The Siege

The new sheriff vowed to clean up the town of San Luis. For many locals, the price was too high.

Devereaux says his problems with Pugliese began shortly after the undersheriff's hiring. A client sent Devereaux an article about Pugliese that had appeared in ¡Ya Basta!, a Chicano activist paper published in Grand Junction. The piece was an inflammatory account of a Pugliese arrest during his stint in Trinidad; in 1998, he and another deputy ran into trouble while trying to serve a trespassing summons on a Hispanic family in Aguilar, and Pugliese used Mace on 77-year-old Francisco Coca, his 61-year-old wife and their two sons.

An internal investigation by the Las Animas County Sheriff's Department found that the use of force was justified because the family had resisted arrest and assaulted the officers (Francisco Coca disputes this). However, District Attorney Glenn Davis subsequently dropped all charges against the Cocas, including a charge against one of Francisco's sons for attempted murder of Pugliese's partner, saying that the evidence was insufficient to proceed.

Devereaux passed the article on to other attorneys in the San Luis Valley; Pugliese was reportedly outraged. After that, Devereaux and his wife began to get stopped regularly by Pugliese and other deputies, usually over a faulty taillight on their Toyota Echo.

Jay Bevenour
The tale of the taillight: Victor and Cynthia Devereaux and the errant Echo that led to a siege at their cabin.
Brett Amole
The tale of the taillight: Victor and Cynthia Devereaux and the errant Echo that led to a siege at their cabin.

Mestas says his records show that Devereaux has been stopped only six times by his department regarding the taillight. "If this is an issue, why doesn't he fix the taillight?" he asks. "We've let him know and let him know that it's out. At some point, maybe we do need to issue a citation."

One evening in the fall of 1999, Devereaux was sitting in his car in the school parking lot in San Luis, waiting to pick up his wife after a school-board meeting. He says two officers surrounded his car and told him he was under arrest for trespassing on private property. (The school is public property.) Devereaux rolled up his window and told them to get a warrant. After they called in to a dispatcher and learned Devereaux's identity, the deputies apologized and left.

A month later, Devereaux and his wife were once again in the parking lot, waiting for their daughter's return from a school-sponsored mariachi performance. Three officers approached them. One of them was Pugliese.

"They told us we were trespassing," Cynthia Devereaux recalls. "They open the door, and Pugliese tries to pull my husband out of the car. I told them I was on the school board and they were out of line. They had another police car block the exit from the lot and told us we were under arrest."

As Pugliese was ordering them out of the vehicle, Cynthia started snapping pictures with the camera she'd brought for her daughter's performance. Victor stayed in his seat. When Pugliese heard the film rewinding, Cynthia says, he abruptly told the officers to leave.

Other run-ins followed. Last April, twelve days before the siege at the cabin, Cynthia was pulled over by Pugliese for speeding. She argued with him. The Echo had already been stopped earlier that day by another officer over the taillight problem -- one had been fixed, now the other was on the blink -- and she insisted she was being particularly careful as a result.

Pugliese offered the summons for her to sign. The option of pleading "not guilty" had already been crossed out, so her signature would represent her consent that she had been speeding. She began to write on the signature line, in big black letters: N-O-T G-U-I--

"At that point he pulls the ticket out of my hand, tears the copy out of the clipboard and throws it into the car," Cynthia Devereaux says. "He tells me, 'I can hardly wait until I get out of this damn place.'"

There are at least two versions of how Lou Pugliese came to be kicking the door of the Devereaux cabin in San Pablo last April 26, trying to force his way inside. The Devereaux version goes like this:

Around nine o'clock that night, Cynthia and Victor and their seven-month-old grandchild are headed for the cabin in the feckless Echo. Deputy Theresa Dixon spots the defective taillight and pulls them over. Victor pops the trunk, fiddles with the light, gets it working again. Dixon says that's the only reason she stopped them. "You're dismissed," she says.

"Thank you," says Victor, with a tinge of sarcasm in his voice. He mimics a military salute.

They drive to the cabin, careful to observe the speed limit. Victor is on his way inside with the baby when Deputy Dixon pulls up and informs him he's under arrest.

"For what?" Victor asks.

"For eluding an officer," Dixon says.

"I don't believe this," Victor says. "If you think I did something wrong, get a warrant."

The Devereauxes go into the house. Dixon does not follow. A few minutes later, there is an awful banging at the door, and Cynthia is on the phone, calling Father Pat, her dad, the neighbors.

The police version is contained in several official reports, some of which appear to have been written well after the event. They tell an even stranger story.

At or about 21:05 hours, while on patrol, Deputy Dixon spots an inoperable left taillight. She recognizes the car even before she pulls it over because of the Echo's custom license plate (SANLUIS). Victor Devereaux, she writes, gets out of the car "staring at me angrily." He reaches into his trunk in an "aggressive" manner that alarms the deputy. He ignores her request for license and registration and gets back in his car. He makes an obscene gesture (the bird) and an offensive remark ("Fuck you!").

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