DOD Investigates Air Force Academy Sexual Assault Response, Judge Reviews State Welfare System

Mar 1, 2018

Judge Asks Whether Welfare, Health Programs Are Meeting Needs - The Associated Press

New Mexico’s ability to provide emergency food benefits and health coverage under Medicaid is under scrutiny by a federal judge.

U.S. District Judge Kenneth Gonzales heard testimony today in an ongoing legal battle over the state Human Services Department progress in meeting a 1998 court decree related to a backlog of food and medical assistance claims.

A court-appointed special master and compliance officer told the judge that backlogs have been reduced but a major challenge in improving the system is a lack of communication between top officials, regional managers and case workers in the field.

Among their recommendations are leadership changes at the agency.

Holtec Proposal To Store Spent Nuclear Fuel Advances – The Associated Press

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission says it is beginning a detailed safety, security and environmental review of an application to store spent nuclear fuel from power plants at a temporary facility in southeastern New Mexico.

The commission announced Thursday the proposal from Holtec International is sufficiently complete to begin the technical review process that eventually involves expert testimony and public comment.

Holtec is seeking an initial 40-year license for an underground storage facility that could accept radioactive used fuel that is piling up at reactors across the United States. The Alliance for Environmental Strategies is warning of rail transportation risks for spent fuel canisters.

Federal officials have long acknowledged that the future of nuclear energy in the U.S. depends on the ability to manage used fuel and high-level radioactive waste.

Man Convicted In Officer Death Sentenced On Federal Charges – The Associated Press

An Ohio man who pleaded guilty in state court to killing a New Mexico police officer has been sentenced on federal firearms and carjacking charges related to the 2016 shooting case.

A judge sentenced 40-year-old Jesse Denver Hanes to life in prison Thursday on the federal charges in Las Cruces.

The federal sentencing comes after Hanes pleaded guilty last year in state court to first-degree murder in the death of Hatch Officer Jose Chavez. In the state's case, a judge also ordered Hanes to serve a life term without the possibility of parole.

According to authorities, Hanes shot Chavez after the officer pulled over a vehicle with him and two others inside of it. Hanes then fled to an interstate rest area where he was accused of taking another car after shooting and injuring the driver.

New Inquiry Set For Air Force Academy Sexual Assault Office – The Associated Press, The Colorado Springs Gazette

The Defense Department's internal watchdog agency plans to investigate the Air Force Academy office that supports sexual assault victims after a previous inquiry found it was derelict in its duties because of poor management.

The Colorado Springs Gazette reports the Office of Inspector General announced Wednesday it would review the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office.

An internal academy investigation last year said the office was plagued by infighting, rumors and shoddy record-keeping. The director resigned and the academy said it would restructure the office.

The inspector general will also look into whether the academy's criminal investigators handle assault cases properly and will review the school's mental health services for sexual assault victims.

The new investigation was requested by Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, and Tom Udall, D-N.M.

Mississippi Man Gets Prison Sentence In New Mexico Drug Case – The Associated Press

A Mississippi man has been sentenced to three years in federal prison for methamphetamine trafficking in New Mexico.

Prosecutors say 25-year-old Charterious Laquess Moore of Westpoint was sentenced Thursday in federal court in Albuquerque and will serve three years of supervised release after his prison term.

Federal drug agents arrested Moore in January 2017 after seizing nearly 465 grams of methamphetamine from him during an interdiction investigation in Albuquerque.

Moore was accused of transporting methamphetamine to Albuquerque on a bus from Victorville, California with the intention of delivering the drug to another person in Tupelo, Mississippi.

Authorities say the meth was concealed in a heat-sealed bundle inside a pillow.

Moore was indicted and charged with possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute.

New Mexico Increases Scrutiny Of Social Spending By Governor – The Associated Press

Newly signed legislation will increase scrutiny of an off-the-books fund used by future New Mexico governors for social obligations.

Gov. Susana Martinez signed a bill Thursday that will allow the so-called contingency fund to be audited and automatically return unused money each year to the state general fund. The new rules take effect after Martinez leaves office at the end of the year.

Republican Sen. Sander Rue of Albuquerque sponsored the bill and said taxpayers have a right to know more about how the money is spent. Future governors will have to submit an itemized list of expenditures each month to a legislative committee and the Department of Finance Administration.

Martinez has published spending summaries without specific expenditures. She says that's more information than required by law.

New Mexico Intervenes In Drug Prescriptions – The Associated Press

Legislation has been signed in New Mexico that limits the ability health insurance companies require less expensive drugs before costlier options.

Republican Gov. Susana Martinez on Wednesday signed a bill with broad bipartisan support that reins an insurance practice known as step therapy.

Proponents of the practice say it helps rein in prescription drug costs. Critics say it can cause unnecessary suffering.

At the same time, Martinez signed a long list of bills that influence how the state responds to drug-overdose deaths, allow oil well regulators to collect larger financial assurances, and provide criminal penalties for water system operators who lie to state environmental regulators.

Mora Man Is Arrested For Allegedly Shooting At Ex-Girlfriend – The Associated Press

New Mexico State Police say a Mora man has been arrested for allegedly shooting at his ex-girlfriend.

They say 28-year-old Anthony Gabriel Valdez was being held without bond in the San Miguel County Jail.

State Police say officers responded Monday afternoon to a reported assault with a deadly weapon in Guadalupita near Mora.

They say Valdez reportedly pointed a rifle at his ex-girlfriend while she was in her vehicle.

As she drove away, Valdez allegedly fired a shot that struck the back of her vehicle.

When police located Valdez, they say he still had the rifle in his possession.

Valdez is being held on suspicion of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, shooting at or from a motor vehicle, criminal damage to property and negligent use of a deadly weapon.

New Mexico Governor Rejects Pet Food Fee For Sterilizations – The Associated Press

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez has rejected a bill that would have expanded dog and cat sterilizations by collecting a new fee from pet food manufacturers.

Martinez on Thursday announced her veto of the bill. She said the proposal amounted to tax increase and that local governments are better positioned to promote the spaying and neutering of pets.

The bill would have imposed a $100 fee on each pet food label for manufacturers doing business in New Mexico, raising an estimated $1.3 million each year.

Supporters of the measure said it would have a small financial impact on pet owners, while reducing the mounting expenses and hardships of euthanizing unwanted pets at locally run animal shelters and pounds.

One Charge Dropped In New Mexico DA's DWI Traffic Stop CaseKVIA-TV, Associated Press

A state judge has dropped one of five charges in a case against a southwestern New Mexico district attorney involved in a suspected DWI traffic stop.

KVIA-TV in El Paso, Texas, reports State District Judge Douglas Driggers recently tossed the reckless use of a vehicle charge against the Silver City District Attorney Francesca Martinez-Estevez.

In June, the New Mexico Attorney General's Office filed charges against Martinez-Estevez, whose district includes Grant, Luna and Hidalgo counties.

She's facing five misdemeanor counts including reckless driving and the use of the powers and resources of public office to obtain personal benefits.

The charges stem from a June 2016 traffic stop in a state vehicle near Silver City and the subsequent fallout.

New Mexico State Facing Calls To Recruit More Black StudentsAssociated Press

New Mexico State University is facing calls from some black students to make campus more diverse.

The Las Cruces Sun-News reports members from the Black Students Association recently submitted demands to the provost's office that they say would help diversify the campus.

Student Darnicia Holt says the list of demands included increasing diversity among administration, faculty and students at NMSU.

Black students comprised about 2.8 percent of the main campus population of 14,432.

Meligha Garfield, the president of the Black Students Association, says she also want a "separate diversity council" and asked for a minimum of two university senators to represent diversity programs on campus.

Veteran Journalist Named Editor Of Indian Country TodayAssociated Press

A veteran journalist who has worked for outlets including the Navajo Times, the Arizona Republic and the Seattle Times has been named editor of Indian Country Today.

The National Congress of American Indians announced the selection of Mark Trahant on Wednesday. The group says Trahant is highly respected for his keen insight into issues impacting tribal nations.

Trahant is a member of Idaho's Shoshone-Bannock Tribe and a former Native American Journalists Association president.

NCAI took over Indian Country Today about a month ago after the Oneida Nation put operations on hold to explore new business models. It later donated assets to NCAI.

The organization says it plans to share content for free with tribal newspapers, radio stations and websites.

Trahant says he'll focus on a digital platform.

Prison Awaits Former New Mexico State SenatorAssociated Press

Former New Mexico state Sen. Phil Griego has been ordered to turn himself over to state corrections officials no later than March 9 to enter prison.

A court order was filed on Wednesday that sets a deadline for Griego to begin serving 18 months with the state Department of Corrections.

Griego has been convicted by a jury of fraud, bribery and other charges stemming from allegations that he misused his position to profit from a real estate deal.

State District Court Judge Brett Loveless last month waived all but 18 months of a 12-year sentence. Upon release, Griego will serve five years of supervised probation. He has been fined $47,225.

A defense attorney has asked the judge to submit a recommendation that Griego not live among the general prison population.

New Mexico Governor Vetoes Pay Raise For SuccessorAssociated Press

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez has rejected a proposed 10 percent pay raise for statewide elected officials and utility regulators.

The Republican governor on Wednesday vetoed a bill that would have increased annual salaries after fall elections for officials including the state's future governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state and public lands commissioner.

In her veto message, Martinez chastises the Legislature for choosing pay raises for politicians over sound fiscal policy and legislation that supports a healthy economy.

The vetoed pay raises together would have increased state spending by about $135,000 a year. A proposed state budget would increase general fund spending by $259 million.

The most recent pay raises for statewide elected officials came in 2002. Many lawmakers say that pay is no longer commensurate with responsibilities.

New Mexico Governor Says Schools Could Use Retired OfficersAssociated Press

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez says schools could utilize retired police officers for campus security as a cost-effective approach to make schools safer.

The Albuquerque Journal reports the Republican governor made the suggestion Monday during a meeting with other state governors and President Donald Trump in Washington.

Martinez told the officials at the National Governors Association meeting that there's a "huge pool of retired law enforcement officers where municipalities and counties have actually invested a lot of money into training them, and now they're retired."

Martinez says hiring the retired officers would require little training and could lead to fewer school shootings.

Under state law, retired officers can still collect their pension benefits if they return to work as school security officers.

New Mexico Proposes New Rules To Rein In Predatory LendingAssociated Press

New Mexico officials who oversee the storefront loan industry have published proposed rules designed to bolster consumer protections and discourage predatory lending.

Consumer groups announced Wednesday that the New Mexico Financial Institutions Division is seeking public comment on companion regulations to a law that caps interest rates at an annual 175 percent. A hearing takes place April 3.

The interest cap was approved by lawmakers and Gov. Susana Martinez last year and went into effect Jan. 1.

Center on Law and Poverty Staff Attorney Lindsay Cutler says the proposed rules are a good start toward more robust disclosure of loan terms by both storefront lending business and their online counterparts.

State regulators still are deciding how to fully implement broader consumer protections under the law.

Native American Actor Wes Studi Relishes Rare Oscar Invite - By Lynn Elber, AP Television Writer

Wes Studi will take the stage at Sunday's Oscars to present an award. But as one of the few Native Americans to be included in the ceremony's 90-year history, he has reason to feel like a winner.

Studi, who lives in New Mexico, says he sees the invitation as recognition of his work over the years. The veteran actor's credits include "Avatar," ''The Last of the Mohicans" and "Dances with Wolves."

Participating in the Oscars also signifies something larger, Studi says: a time when diversity is being embraced and Hollywood is reflecting that.

The Oscars will air at 8 p.m. Eastern Sunday on ABC, with Jimmy Kimmel hosting.

Man Arrested In Double SlayingAlbuquerque Journal

Police have arrested a man in the murders of a retired Albuquerque attorney and the woman who was renting a room in his home.

The Albuquerque Journal reports James Knight, also known as Charles Spiess, has been charged with two counts of murder in the deaths of 70-year-old Eugene Carrell Ray and 28-year-old Zakaria Fry, a transgender woman.

The two were reported missing more than a month ago and their bodies were found in Stanley in southern Santa Fe County. The cause of death was blunt force trauma.

A spokesman for the Albuquerque Police Department says the three seem to know one another and Knight may have been living in Ray’s house as well.

Police are seeking anyone who saw the three together.

Non-Hispanic Woman Named Garcia Loses Discrimination Case – The Associated Press

The New Mexico Supreme Court has rejected a discrimination claim by a former public school bus driver who says she was fired because she is not Hispanic, even though her last name is Garcia.

In a ruling Thursday, the court found insufficient evidence to show discriminatory action in the dismal of the bus driver Natalie Garcia by Hatch Valley Public Schools in southern New Mexico. It noted job performance problems.

Garcia describes her national origin as German and says she is not of Hispanic ethnicity.

The court says Garcia has the right to claim discrimination as a non-Hispanic under the state Human Rights Act. The unanimous ruling notes that reverse discrimination claims face the same burden of proof as a claim brought by a member of a racial minority.