of Valor this year from Santa Fe Crime Stoppers.

In a nomination letter, Maj. Gabriel Gonzales also lauded Vigil for making 71 arrests in 2017. Seven were in drunken-driving cases.

“His colleagues would say he is a mentor, natural leader and always willing to assist with any investigation,” Gonzales wrote of Vigil.

David C’de Baca, Crime Stoppers vice president, said a panel of Santa Fe residents reviewed three nominations for the Medal of Valor before selecting Vigil. The other two Santa Fe Police officers nominated, Zebulun Evridge and Christopher Mooney, received plaques.

“It’s not very often that police officers or law enforcement are rewarded for the job they do,” C’de Baca said. “We recognize that special person that really went out of his way, far and beyond their regular duties.”

The Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office doesn’t bestow an officer of the year award or medals to its employees, spokesman Juan Rios said. The Santa Fe Police Department presents annual awards to officers, spokesman Greg Gurulé said.

Vigil has been in law enforcement for nearly 16 years. He’s worked for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Tesuque tribal police and two county sheriff’s offices. He’s been with Santa Fe County almost five years.

The Nambé Pueblo tribal member has lived in northern Santa Fe County most of his life. He decided to join law enforcement for the stability and benefits when he and his wife started a family, he said. Vigil’s father was also a county sheriff’s deputy, he said. His son is a police dispatcher, looking toward a career in law enforcement.

Vigil works the swing shift, patrolling the county from 2 p.m. to midnight four days a week. He’s also a member of the homicide investigation team, and he helps investigate car crashes that result in death or serious injury.

“I couldn’t see myself doing anything else,” Vigil said. “You get to meet a lot of people, both good and bad.”

Some days, the job isn’t fun. Of the dozen or more people Vigil has administered Narcan to, a few have died because of heart attacks or other medical problems.

He knows from his own community how hard loss of life hits. In just the past few weeks, he said, at least two people in Nambé Pueblo have died of overdoses. That is a big loss in a community with fewer than 700 people, Vigil said.

“The kids in our community, they need to be educated to not even get on that path,” Vigil said, “once they start, it’s hard for them to get off that stuff.”

Vigil has seen increases in the use of opioids and heroin. And addiction happens across many walks of life, he said.

One man Vigil tried to administer Narcan to had a wife and kids. He got hooked after being prescribed opioids for a neck injury. Another overdose call was for a homeless woman and her boyfriend, Vigil said.

Vigil is prepared for any overdose call. He clips a black case with Naloxone to the extra set of handcuffs on the back of his belt. This keeps his hands free in case he needs them. He always carries blue or purple gloves, not black, so he can see if he gets any blood or other fluids on his hands.

Vigil might have the most revivals in the department, but the deputy, who is camera shy and reserved, isn’t bragging about the numbers.

“It’s just luck, I guess,” he said.

Lt. Michael Martinez, Vigil’s supervisor and longtime friend, doesn’t chalk up the deputy’s accomplishments to luck. Vigil works hard and takes pride in his job, Martinez said.

“I see it every day that he gives his entire self to go on out there and make sure the people in this county know they’re being taken care of,” Martinez said. “… He goes out there and makes a difference.”

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