Albuquerque Takes On Rape Kit Backlog, Transit Opponents Launch Petition Drive To Force Vote

Jul 8, 2016

Albuquerque Launches Plan To Tackle Rape Kit BacklogAssociated Press

Albuquerque police have launched a new effort to address the city's backlog of untested evidence kits from sexual assaults and rapes.

New Mexico's largest city has more than 3,000 untested kits, making up the bulk of the more than 5,400 at law enforcement agencies and evidence vaults around the state.

Additional funding will be used for the program, which involves hiring three investigators to evaluate the kits and testing those that could most likely help build criminal cases.

The backlog is a nationwide problem, and the state auditor's office announced earlier this year that it was looking into what practices led to processing delays in New Mexico.

The auditor's office plans to visit Albuquerque police and the Bernalillo County Sheriff's Office next week. A community meeting also is scheduled for Monday in Albuquerque.

Albuquerque Police To Use Buddy System – The Associated Press

The police chief in New Mexico's largest city says officers and emergency dispatchers are on high alert in the wake of the shootings in Dallas and have been warned by federal officials about continued threats via social media against officers nationwide.

Albuquerque Police Chief Gorden Eden and Mayor Richard Berry held a news conference Friday to provide more information about the directive issued to the city's officers in response to the killings of five Dallas officers and the wounding of seven others during a protest Thursday over fatal police shootings of black men in other states.

Eden says the plan involves a buddy system for officers.

For at least the next few days, dispatchers will send two officers to all calls for service to ensure their safety.

Eden and Berry pointed to problems across the country, including policing problems, saying Albuquerque has been working hard to implement unprecedented changes as part of a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice.

New Mexico VA 'Adopting' Hospital Access Changes Amid ReportThe Associated Press

Veterans Affairs' health care system officials in New Mexico say they are adopting various changes to improve access amid a critical Office of Inspector General report.

New Mexico VA Health Care System director Andrew Welch said Friday the system has revamped its troubled scheduling process, improved training and is working to provide better transportation.

A report released last month said there was "a long-standing practice of misreporting desired appointment dates" throughout the New Mexico VA system.

In 2014, Congress and veterans attacked the Department of Veterans Affairs after an investigation found some VA hospitals were using "phantom" appointment lists to disguise lengthy wait times.

An Associated Press report identified New Mexico as one of the worst ranked states for delayed appointments.

Work crews Returning To Site Of Massive Colorado Mine SpillThe Associated Press

Crews are returning to the scene of a massive mine waste spill in southwestern Colorado to stabilize the mine opening with steel bracing and concrete.

The Environmental Protection Agency said Friday work at the Gold King Mine will begin this weekend and last through October.

An EPA-led contractor inadvertently triggered a spill of 3 million gallons of wastewater from the Gold King last August while doing preliminary cleanup work.

The spill tainted rivers in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah. Water utilities shut down their intake valves and farmers stopped drawing from the rivers. The EPA says the water quality quickly returned to pre-spill levels.

The spill triggered lawsuits and intense criticism of the EPA.

The agency has proposed a Superfund cleanup of the Gold King and other nearby mining sites.

Judge Says Ethics Violations Relevant To Criminal ChargesAssociated Press

A New Mexico district court judge says some prior admissions to violations of Senate ethics rules and the state constitution by a disgraced former senator can be used to determine whether the lawmaker should stand trial on criminal charges.

State District Judge Brett Loveless on Thursday denied a request to exclude a March 2015 agreement between a Senate ethics subcommittee and former Sen. Phil Griego, signed as he resigned from office. In the document Griego acknowledges violating a constitutional prohibition on benefiting from a state contract.

The New Mexico attorney general's office alleges Griego used his role as a senator to profit from the sale of a state owned building.

Defense attorney Thomas Clark says the ethics violations have no bearing on criminal accusations against Griego of fraud and bribery.

Navajo Nation Works On Amber Alert In Shadow Of Girl's DeathBy Felicia Fonseca, Associated Press

The death of a young Navajo Nation girl is fueling efforts to create an Amber Alert plan on the vast reservation.

Authorities say Ashlynne Mike was lured into a van on May 2 after school, driven to a remote area in northwestern New Mexico, sexually assaulted and killed. Tribal President Russell Begaye established a task force and set a 60-day deadline to implement a system.

The tribe eventually wants to have a system independent of the three states that encompass the vast reservation. It would be the first specific for tribal land.

For now, the Navajo Nation is partnering with states to ensure alerts get out quickly if needed.

About one-fifth of the country's 567 federally recognized tribes have Amber Alert plans but no tribe activates them on its own.

Bear Sightings Spike Pompts Trail Closures At Los Alamos Lab Santa Fe New Mexican, Associated Press

A spike in bear sightings in the northern New Mexico wilderness and even some neighborhoods has prompted the Los Alamos National Laboratory to shut down its trails.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports the federal lab decided to close the trails that run through its campus in Los Alamos last week. A lab spokesman told the newspaper that a black bear attack on a marathon runner in the Valles Caldera likely contributed to the decision.

He says the decision was made out of an abundance of caution. There have been no recent reports of bear encounters among employees.

The network of trails at Los Alamos together cover nearly 50 miles, and some of the trails had been open to the public.

Officials Spend $700K On Prison Vans After Inmate EscapeAssociated Press

Corrections officials say New Mexico has spent $700,000 on new vehicles and equipment since the March escape of two violent inmates prompted a review of the state's prisoner transport vans.

Documents obtained by The Associated Press through a public records request show officials removed door handles and power locks from the rear area of roughly a dozen Corrections Department vans in the weeks after state police say inmates Joseph Cruz and Lionel Clah fled the van. Their escape came around the time guards stopped for gas in Artesia.

The move for increased security measures during transport raises questions about security prior to the escape within the vehicles, which the state used for years to transport violent felons.

Cruz and Clah, who fled to Albuquerque, were taken into custody separately days after the escape.

Transit Opponents Launch Petition Drive To Force ReferendumAlbuquerque Journal

Opponents of a planned bus rapid transit project along Central Avenue in Albuquerque have launched a petition drive aimed at forcing officials to put it to a vote in November.

The Albuquerque Journal reports the group called Save Our Central needs to gather 14,000 signatures in the next 60 days to require a vote at the City Council. But that comes after construction is slated to begin.

The Albuquerque Rapid Transit Project would create dedicated lanes along nine miles of Central Avenue for bus rapid transit. The city is counting on $69 million in federal funds for the project, which will cost about $119 million. Work is to begin soon but it also faces lawsuits by opponents, who want a judge to halt construction.

The petition seeks to change zoning laws along Central Avenue. A recent poll of nearly 2,000 residents showed more than half oppose the transit project. City officials said numerous organizations such as the University of New Mexico and Presbyterian Healthcare Services support the project.

Bosque Del Apache Tour Loops Back Open After WildfireAssociated Press

The tour loops at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge are back open as firefighters get the upper hand on a blaze that has burned more than a square mile along the Rio Grande.

The blaze was 75 percent contained Thursday, and crews planned to work the fire through the weekend given the forecast for more hot, dry weather.

Chris Leeser with the refuge says temperatures have been in the triple digits and humidity has been low.

Due to the firefighters' progress, Leeser says both the north and south tour loops are open to visitors. The visitor center is also open.

While this is the slow season at the refuge, it's an important stop for migratory birds. Every winter, thousands of sandhill cranes, geese and other waterfowl make this stretch of the Rio Grande home.

DOE Partners With New Mexico Agency On Waste Transportation Associated Press

The U.S. Energy Department's Carlsbad Field Office is partnering with the state of New Mexico to coordinate activities that will ensure the safe transport of radioactive waste to the federal government's underground nuclear waste repository.

The five-year cooperative agreement awarded to the state Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department is worth $6.8 million.

Officials say the focus will include monitoring activities, emergency response training and planning and public awareness.

Federal officials have said the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad is expected to resume limited operations before the end of the year.

The repository was closed in February 2014 following a radiation leak caused by a container of waste that had been inappropriately packed at Los Alamos National Laboratory. The incident stalled waste shipments from defense-related sites around the country.

Juror Questions Approved In Albuquerque Police Shooting Trial KOB-TV, Associated Press

The questionnaire has been revised for potential jurors in the case of two former Albuquerque police officers charged with fatally shooting a homeless man.

Prosecutors had raised concerns that the jury pool could be tainted because of a mailer that went out containing a letter from one of the officer's wives pleading for donations to help her husband.

The mailer was issued by a nonprofit that supports police officers' legal defense.

Albuquerque station KOB-TV reports that court documents show both sides agreed lawyers could ask potential jurors about the fundraising efforts and if they or any family members participated in protests that followed the March 2014 shooting death of James Boyd.

Jury selection for the trial of ex-officers Dominique Perez and Keith Sandy is set to begin Sept. 12.