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Flooding Likely In New Mexico Through Weekend, Police Release Officer-Involved Shooting Details

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Forecasters: Flooding Likely In New Mexico Through WeekendThe Associated Press

Forecasters say flash flooding is likely in New Mexico through the weekend due to monsoon moisture and a weather disturbance moving westward across the state.

The National Weather Service says thunderstorms are expected over central and western New Mexico into Friday evening and then become more numerous Saturday, Sunday and into early next week.

According to the weather service, the likelihood of flash floods is strongest Friday in western New Mexico and across New Mexico from the southwest to the northeast Saturday.

The forecasters say there's also a possibility that multiple instances of flash flooding will occur across central and eastern areas on Sunday.

Also, the potential for flash flooding may linger over the south-central mountains and the eastern plains on Monday as the disturbance moves into Texas and Mexico.

New Mexico Police Release Officer-Involved Shooting Details – The Associated Press

Santa Fe police say a man who was shot by an officer at an apartment complex had thrown homemade explosives at officers and stabbed a social worker during a standoff.

State police identified the man as 24-year-old Anthony Benavidez. Lt. Elizabeth Armijo said in a written statement he had recently been evicted from apartment complex he broke into on Wednesday. Officers had been negotiating with Benavidez before he threw the explosives. Armijo says two SWAT officers shot Benavidez after they entered the apartment to arrest him.

Benavidez and the caseworker were taken to the hospital, where Benavidez died. The caseworker was later released.

The names of the officers involved in the shooting were not released. Santa Fe Police Department Spokesman Greg Gurule says five officers have been placed on leave.

New Mexico Land Office Marks Record Oil And Gas Lease SaleThe Associated Press

The State Land Office says this month's oil and gas lease sale marked an all-time high for the agency, with more than $30 million being earned through the leasing of dozens of tracts in southeastern New Mexico.

Bidders competed for 82 tracts covering nearly 21,000 acres (8,498 hectares) in Chaves, Eddy, Lea and Roosevelt counties.

Texas-based Ameredev II, LLC was the highest sealed bidder, paying more than $7.3 million for 320 acres (129 hectares) in Lea County. Online, Houston's OneEnergy Partners LLC paid more than $6 million for 320 acres in the same county.

Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn says the earnings from the July sale far exceeded expectations.

Most of the money will be distributed to public schools, universities and other trust beneficiaries.

New Mexico Hopes To Ease Transition For Children In CustodyThe Associated Press

Teddy bears, blankets, crayons, games and a safe place to sleep.

New Mexico's top officials wanted to pack as much as possible into a new center designed to ease the trauma often experienced by children when authorities are forced to remove them from their homes and place them in state custody.

Gov. Susana Martinez and Children, Youth and Families Secretary Monique Jacobson on Friday toured the center in Albuquerque. They showed off a brightly-colored play area and separate rooms for sleeping, relaxing and playing.

Previously, social workers had few emergency options other than unaccommodating office space.

As many as 900 children a year require the services now offered at the center. Statewide, that number tops 2,600 and officials say improvements are being made at other locations.

The center in Albuquerque is outfitted thanks to donations from businesses and volunteers.

Man Arrested In Fatal Stabbing Of Taxi DriverThe Associated Press

Albuquerque police say a man has been arrested in the fatal stabbing of a taxi driver.

Officer Fred Duran says a witness' description led to the arrest of Victor Ortiz on suspicion of murder in the Thursday night incident.

Duran says the witness also provided medical assistance to the wounded driver who later died at a hospital.

The victim's identity was not released immediately.

Online court records don't immediately indicate whether Ortiz has an attorney who could comment on the allegations.

Officer Fred Duran

New Mexico Women Plead Not Guilty In Federal Fraud CaseAssociated Press

The founders of a New Mexico guardianship firm have pleaded not guilty to federal charges that they embezzled millions of dollars from the trust accounts of their clients as part of a decade-long scheme.

Susan Harris and Sharon Moore entered their pleas Thursday in federal court in Albuquerque. They posted the equity in their homes as bond and their conditions of release include supervision pending trial.

A 28-count indictment against the women and their company — Ayudando Guardians, Inc. — includes conspiracy, mail fraud, aggravated identity theft and money laundering charges.

Federal authorities have taken over the company and have set up a special website and phone number for Ayudando clients who need information about their accounts.

Prosecutors say hundreds of clients, including disabled veterans and people with special needs, relied on Ayudando to manage their finances.

New Mexico Insurance Regulator Says No To Dividend Freeze Associated Press

New Mexico's top insurance regulator says he will not put a freeze on insurance provider payments to investors and parent companies while auditors investigate how much the state is owed in unpaid premium taxes.

New Mexico Insurance Superintendent John Franchini said Thursday that he has so far declined a request from the state auditor to suspend approval of certain dividend payments by insurance providers.

State Auditor Tim Keller is urging insurance regulators to pause the dividend approvals as a precaution while authorities await results of an independent audit of unpaid premium taxes dating back to 2000.

A preliminary audit turned up at least $193 million in possible underpayments by five top insurance companies.

Franchini says he is asking the State Auditor's Office to supply information that motivated its request.

Pearce To Challenge Decision To Limit Use Of Campaign CashAlbuquerque Journal, Associated Press

Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce is going to court to challenge a state official's ruling that Pearce can't use all of his federal campaign war chest of approximately $1 million in the New Mexico race for governor.

The Albuquerque Journal reports that Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver decided that Pearce's use of his federal campaign cash is subject to a $5,500 contribution limit.

Toulouse Oliver is a Democrat, and Pearce contends that her decision is politically motivated and that he has a First Amendment right to use his federal campaign cash in the state race.

Deputy Secretary of State John Blair told Pearce in a letter that the decision that the $5,500 limit applies is based on a review of state campaign laws and a 1996 court decision.

Health Insurers Rein In Rate Hikes On New Mexico ExchangeAssociated Press

New Mexico's superintendent of insurance says health insurance providers are reducing requested rate hikes for next year on the state's subsidized exchange.

Superintendent John Franchini said Thursday that health insurance rate increases are likely to range from between 6 percent and 20 percent.

Initial proposals from four insurance companies would have raised premiums by up to 80 percent.

About 55,000 New Mexico residents sign up each year for federally subsidized insurance through the state exchange, known as beWellnm.

Franchini says the largest initial rate proposal was calculated under the assumption that subsidies would disappear for out-of-pocket expenses such as copayments and deductibles for lower-income patients, as well as income-based tax credits that help people buy coverage.

Republican plans to overhaul health care subsidies and enforcement provisions have stalled in Washington.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park Proposed Fee HikeAssociated Press

One of southern New Mexico's most popular tourist destinations wants to raise the price of admission.

Officials at Carlsbad Caverns National Park are proposing to raise general admission fees from $10 to $12 per person starting in October. Those 15 and younger will still be admitted for free.

Park officials said Thursday that revenues from admission fees are used to pay for deferred maintenance projects not covered by the park's base budget.

Some of these projects have included the $10 million redesign and renovation of the visitor center and $5 million for replacing steel in the hoist way of the park's secondary elevator.

There are also plans for a $5 million modernization of the primary elevators that take visitors into the caverns. That work should be done in May 2018.

Undersheriff To Be Next Command Of Bernalillo County JailAssociated Press

A top official in the Bernalillo County Sheriff's Department will become the next chief of the county jail.

An announcement Thursday says Undersheriff Greg Rees will switch county departments when he becomes chief of the Metropolitan Detention Center on Aug. 7.

The announcement says Rees has over 23 years of law enforcement experience, working his way up through the ranks at the Sheriff's Department - as deputy, sergeant, lieutenant, captain, chief deputy, and undersheriff.

County Manager Julie Morgas Baca called Rees a "a proven leader who can bring accountability and stability to the MDC."

He'll oversee a jail operation that includes over 500 sworn officers and approximately 1,200 inmates.

Former interim jail administrator Tom Ruiz will remain on the job to assist Chief Rees with important administrative functions.

Navajo Housing Agency Charts Construction For 2018 - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

The nation's largest Native American housing authority says it's on track to complete 81 new homes during the 2018 fiscal year.

Officials with the Navajo Housing Authority have submitted their latest plan to the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department as they continue rebuilding the agency in the face of criticism over management and the spending of federal grant money.

The plan requests more than $101 million, money that will be divided among new home construction, rental units, maintenance and modernization of existing homes and public projects such as day care centers.

In recent weeks, Navajo officials have defended themselves against accusations that the housing authority overspent millions of dollars in grant funds. The allegations spurred a congressional investigation, but federal regulators have found no evidence of fraud or other criminal conduct.

Judge: San Juan County Election Maps Must Be Redrawn AgainAssociated Press

A federal judge has ruled for the second time that the boundaries of election districts in a southeastern Utah county are unconstitutional and violate the rights of American Indians who make up roughly half the county's population.

U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby ordered San Juan County to redraw its county commission and school board election districts last year after he ruled they were unconstitutional.

San Juan County covers roughly 7,800 square miles across Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona

Shelby ruled last week that the county's new maps are still unconstitutional and primarily drawn based on race.

The lawsuit challenging the districts was filed by the Navajo Nation five years ago.

Navajo Nation Attorney General Ethel Branch said in a statement Wednesday that the Navajo people living in San Juan County need an equal voice instead of being packed into gerrymandered districts.

San Juan County commissioners did not return messages seeking comment.

New Mexico Museums' Revenue Increases, Attendance DeclinesAlbuquerque Journal, Associated Press

Revenue is up at New Mexico's state-run museums, despite the fact that fewer people are visiting them.

The Albuquerque Journal reports both results can be attributed in part to an increase in the price of admission implemented more than a year ago. As part of the admission changes, the museum system now offers state residents one free Sunday a month, rather than free admission every Sunday.

Department of Cultural Affairs statistics show 835,135 people visited the state's eight museums in fiscal year 2017, down from 2016's count of 898,381 visitors.

Despite the overall decline in attendance, Cultural Affairs Deputy Secretary Michael S. Delello says visits to the National Hispanic Cultural Center are up nearly 20 percent and visits to the New Mexico Museum of Space History have increased significantly as well.

10-Year-Old Boy Trips Over 1.2M-Year-Old Fossil In DesertAssociated Press

A boy's misstep on a family hike in New Mexico has given the world a prehistoric wonder.

Ten-year-old Jude Sparks was on a desert hike in Las Cruces in November when he tripped over what turned out to be the fossilized tusk of a 1.2 million-year-old elephant-like creature, called a stegomastodon.

The family contacted New Mexico State University professor Peter Houde, and he and a team from the university spent a week digging up the skull in May after getting permission from the landowner.

Houde estimates the entire skull weighs about a ton.

He expects the university to put the skull on exhibit after it's studied and reconstructed, which could take years.

New Mexico Juvenile Detention Center ClosingGallup Independent, Associated Press

A barren New Mexico juvenile detention center that currently houses just two detainees is closing.

The Gallup Independent reported Wednesday that the McKinley County Board of Commissioners has decided to close the facility instead of scaling back its operations. The McKinley County Juvenile Detention Center will close Aug. 6.

The two juveniles will be transferred to another county's facility before July 24.

Doug Decker, the county's attorney, says negotiations are ongoing to find other counties to house McKinley juveniles.

Employees were notified beforehand of the facility's looming closure. All but two of the 13 people who lost their job were able to find other positions within the county.

The Cibola County Detention Center recently announced that it too is closing about 60 miles southeast of the juvenile facility.