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TUES: Otero County Commissioner guilty of illegally entering Capitol grounds Jan. 6, + More

Otero County Commissioner Couy Griffin speaks to journalists as he leave federal court in Washington, Monday, March. 21, 2022. Griffin is charged with illegally entering Capitol grounds the day a pro-Trump mob disrupted certification of Joe Biden's presidential election victory on Jan. 6, 2021. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)
Gemunu Amarasinghe/AP
FR171825 AP
Otero County Commissioner Couy Griffin speaks to journalists as he leave federal court in Washington, Monday, March. 21, 2022. Griffin is charged with illegally entering Capitol grounds the day a pro-Trump mob disrupted certification of Joe Biden's presidential election victory on Jan. 6, 2021. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

Official guilty of illegally entering Capitol grounds Jan. 6 - By Michael Kunzelman Associated Press

A federal judge on Tuesday convicted an elected official from New Mexico of illegally entering restricted U.S. Capitol grounds but acquitted him of engaging in disorderly conduct during the riot that disrupted Congress from certifying Joe Biden's presidential election victory.

U.S. District Court Judge Trevor McFadden heard one day of testimony without a jury on Monday before handing down a verdict in the misdemeanor case against Otero County Commissioner Couy Griffin, a 48-year-old former rodeo rider who helped found a group called Cowboys for Trump.

McFadden, a nominee of then-President Donald Trump, said there was ample evidence that Griffin knew he was in a restricted area and didn't leave. Griffin crossed over three walls, needing help from others or a ladder to get over them, the judge noted.

"All of this would suggest to a normal person that perhaps you should not be entering the area," McFadden said from the bench.

But the judge said prosecutors didn't meet their burden to prove that Griffin engaged in disorderly conduct.

"Arguably, he was trying to calm people down, not rile them up," he said.

Griffin's trial in Washington, D.C., was the second among the hundreds of federal cases arising from the Jan. 6, 2021, siege. Earlier this month, in the first trial, a jury convicted a Texas man, Guy Wesley Reffitt, of storming the Capitol with a holstered handgun, interfering with police and obstructing Congress' joint session to certify the Electoral College vote.

The outcome of Griffin's trial could have a ripple effect, helping other Capitol riot defendants decide whether to let a judge or a jury decide their case.

But the case against Griffin is unlike most Jan. 6 cases and may not be a bellwether for defendants who are charged with storming the Capitol.

Griffin is one of the few riot defendants who wasn't accused of entering the Capitol building or engaging in any violent or destructive behavior. His lawyers argued that he was selectively prosecuted for his political views.

Griffin was charged with two misdemeanors: entering and remaining in a restricted building or grounds and disorderly and disruptive conduct in a restricted building or grounds. Both carry maximum sentences of one year imprisonment.

Griffin is scheduled to be sentenced on June 17. He was jailed for more than two weeks after his arrest on Jan. 19, 2021.

Griffin described himself as "halfway pleased" with the split verdict and said he will continue to view his involvement in Jan. 6 as "a badge of honor."

"I stand proud of where I'm at today and the fight that I've been in over the course of the last year-and-a-half," he told reporters outside the courthouse.

Griffin, one of three members of the Otero County Commission in southern New Mexico, is among a handful of riot defendants who either held public office or ran for a government leadership post in the 2 1/2 years before the attack.

He is among only three riot defendants who have asked for a bench trial, in which judges decide a case without a jury. Griffin said he doesn't regret waiving his right to a jury trial.

"If I was anywhere but Washington, D.C., I would say, 'Go with a jury trial,'" Griffin said. "You can't get a fair jury trial in Washington, D.C., if you're someone like me, a strong conservative."

Loyola Law School professor Laurie Levenson said the conviction for entering restricted grounds helps establish for the government that the area was off limits to the public and will discourage other defendants from using similar arguments.

"This will send a message to other defendants that they are unlikely to win on a technical argument that the areas outside the Capitol were not off limits," Levenson said.

The verdicts also may lead some defendants facing the same charges as Griffin to go to trial if they believe the judge deciding their fate has a high standard of what constitutes disorderly conduct, Levenson said. Still, Levenson said the argument wouldn't be helpful to defendants who entered the Capitol building or committed violence on Capitol grounds.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Janani Iyengar said Griffin climbed over metal bike racks, up a plywood ramp and shouted over the crowd about his belief that the election was stolen from then-President Donald Trump.

"He was being extremely loud, climbing over barriers, engaging with the crowd," she said in her closing arguments.

Defense attorney Nicholas Smith said the case against Griffin was "built on a series of false assumptions and premises." Trial testimony showed Griffin went to the Capitol to support "free and fair elections," Smith told the judge.

A key question in Griffin's case was whether he entered a restricted area while Vice President Pence was still present on Capitol grounds, a prerequisite for the U.S. Secret Service to invoke access restrictions.

Griffin's attorneys said in a court filing that Pence had already departed the restricted area before the earliest that Griffin could have entered it, but Secret Service inspector Lanelle Hawa testified that Pence never left the restricted area during the riot.

Hawa said agents took Pence from his office at the Capitol to a secure location at an underground loading dock on the Capitol complex. Pence remained in the loading dock location for four to five hours, until the joint session of Congress resumed on the night of Jan. 6, Hawa testified.

Smith said prosecutors apparently believe Griffin engaged in disorderly conduct by peacefully leading a prayer on the Capitol steps.

"That is offensive and wrong," Smith told the judge during his brief opening statements.

Prosecutors didn't give any opening statements. Their first witness was Matthew Struck, who joined Griffin at the Capitol and served as his videographer. Struck has an immunity deal with prosecutors for his testimony.

After attending Trump's "Stop the Steal" rally on Jan. 6, Griffin and Struck walked over barriers and up a staircase to enter a stage that was under construction on the Capitol's Lower West Terrace for Biden's inauguration, according to prosecutors.

Prosecutors played video clips that showed Griffin moving through the mob that formed outside the Capitol, where police used pepper spray to quell rioters.

"I love the smell of napalm in the air," Griffin said in an apparent reference to a quote from the war movie "Apocalypse Now."

After climbing over a stone wall and entering a restricted area outside the Capitol, Griffin said, "This is our house … we should all be armed," according to prosecutors. He called it "a great day for America" and added, "The people are showing that they have had enough," prosecutors said.

In a court filing, prosecutors called Griffin "an inflammatory provocateur and fabulist who engages in racist invective and propounds baseless conspiracy theories, including that Communist China stole the 2020 Presidential Election."

Griffin's attorneys say hundreds if not thousands of other people did exactly what Griffin did on Jan. 6 and haven't been charged with any crimes.

More than 770 people have been charged with federal crimes related to the Capitol riot. More than 230 riot defendants have pleaded guilty, mostly to misdemeanors, and at least 127 of them have been sentenced. Approximately 100 others have trial dates.

Griffin had vowed to arrive at the courthouse on horseback on Monday. Instead, he showed up as a passenger in a pickup truck that had a horse trailer on the back.

Ex-Las Vegas school guard gets 10 years for sexual abuse - Associated Press

A former Las Vegas, New Mexico, school security guard will serve 10 years in prison for sexually abusing a female student.

The Las Vegas Optic reports 53-year-old Abran Ulibarri was sentenced Monday at a hearing where the victim, who was 14 at the time, spoke in favor of prison time.

Ulibarri pleaded guilty last month to criminal sexual penetration of a minor, three counts of false imprisonment, criminal solicitation to commit tampering with evidence and bribery of a witness.

"This was not a lapse of judgment," Judge Abigail Aragon said during sentencing. "It was premeditated, predatory conduct on a vulnerable child."

An investigation by the Attorney General's Office found evidence that Ulibarri sexually abused the girl, a student at West Las Vegas Middle School, for months in 2019.

Investigators say Ulibarri texted with the victim using a code name and instructed her to delete texts from him. The victim said she started texting him back out of fear.

Las Vegas police initially investigated the allegations but then the state took over.

Political lobbyists denounce harassment by state senator - By Morgan Lee Associated Press

An open letter signed by 10 political lobbyists and advocates has called for a Democratic state senator to resign or be removed based on new allegations of groping, sexist comments, and yelling and cursing at women at the Statehouse or over drinks nearby. Monday's letter urges leading Democratic and Republican state senators to move forward with an investigation against state Democratic Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto related to earlier allegations of sexual harassment. Ivey-Soto says he will participate in the Legislature's procedures for resolving complaints of harassment and misconduct. But he declined to comment on the allegations.

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — A Democratic state senator is coming under new pressure to resign or be removed based on new allegations of groping, sexist comments, and yelling and cursing at women, in an open letter Monday signed by 10 political lobbyists and advocates.

The letter urges leading state senators to move forward with an investigation against Democratic Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto related to earlier allegations of sexual harassment by political lobbyist Marianna Anaya, and summarizes eight additional episodes involving alleged mistreatment of women by Ivey-Soto in varying levels of detail.

The Associated Press generally does not identify people alleging sexual assault, but Anaya has been openly public about her allegations and prior advocacy against harassment. Anaya has accused Ivey-Soto of groping her at a hotel reception in 2015 and of recent aggressive and disrespectful behavior while discussing proposed legislation over drinks.

A preliminary investigation into probable cause is underway, Anaya's attorney has indicated. Legislative officials say rules prohibit disclosures about complaints without a probably cause finding.

The new letter from political advocates says women contacted their groups to voice additional complaints.

Reached by telephone Monday, Ivey-Soto declined to comment on the newly summarized allegations. He has said he has no recollection of touching Anaya and that their encounters were never sexual.

"The Legislature has a process to resolve allegations of harassment and bullying. I am and I will participate in any such process," said Ivey-Soto, chairman of a Senate committee that vets major legislative initiatives and political appointments.

One source of the new accusations is identified by name — a woman who says she was physically assaulted by Ivey-Soto when he was in graduate school at the University of New Mexico and she worked at a support association for students.

The letter says the woman, who could not immediately be reached by phone, says Ivey-Soto pressed and held her against a wall and screamed at her for disregarding a task.

The letter also says that Ivey-Soto while drinking at restaurants rubbed his hand up the inner thigh of a female lobbyist and asked another lobbyist inappropriate personal questions before inviting her to meet privately in his office. The letter also alleges that Ivey-Soto groped a female advocate at the Statehouse and yelled and cursed at female election regulators.

Heather Ferguson, a co-signor of the letter and executive director of Common Cause New Mexico, said that Ivey-Soto referred to her and a female colleague by the nickname "Lips and Hips" in 2016.

"We walked into a meeting with him," Ferguson said. "He said, 'Here comes Lips and Hips.'"

Ferguson said she told Ivey-Soto the nickname was sexist and degrading, and that he repeated it later.

She described a "toxic culture" at the Legislature, praised Anaya's courage for filing a formal complaint and said greater whistleblower protections are needed.

Democratic Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth of Santa Fe declined to comment through a spokesman.

"Allegations of misconduct are taken very seriously and are dealt with under the governing policies, procedures and statutes," said Chris Nordstrom, spokesman for Senate Democratic leaders.

Energy grants for US tribes aimed at aiding vast power needs - By Felicia Fonseca Associated Press

More than a dozen tribal communities around the U.S. will share $9 million in federal grant funding for renewable energy projects, the U.S. Department of Energy announced Monday.

Nearly $1.2 million will support a solar and battery storage project in the Navajo Nation community of Kayenta in northeastern Arizona. Tribal officials said the project will provide electricity to 24 homes on the vast reservation where an estimated one-third of all residents are not connected to the power grid.

The 14 projects among tribes based in Arizona, Idaho, California, Alaska, Washington, New Mexico and Minnesota are expected to produce 3.3 megawatts of renewable energy and 3.6 megawatt-hours of battery storage. The amount of energy isn't huge, but will chip away at the need across Indian Country.

"Clean energy is an enormous opportunity for tribal communities because it creates great jobs, local jobs, makes people healthier and safer," Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm told reporters. "It helps, obviously, keep the lights on and the heat on for so many Native families that don't have reliable access to power."

Kayenta has become a hub of renewable energy projects on the Navajo Nation. The tribal utility recently partnered with an Arizona utility, the Salt River Project, on two solar facilities that together produce 55 megawatts of electricity and serve 28,000 reservation homes and businesses.

The Navajo Nation project announced Monday emerged from a proposal developed by the community of Kayenta. The goal is to create a solar-based microgrid to provide power and internet services to multigenerational homes, said Nathaniel Brown, who represents Kayenta on the Navajo Nation Council.

"We are going to bring service to these individuals who have been waiting a long time," he said.

The Navajo Nation will contribute about $1.6 million for the project, bringing its total cost to $2.8 million, Brown said.

Other grant recipients include:

— The Karuk Tribe in California, which will use nearly $1.4 million to install solar power at its casino and wellness center.

— The Metlakatla Indian Community in Alaska, which will use nearly $1 million to revamp hydropower turbines for increased energy production.

— Kawerak, Inc., a regional Alaska Native corporation, which will use $1.5 million to use geothermal energy to power and heat tribal buildings, a water well, a pump house and two bathing pools.

—The Coeur d'Alene Tribe in Idaho, which will install solar panels on a new youth recreation center with its $68,000 grant.

Tribes also will chip in on those projects because the federal funding won't cover the entire cost of them.

The Energy Department has scheduled a virtual consultation session with tribes and Alaska Native corporations next week to talk about other opportunities for funding through the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act approved last year.

3 inmates who stole transport van in New Mexico are captured - Associated Press

Three inmates who stole a McKinley County Sheriff's Office transport van on Monday have been captured, authorities said.

New Mexico State Police officials said the inmates were being transported by a sheriff's deputy who apparently had a medical episode and had to stop the van.

They said the three prisoners — two men and a woman — were able to gain control of the van and fled the area.

Police located the van near Tohajiilee on Interstate 40.

After a lengthy pursuit, police successfully deployed tire deflation devices on the van east of Grants and the three inmates were taken into custody without further incident.

Police officials didn't immediately say if the inmates would be facing additional charges after the brief escape.

Man accused of stabbing on Albuquerque train also had gun - Associated Press

Authorities say a man accused of stabbing two people and injuring a third on a commuter rail train in Albuquerque also had a gun at the time.

New Mexico State Police found the handgun in 33-year-old Luis Sanchez's backpack when he was arrested Saturday, according to a criminal complaint.

Sanchez was due in court Monday for his first appearance on charges of aggravated battery, possession of a firearm or destructive device by a felon and resisting, evading or obstructing an officer. A message was left for his public defender.

Rail Runner officials said Sanchez got into an argument with another male passenger as the train traveled between stations. He allegedly stabbed that passenger in the back and lower abdomen.

As security attempted to step in, police said Sanchez stabbed a female security guard in the neck. He then slashed an elderly woman on her shoulder, according to the complaint.

Authorities said Sanchez then fled down the tracks before he was arrested. He dropped the backpack with the gun while running.

The three victims were taken to the hospital. Two of them underwent surgery. Their conditions were not immediately known Monday. Sanchez was also treated at a hospital for lacerations on his hands.

The complaint states Sanchez tried twice to grab an officer's weapon during a police interview.

Court records show Sanchez's criminal history also includes other instances of resisting arrest as well as drug possession, driving while intoxicated and residential burglary.

2 dead, 7 injured in Interstate 40 rollover in Albuquerque - Associated Press

Two people were killed and seven others injured when a speeding vehicle rolled and struck a concrete pillar on an Interstate 40 underpass in Albuquerque, authorities said Sunday.

They said it appears alcohol, speed and the amount of people inside of the vehicle were all factors in the rollover.

City fire and rescue crews were dispatched around 3 a.m. and said a male and a female were pronounced dead at the scene.

Of the seven injured who were rushed to hospitals, authorities said five were in critical condition and two others had minor injuries.

The names of the dead and injured weren't immediately released.

Fire crews said some of the injured had to be extricated from the vehicle.

According to authorities, the vehicle was traveling at a high rate of speed when the driver lost control.