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KUNM News Update

MON: Rape survivor sues city of Albuquerque over rape kit backlog, + More

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Marisa Demarco
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KUNM

Rape survivor sues city of Albuquerque over rape kit backlog - Associated Press

A rape survivor is suing the city of Albuquerque over its backlog of untested rape kits, alleging a nearly decade-long delay allowed her rapist to freely attack other women.

The Albuquerque Journal reports that the victim is asking for unspecified damages in the lawsuit, which was filed in 2nd Judicial District Court.

In the suit, the victim says Albuquerque police discriminated against women and girls by treating violent rapes as a low priority.

When asked to comment on the suit, police spokeswoman Rebecca Atkins pointed to Mayor Tim Keller signing an executive order in 2018 ordering police to make a plan for clearing the backlog.

"Today, every kit submitted for testing has been returned to the crime lab and the police department" and prosecutors, Atkins said in a written statement.

The victim gave a rape kit in 2010 after reporting being kidnapped, bound and raped at knifepoint. Her kit was not tested until 2018. The evidence linked her rape to Victor Gonzales, 44.

Gonzales was arrested in 2020 on kidnapping and two counts of criminal sexual penetration. He is scheduled to go on trial in June. He was previously charged with multiple attacks on women that occurred between 2010 and 2012.

Raymond Maestas and Sean Beherec, who are representing Gonzales, said there are discrepancies in the lawsuit.

"In this lawsuit, we see big differences in the accuser's story from what she reported to police initially, and the jury needs to hear this change in story," the attorneys said in a written statement.

Santa Fe announces finalists in police chief search – Santa Fe New Mexican, KUNM News

Santa Fe is one step closer to naming its new police chief, with a short list of finalists announced today.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports interim Chief Paul Joye and Rio Rancho Deputy Chief Andrew Rodriguez are continuing on in the months-long search process for the city’s next top cop.

After whittling the pool down from 13 to 10 in early February, it’s now down to two candidates who City Manager John Blair said in a statement are both highly qualified and could serve successfully in the role.

The next step in the hiring process begins next week, with each candidate meeting with top city officials, including the mayor.

The public will also get a chance to ask the candidates questions at an upcoming forum.

Blair says the city expects a final decision within the month.

The position has been vacant since now-former Police Chief Andrew Padilla announced his retirement late last year.

Results of New Mexico GOP pre-primary convention released after software glitch -KUNM News, Associated Press

The state Republican Party has now released postponed pre-primary convention results after its electronic voting system encountered glitches.

Party officials say they moved to a back-up plan to have paper ballots in the interest of election integrity after the software malfunctioned on Saturday.

They say the paper ballot voting went smoothly and around 1000 Republicans participated in the voting.

According to a press release from the New Mexico GOP, Sandoval County Commissioner Jay Block topped the ballot for the Governor’s race––with independent financial advisor Greg Zanetti and Rebecca Dow of Truth or Consequences getting enough votes to also be on the ballot.

While former weatherman Mark Ronchetti did not receive enough delegate votes to appear on the ballot, he still will because of already having a sufficient number of voter signatures.

The First Congressional District will have Louis Sanchez on top of the ballot, with Michelle Garcia Holmes also appearing on it. Incumbent Rep. Yvette Herrell will be unopposed for the Second Congressional District and Alexis Martinez Johnson’s name will be on the Third Congressional District’s ballot.

GOP contenders were competing for positions on the primary ballot ahead of June’s vote.

The Republican convention determines who gets on the primary ballot with at least 20% of endorsement votes and who gets top billing with the highest approval.

Democrats currently control all statewide elected offices in New Mexico.

New Mexico horse racing dispute spurs ethics complaint - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

An advocacy group that represents thousands of racehorse owners has filed an ethics complaint against New Mexico's racing and gambling regulators, claiming violations of their constitutional rights and multiple state laws.

The New Mexico Horsemen's Association confirmed Monday that it filed the complaint last week against the Racing Commission and Gaming Control Board. The association claims the appointed members of the two regulatory panels are attempting to silence association members amid an ongoing battle over control of purse money and racetrack winnings.

The horse owners claim that over the past few years, New Mexico's private racetrack-casino operations have been diverting purse money for track expenses in violation of state statute.

The association in December 2020 asked a state district judge to stop the use of purse money to pay liability insurance on jockeys and exercise riders. According to the horse owners, the transfer of purse money to pay track operating expenses has cost them more than $8 million.

The Racing Commission followed in May 2021 with administrative changes to clear the way for the racetrack-casino operations to collect, manage and disburse the purse money, instead of the association. The changes also meant the association would no longer receive voluntary contributions from members through a percentage of their winnings.

The court stayed the commission's action, but the association claims regulators are violating the order and that the group is owed more than $300,000 in member contributions. The group also claims current oversight of the purse money is insufficient.

Gary Mitchell, an attorney representing the horse owners, said the case has broader implications for state government.

"What we have here are two state agencies that are refusing to obey a court order and refusing to follow the recommendation of its own hearing officer," Mitchell said. "You can't have state agencies that ignore the courts just so they can diminish those they don't care for."

Officials with the regulatory panels dismissed the allegations.

"The New Mexico Horsemen's Association has been caught with their hand in the cookie jar by wrongfully taking money from purses and calling it member dues," said Izzy Trejo, the Racing Commission's executive director. "The New Mexico Racing Commission will always follow state statute and that is exactly what we are doing."

Trejo said officials were still reviewing the complaint and he could not speak to the allegations that regulators were ignoring the court's stay related to the ongoing legal challenge.

In the complaint filed with the state Ethics Commission, the association argued that it has successfully overseen the collection and disbursement of tens of millions of dollars in purse money over the last two decades.

The group pointed to independent audits, reconciliation statements and commission documents to show that "not even a penny has ever been lost or found out of place."

As part of gambling pacts reached with Native American tribes, New Mexico legalized slot machines at racetracks in the early 1990s with the stipulation that 20% of the net revenue would go toward purses to bolster horse racing.

About $30 million a year is paid out to horse owners competing at the state's five tracks, according to the association. The group has been funded by a portion of that through voluntary contributions from members who earn purse money when their horses place.

The relationship between the Horsemen's Association and the commission has been contentious in recent years, as the advocacy group has objected to the shortening of race meets and has been vocal about conditions at the tracks.

The association also filed a federal lawsuit last summer, claiming the commission deprived racehorse owners and trainers of their civil rights as well as other related violations.

City revisits turning historic school into community center -Alamogordo Daily News, Associated Press

Elected officials in Alamogordo have re-opened a discussion about rehabilitating and transforming into a community center the historic Dudley School, one of the oldest structures in the southern New Mexico city.

City commissioners heard a presentation about the $557,000 project during a recent meeting but did not take any immediate action to move the project forward.

The project had been put on hold because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Alamogordo Daily News reported.

"It's an old structure and we want to save it and restore it. It's the history of the people and everything that went on. That's what's important about the structure, not just the structure itself," said Joe Lewandowski of the Tularosa Basin Historical Society.

The Dudley School would not be the first rehabilitation project Lewandowski has undertaken. Lewandowski lent a hand to convert the former Plaza Hotel into the Tularosa Basin Museum of History.

While the Dudley School might look like it's ready to collapse, Lewandowski said he's been through the building and it's in better shape than The Plaza when that project was taken on.

Under the proposal, repairs would be made to the southern exterior wall of the school where the adobe has eroded. The roof and the concrete foundation of the building do not need repairs.

Former classrooms would become exhibit areas and meeting rooms.

City Manager Brian Cesar told commissioners that more detailed information, including a closer look at the estimated cost of the project would be presented at a future meeting.

Originally known as the Maryland Street School, the Dudley School was built as a four-room schoolhouse in 1914. It served as a transition school for Hispanic students in first and second grade to learn English until the 1960s.

The school was renamed after Mary Josephine Burleson Dudley, who taught there from 1920 until her retirement in 1946.

Before New Mexico became a state in 1912, Alamogordo was two cities in one: Alamogordo and Chihuahua.

While researching segregation in Alamogordo, Lewandowski found that there were dividing lines across the small community. Hispanics could not go north of 10th Street or into the Plaza Bar and the Plaza Cafe. African Americans could go in the back door of the Plaza, which was then was a storeroom, he said.

"That wasn't unusual for anywhere at that time ... in the 1930s," Lewandowski said during a previous interview. "But the Apache could walk in the front door of the bar or the cafe at any time and have a seat."

Alamogordo Public Schools desegregated in 1949 when the late Bobby Joe Fritz was allowed to play football at Alamogordo High School. His graduating class of 1950 was the first desegregated graduating class. Fritz died in 2021 at age 89.

O'Keeffe Museum gets patent for high-tech transport crate - By Teya Vitu Santa Fe New Mexican

Space age and farm age engineers have been teaming up with the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum to create a next-generation transportation crate for fine art as it travels the world.

Art is transported to places like New York, London, Cairo and Shanghai via old-school cushioned wood crates, said Dale Kronkright, the O'Keeffe Museum's head of conservation.

That's how Kronkright does it with the roughly 100 O'Keeffe works typically on the road. That's how he did it on a tour to Europe with 80 O'Keeffe works in 2011.

"When I got the show back to here, I noticed about eight paintings were developing new cracks (in the paint) or existing cracks got bigger," Kronkright told the Santa Fe New Mexican. "I was with them at every point of transport. I know none of them had been dropped or suffered a collision or had experienced temperature or humidity extremes. If they didn't get mishandled, where did the cracks come from?"

Using infrared photography and digital software, Kronkright determined that vibrations were the culprit. The art industry ships art works protected against shock but not vibration, especially vibrations in trucks, he said.

"I knew we had to do something better," Kronkright said. "Wood crates make vibrations worse. Strapping the art to the truck would be better."

Ten years and two patents later with a third patent pending, Kronkright might be within a year of having the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum art transport system ready for museum use to ship art to and from other museums — and potentially create a cottage industry.

Kronkright demonstrated the alpha model of the transport system in New York City in 2018 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art and at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Ark., the corporate home of Walmart.

"There appears to be pretty good interest from museums around the world," he said. The royalty potentials for the O'Keeffe Museum "are substantial, in the seven digits."

Ten years ago, Kronkright was entirely focused on protecting the 3,000 O'Keeffe paintings in the museum's custody.

"I would say we could have a working beta model in 12 months," Kronkright said. "If it tests out, we will use those (crates) for our own collection."

But he is well aware that other museums may come knocking. He wants to get ready for much higher demand than the number of transport systems the O'Keeffe Museum would need.

"We would have to partner with someone for the production," he said. "We need manufacturing capacity."

The museum has produced four alpha models of the box-within-a-box concept Kronkright developed with a team of retired vibration engineers from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and John Deere agriculture machinery manufacturer.

Right now, Kronkright is lab-testing a beta model. A road test will follow with inconsequential art transported on trucks and planes. This will determine if vibrations of art works are successfully dampened.

Kronkright determined paintings are most vulnerable when vibrating between 10 and 50 hertz (cycles per second), noting humans start hearing vibrations at about 200 hertz. Kronkright also determined that paintings in trucks vibrate in "double drum mode," meaning one half of a painting can vibrate at a different rate than the other half.

"Trucks vibrate at 10 to 60 hertz," he said. "It literally could not be worse for paintings. Trucks vibrate at exactly the wrong range. Airplanes vibrate at 200 to 1,000 hertz."

Kronkright's ambition for a decade has been to create a transport container that could dampen vibrations to 5 hertz.

The research has led to the museum receiving a first patent to dampen the vibration in the picture frame, and just this month, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office issued a second patent for vibration damping in the transport container. A third patent is pending that deals with the vibrations in the corners that hold the painting in place.

What Kronkright has created is an 80-by-80-inch "super rigid" weatherproof outer container that is 35 inches deep, able to transport four to six paintings up to four feet in size. The art is secured in an inner box.

The inner box is fastened to the outer box with eight vibration isolators, which Kronkright describes as shock absorbers. These can be "tuned" to a desired hertz level, which Kronkright sees as 5 hertz.

Kronkright describes his day-to-day job thusly: "I try and keep things from falling apart and put them back together when they do. I study the physical and mechanical properties to understand what can damage art."

He said big museums have many artists and many artworks to choose from if individual pieces get broken. He said the O'Keeffe is limited to one artist and 3,000 works.

"The board's mission is anything you can do to prevent damage to our collection means our museum will be more successful into the future," Kronkright said. "Here's what I said to the board (11 years ago): Every object in our collection has a vibration lifetime before it starts to break apart. If we can cut the vibrations in half, we can double its life."

He said about $1 million has been spent to develop the transportation system.

Supreme Court to review Native American child adoption law - Associated Press

The Supreme Court has agreed to review a case involving a federal law that gives Native Americans preference in adoptions of Native children.

The high court said Monday it would take the case that presents the most significant legal challenges to the Indian Child Welfare Act since it was passed in 1978. The law has long been championed by Native American leaders as a means of preserving their families and culture.

The law gives Native American families priority in foster care and adoption proceedings involving Native children, and it places reporting and other requirements on states. A federal appeals court in April upheld the law and Congress' authority to enact it. But the judges also found some of the law's provisions unconstitutional, including preferences for placing Native American children with Native adoptive families and in Native foster homes.

The case won't be argued until after the high court begins its new term in October.

Texas, Louisiana, Indiana and seven individuals — three non-Native couples and the biological mother of a Native American child that was adopted by a non-Native family — had sued over provisions in the law. The children are enrolled or potentially could be enrolled as Navajo or Cherokee, White Earth Band of Ojibwe, and Ysleta del Sur Pueblo.

A federal district court in Texas initially sided with the group of plaintiffs in 2018 and struck down much of the law, ruling it was unconstitutional because it was race-based and violates the Equal Protection Clause.

But in 2019, a three-judge federal appeals court panel voted 2-1 to reverse the district court and uphold the law. The full court then agreed to hear the case, and struck some provisions. It upheld the determination that the law is based on the political relationship between the 574 federally recognized tribes and the U.S. government, not race.

The Biden administration asked the Supreme Court to review the case, arguing that the provisions should not have been struck.

Before the Indian Child Welfare Act was passed, between 25% and 35% of Native American children were being taken from their homes and placed with adoptive families, in foster care or in institutions. Most were placed with white families or in boarding schools in attempts to assimilate them.

Suspect, 14, arrested in fatal shooting of Albuquerque teen -Associated Press

A 14-year-old boy has been arrested in the shooting death of a 16-year-old boy who had accused the younger boy of stealing his gun, Albuquerque police said Saturday.

The suspect was arrested Friday evening following the fatal shooting that morning of Andrew Burson near West Mesa High School, police said in a statement. Both youths attended the school and knew each other, the statement said.

The shooting happened when Burson confronted the 14-year-old whom Burson had accused him of stealing a gun that Burson purchased over the internet, the statement said.

The 14-year-old started to run away and Burson chased him, but the suspect pulled a gun and fired at Burson five or six times at Burson, who was struck several times and died at the scene, the statement said.

The suspect was booked into a juvenile detention center on suspicion of murder and tampering with evidence, the statement said. The Associated Press generally does not identify juveniles accused of crimes.

Asked if the gun used in the shooting was the same one that was allegedly stolen from Burson, Albuquerque police spokesman Gilbert Gallegos responded that police were still collecting and reviewing evidence.

Online court records did not list an attorney for the suspect who could comment on his behalf.

City and school officials said Friday that the gun was not brought onto campus but that more needs to be done to ensure that children don't have access to firearms.

Crime has been a hot-button issue in New Mexico, where Republicans have criticized the Den. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and the Democratic-controlled Legislature for not doing enough in recent years to crack down through tougher penalties and other measures.

District Attorney Raúl Torrez and Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller, both Democrats, were among those who pushed for tougher gun laws during the recent legislative session. That included a failed measure that would have enhanced the charge of possession of a firearm by a minor to a felony rather than a misdemeanor, which does not require prosecutors to be notified.

"The connection between juveniles and weapons is extremely dangerous. It's also something that we have to work on in our criminal justice system," Keller said. "Right now we just do not have adequate tools to deal with a juvenile who we know has a firearm and how to keep them off the street or how to get them safe and keep everyone safe from them."

Lujan Grisham, who is running for reelection, issued a statement Friday about the shooting death, calling gun violence a scourge on society, particularly among young people.

Albuquerque Police Chief Harold Medina also acknowledged the city's ongoing battle with violent crime, saying it will take a concerted effort across the criminal justice system and through prevention efforts to turn the tide.

In 2021, Albuquerque shattered its homicide record, reaching a total of 117 within city limits. The previous record was set in 2019, when there were 81 homicides, with one of those being investigated by federal authorities. The total dipped to 77 in 2020, during the height of the pandemic.

School officials announced Friday that West Mesa High School would not hold classes Monday, but said that staff and counselors would be available.

Police: Suspect fatally shot after driving wrong way on I-25 - Associated Press

Law enforcement officers shot and killed a crime suspect whose pickup crashed after being driven the wrong way on Interstate 25 while being pursued in Valencia County south of metro Albuquerque, the New Mexico State Police said Saturday.

Two Bernalillo County sheriff's deputies and a NMSP officer fired at the man after he was given "numerous commands to exit the vehicle and surrender peacefully late Friday night, an NMSP statement said.

The statement did not elaborate on circumstances immediately before the gunfire.

According to the statement, the incident began when the Bernalillo County Sheriff's Office told the NMSP the suspect was traveling south on I-25 and was a suspect in an alleged aggravated assault with a deadly weapon on a household member.

The man's identity was not released but the statement said he was described as being a person of interest in multiple homicides and had a violent criminal history.

The pickup was going southbound in northbound lanes of I-25 before it crashed after going over tire-deflation devices deployed by a NMSP sergeant and then was struck by a NMSP officer's vehicle, the statement said.

Program aims to prepare actors for theater productions - By Mike Easterling Farmington Daily Times

Randy West has implemented an ambitious series of changes since taking over as supervisor of the Farmington Civic Center in the summer of 2019, namely the booking of dozens of musical, theatrical and comedy acts and the launch of a professional musical theater company designed to serve as a regional attraction.

Those elements have been slowed down, but not sidetracked, by the COVID-19 pandemic, which left the Civic Center shuttered for a year and four months. Last year, as soon as he got the green light from city officials, West began scheduling nationally touring shows again and got his musical theater troupe back on its feet.

But another important item on West's agenda — the cultivation and training of a group of local actors to augment the professionals in the Four Corners Musical Theatre Company — has had to wait, the Farmington Daily Times reported.

Now — as the company prepares to enter the busiest time in its two-and-a-half-year history this spring and summer, when it will stage four shows in five months — West is finally ready to begin a program that will address that goal.

The Four Corners Musical Theatre Company will hold two audition workshops over the next several weeks, one for children, and another for teens and adults, who are interested in appearing in the organization's productions of "Gene Kelly's Lost Musical," "The Music Man," "The Pirates of Penzance" and "Annie."

The workshops are the first step in what West envisions as a training program for local actors that will allow them to slide seamlessly into supporting roles for the aforementioned lineup of shows. West envisions developing a crew of local amateur actors so well trained and professional that "nobody will see any separation between the people who do this for a living and those who do it during the summer because they love it," he said.

It's an ambitious plan, and West knows it won't be realized without a lot of hard work. Those who commit to the program will be expected to begin rehearsals for their show or shows months in advance, but he says they'll be rewarded with a performing experience that likely exceeds anything else they've been involved in up to this point.

He believes the benefits of such an experience extend well beyond the theater world.

"I want to see younger people find confidence in doing this in the summer," he said. "Maybe they'll discover confidence in themselves that they never knew existed. They may not go on to a career in musical theater, but this might help them get a law degree and have the confidence to plead a case in front of a judge and jury instead of doing contract law."

West has used local amateurs in most of the Four Corners Musical Theatre Company productions up until now, but he said their integration into those productions has been limited.

This spring and summer, he wants to see those local performers emerge as full-fledged cast members who can hold their own next to the professional actors from New York and California who make up the permanent company.

Much of that training, he said, will consist of teaching them the choreography basics that are such an important part of any musical theater production.

"They won't have to be put in the back (of the stage) on a box waving their arms," he said, describing the modest presence many of those local actors have had in his productions thus far.

"I've been planning to do this for two years and couldn't get it done," he said. "But the plan going forward is to do three musicals every summer so that the Four Corners Musical Theatre Company is one of the things that defines what Farmington is about."

West said the aspiring actors who audition for the upcoming slate of productions can commit to doing as few shows as they like.

"You don't have to do three shows," he said. "In fact, most people won't. I'm assuming most people will do one or two. But I am holding open a lot of slots for locals."

The auditions themselves will be as painless as possible, he said. He explained that the traditional, nerve-wracking process of a lone performer reciting lines or singing under a spotlight on a bare stage while a director judges their performance from the back of the darkened theater is not the way he does things.

"You're pulling them in, putting them in the worst possible situation and seeing if they can survive," West said, describing how legendary musical theater director Hal Prince once described that approach to him.

West said he prefers a more relaxed, informal, face-to-face setting in which he chats with the performers and gets to know a little about their personality before he puts them through their audition.

"That way, I have a much better idea of what they would bring to a project," he said. "The audition process is not meant to be scary at all. The idea is, we're going to nurture them through unlocking their potential."

West said he understands his goal of building a reliable group of seasoned, well-trained local amateurs is something that won't happen overnight. But he is committed to getting it done over the long haul, and he believes the program will help his company sink its roots into the community.

"I'm not claiming we're going to get there 100% this summer," he said. "We're taking steps. And I guarantee that everybody who comes to these shows will have a good time."

1 dead, 2 others hurt after a shootout near Albuquerque park - Associated Press

One person is dead and two others injured after a shootout near a southwest Albuquerque park, according to authorities.

Albuquerque police said officers responded to reports of multiple people shot near Westgate Community Park on Saturday night.

There was an exchange of gunfire between an unknown number of people, police said.

Police said one person was found dead at the scene and two other people had to be taken to the hospital with one listed in critical condition.

According to police, homicide detectives have started an investigation into the fatal shooting.