Judge Orders Abq To Pay For Records Law Violation, Carlsbad Cavern Visitors Stranded Underground

Mar 27, 2018

Judge Orders Albuquerque To Pay For Records Law Violation- Associated Press & Albuquerque Journal

A New Mexico judge has ruled the city of Albuquerque deliberately refused to follow the state public records law and must pay its former police records custodian.

The Albuquerque Journal reports the judge recently ruled the city owes Reynaldo Chavez $100 for each day he went without requested documents, which should have been received by June 2015.

Chavez's attorney, Thomas Grover, says that amount could exceed $100,000.

Chavez was fired from the police department in 2015. A whistleblower lawsuit he filed claims officials ordered him to withhold requested public records.

Authorities, Volunteers Preparing For Holy Week Pilgrimage- Associated Press & Santa Fe New Mexican

Authorities are preparing for an annual journey that brings thousands of travelers to a Roman Catholic shrine in northern New Mexico each year.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports most travelers arrive to El Santuario de Chimayo during the Holy Week pilgrimage on Good Friday.

Some travelers are drawn to the rural village to view Nuestro Señor de Esquipulas, a crucifix that, according to legend, was discovered at the site on Easter Week in the early 1800s. Some are drawn to the holy dirt, believed to have healing powers.

Some make the trek to visit another chapel nearby and pay homage to Santo Niño de Atocha, patron saint of those unjustly imprisoned or in peril.

New Mexico State Police and the state Department of Transportation work to keep the travelers safe on highways, while volunteers stationed along the route provide water and snacks.

New Mexico Officials: Be Prepared For A Severe Fire Season –Associated Press

New Mexico is dry, the spring winds are already in full force and there's plenty of grass that's ready to burn, resulting in what authorities said Tuesday is the perfect recipe for a potentially severe fire season.

Dozens of state and federal land managers along with officials from Albuquerque and surrounding communities gathered today to issue a warning to residents around the state.

Crews have responded to more than 140 fires that have charred roughly 50 square miles of state and private land since January. That's almost as much as what was burned all of last year.

In March alone, state forestry officials reported 80 fires, most of which were caused by people.

New Mexico is coming off a good year in which there were few fires and drought was mostly absent from the state. In fact, 2017 marked one of the first times in two decades that New Mexico had enjoyed such favorable conditions.

Now, the latest map shows severe to extreme drought covering nearly 80 percent of the state. Those levels of drought were nonexistent within New Mexico's borders a year ago.

Police spokesman Gilbert Gallegos says Mayor Tim Keller's administration is reviewing policies and procedures to ensure transparency in the police department. He says the city is working to comply with the court order.

Vote Expected On New Mexico Sheriff's Use-Of-Force PoliciesAssociated Press

A proposal to speed a review of how New Mexico's largest sheriff's department uses force and handles pursuits is slated to go before county commissioners Tuesday.

The proposed resolution, if passed, would require Sheriff Manuel Gonzales and the county manager to hire a third-party evaluator to review the policies and possibly recommend changes.

It comes as the sheriff's department has contended with lawsuits and a heightened number of deadly force cases in recent years, and as Gonzales is up for re-election this year.

Commissioner Maggie Hart Stebbins is sponsoring the proposal, saying the board of commissioners has a role in trying to determine what has caused the increase in use-of-force incidents.

A vote on the proposal last month was postponed, allowing the sheriff and commissioners more time to review it.

Carlsbad Caverns Visitors Stranded By Elevator Malfunction- Associated Press

It took a rescue team more than three hours to hoist up three visitors who were stranded after one of the elevators at Carlsbad Caverns National Park malfunctioned.

Park officials provided details of the rescue Tuesday, a day after the visitors became stuck 740 feet below the surface.

The team set up rigging in the elevator hoist way and used harnesses to pull each visitor through the escape hatch and transfer them to another working elevator.

There were no injuries reported.

Officials say it appears a cable that sends signals to the elevator controls was worn and caused the problem.

The southern New Mexico park has been working in recent years to repair and modernize its elevator system.

With the latest mechanical issue, the park has no elevator service. Visitors can still hike to the caverns through the natural entrance.

State Government Income Dips For New MexicoAssociated Press

State government income from taxes, fees and royalties fell by nearly 2 percent in January from the same month last year.

A report released Monday by the New Mexico Legislative Finance Committee shows state revenues dipped $6.8 million to $369 million in January, during an otherwise bountiful fiscal year for state finances.

State income from steady sources has increased by 16 percent to $3.6 billion for first seven months of the fiscal year that started in July 2017. A rebound in the oil and natural gas sectors is providing a windfall after two years of austere budgeting.

Republican Gov. Susana Martinez and the Legislature, which is led by Democrats, recently approved a $260 million increase in general fund spending for the coming fiscal year, with pay increases teachers, State Police, prosecutors and public defenders.

Suits Could Disqualify New Mexico GOP House CandidatesAssociated Press

Lawsuits have been filed that seek to disqualify three Republican candidates from running for the New Mexico House of Representatives in upcoming elections.

The lawsuits allege two state lawmakers and another Republican contender failed to properly collect enough signatures from supporters to qualify as candidates.

State Republican Party Chairman Ryan Cangiolosi on Monday accused Democrats of underhanded legal moves that could effectively disenfranchise voters.

Rep. Kelly Fajardo's last name was misspelled on signature petition forms, and a middle initial was added to the name of Rep. Sharon Clahchischilliage after her signature forms were printed.

Democrats control a 38-seat majority in the 70-member House, and they are aiming to control both legislative chambers as well as the governor's office. Republican Gov. Susana Martinez can't run for re-election after two consecutive terms.

Los Alamos Country Hires Investigator To Examine HarassmentLos Alamos Monitor, Associated Press

A New Mexico county has hired an independent investigator to look into allegations of harassment and intimidation by a councilor.

The Los Alamos Monitor reports two Los Alamos County employees are accusing Councilor James Chrobocinski of harassment and intimidation and their allegations have been outlined in a 77-page complaint.

Los Alamos County Fire Marshal Jeff Wetteland and Chief Building Official Michael Arellano filed the complaint against Chrobocinski Feb. 15.

The complaint came after Chrobocinski, a real estate developer, renovated some property and complained on social media.

The two employees say they were harassed, intimidated and threatened on several occasions in connection with those renovations.

Chrobocinski says the allegations are a result of his public, political speech on the county's permitting and code enforcement practices.

Teen Boy Shot During Road Rage Incident In Albuquerque DiesAssociated Press

Authorities say a teenage boy who was shot during a road rage incident last week in Albuquerque has died.

Bernalillo County Sheriff's officials say 15-year-old Efrain Arzate Jr. had been hospitalized since March 20 and died there.

Sheriff's deputies were called out to investigate reports that someone had been shot in a vehicle.

When they arrived, they reported finding Arzate in the back seat with a gunshot wound and it was later determined the shooting was the result of a road rage incident.

Sheriff's officials say the shooting now is being investigated as a homicide.

They say no arrests have been made yet in the case.

Feds Say 'Dreamer' Tried To Smuggle Immigrants Into USAssociated Press

An immigrant with temporary protective status may lose that protection after the U.S. Border Patrol says he tried smuggling immigrants into the country near Rodeo, New Mexico.

The U.S. Border Patrol said the man was arrested March 19 after agents found three immigrants suspected of being in the country illegally inside his car.

The driver's name was not been released.

Officials say the driver had protection under the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. He had an approved eligibility status to remain in the U.S. until September 7, 2019

The U.S. Border Patrol El Paso Sector says the driver may lose that status if convicted of smuggling charges.

Albuquerque City Panel Passes Proposal Protecting ImmigrantsAlbuquerque Journal

A resolution reinforcing that Albuquerque is welcoming to immigrants passed a committee Monday night and now heads to the full city council for a vote.

The Albuquerque Journal reports dozens of people spoke in support of the measure, which cleared the Finance and Government Operations Committee. They included Santa Fe Archbishop John Wester and other people from faith-based organizations, teachers, immigrants and their supporters.

The resolution would halt a practice where arrestees could have their immigration status checked in the city’s prisoner transport center. Former Mayor Richard Berry had allowed for the center to be used for that purpose.

The resolution would also prevent city employees from asking about someone’s immigration status or notifying immigration agents when people are released from custody.

Judge Quashes New Mexico Congresswoman's Restraining OrderAssociated Press

A state district judge has quashed a restraining order obtained by New Mexico Congresswoman and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Michelle Lujan Grisham against a former intern.

Lujan Grisham applied for the restraining order after Riley Del Rey disrupted her speeches at the recent state Democratic Party's preprimary convention and another event.

In an order issued late last week, Judge Clay Campbell wrote that Del Rey has a constitutional right to political speech and isn't accused of making any threats of violence against the congresswoman.

Del Rey is facing allegations that she became violent as officers removed her from the convention, where she shouted and sounded an air horn to disrupt the congresswoman's speech.

Del Rey contends she was discriminated against and fired from her internship in 2015 for being transgender.

Proposed Xcel Energy Rate Hikes Draw Fire In New MexicoHobbs News-Sun, Associated Press

A proposal by Xcel Energy to raise electricity rates is drawing opposition from residents in southeastern New Mexico.

The Hobbs News-Sun reports many Hobbs residents last week said at a town hall meeting that they strongly opposed the plan to raise rates.

Officials with Southwestern Public Service Company, a subsidiary of the Minnesota-based Xcel Energy, asked for rate reviews in October from New Mexico regulators. Xcel says the rate increase would help fund recent power lines, substations and power plant upgrades.

New Mexico Public Regulation Commissioner Patrick Lyons says if approved rates would jump between 6.2 percent and 17.7 percent, depending on the time of year and rate class.

Hobbs Mayor Sam Cobb says the rate hikes would create hardship for residents and small businesses.

New Mexico State Earned $265K For Rare Bowl AppearanceLas Cruces Sun-News, Associated Press

New Mexico State earned an estimated $265,038 for their trip to their first football bowl game in nearly 60 years.

The Las Cruces Sun-News reports that's how much school officials say the university took home thanks to a near sellout of its 5,000 allotted tickets for the Arizona Bowl in the first two weeks.

In December, New Mexico State won in its first bowl game in 57 years, beating Utah State 26-20 in the Arizona Bowl.

The appearance sparked excitement among long-suffering Aggies fans in southern New Mexico.

Athletics director Mario Moccia says he never imagined that north of $250,000 would be possible for a bowl earning for New Mexico State.

Family Sues Over Teen's Death After Rodeo CompetitionAlbuquerque Journal, Associated Press

The family of a teenager who died after a bull riding competition is suing the organizers of the 2016 event.

Brandon Charley died in Fruitland, New Mexico, while riding a bull named WhooWee. The lawsuit filed in state district court claims the organizers were negligent and put the 15-year-old on a bull too dangerous for the junior competition.

The Albuquerque Journal reports that video provided by the family's lawyers shows Charley's hand appeared to get latched to the bull shortly after the ride began and WhooWee started bucking.

The bull ultimately landed on Charley, and the teen was pronounced dead later that afternoon.

The lawsuit alleged that no emergency medical technicians were on scene and there was no ambulance. Officials with Navajo Nation Jr. Bull Riders dispute that claim.

'Cosmos' Documentary Series Returns To New Mexico To FilmAssociated Press

The television documentary series "Cosmos: Possible Worlds" will be filming its second season in New Mexico.

The state Film Office made the announcement Monday, saying the project will begin principal photography in Santa Fe and Zia Pueblo in April. The work will run through May.

The production will employ 150 New Mexico crew members and about 300 background talent.

Directed by Brannon Braga, the series will be hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson, the American astrophysicist known for his appearances on "Nova" and "StarTalk."

The series is expected to cover the vastness of time, the immensity of space and what the producers describe as "previously uncharted territories."