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MON: Teen died from smoke inhalation in Albuquerque house fire following SWAT standoff, + More

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Teen died from smoke inhalation in Albuquerque house fire - Associated Press

Authorities conducting an arson investigation at a southeast Albuquerque house fire say a 15-year-old boy whose body was found inside died from smoke inhalation.

Albuquerque Fire Department officials said Sunday it might take about two weeks to complete the investigation to determine the cause of last week's blaze.

A SWAT team trying to arrest a wanted man allegedly threw tear gas canisters and shot chemical munitions inside the home before the fire started.

"They've been used by the Albuquerque Police Department for decades," Police Chief Harold Medina said. "We've heard the stories that it's possible these could start fires but we've never experienced that here."

Police said Brett Rosenau was found dead inside the home after the fire was put out following a SWAT standoff last Thursday that involved 27-year-old Qiaunt Kelley.

On Monday, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Mexico called on New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas to conduct a thorough, independent and transparent investigation into the standoff.

Police said they were trying to arrest Kelley for violating his probation and they also wanted to question him about a recent homicide investigation and an officer involved shooting.

Rosenau followed Kelley into the home before the fire, but police still don't know if two knew each other beforehand.

Kelley ran from the home as firefighters extinguished the fire, was taken into custody and then transported to a hospital for treatment of burn injuries before being booked into jail.

Police said Kelley refused to talk to investigators and it was unclear Monday if he had a lawyer yet who could speak on his behalf.

The teen wasn't shot by anyone despite what some bystanders at the scene told authorities, according to police. Autopsy results will be released later by the Office of the Medical Investigator.

"The preliminary results of an autopsy cited the cause of death as smoke inhalation," police spokesman Gilbert Gallegos said.

Since the death occurred while police were taking a suspect into custody, a multi-agency task force is conducting a criminal investigation and the results will be forwarded to the District Attorney for review.

Albuquerque police also will conduct an administrative investigation to determine whether any policies were violated.

"In our effort to track down and arrest a violent criminal, a young person tragically lost his life," Medina said. "I know many people in our community are hurting right now, and appreciate everyone's patience while the incident is thoroughly investigated. If any of our actions inadvertently contributed to his death, we will take steps to ensure this never happens again."

Hours after the teen's body was pulled from the charred home, dozens of people gathered nearby to protest the death, waving signs that said "Black Lives Matter."

Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller expressed his condolences to Rosenau's family in a statement Sunday, saying "no matter what the circumstances were, a boy's life was tragically cut short, something no person or parent should experience."

New Mexico track confirms health status of race horses - Associated Press

New Mexico regulators on Monday said several horses that were feared dead by animal advocates following a weekend of racing at one of the state's premiere horse tracks are alive and well.

Officials with the New Mexico Racing Commission said only one animal died after being injured during recent trials at Ruidoso Downs and that photographs and veterinary reports submitted to the state show the other seven were in their stalls and were fine.

The Washington, D.C.-based group Animal Wellness Action had raised concerns about the horses' welfare.

"Apparently it was so brutally hot the horses had to be vanned back to the stables after they ran, which of course to us means they shouldn't have been running in the first place," said Marty Irby, the lobbying group's executive director.

Irby leveled his criticisms as advocates push for track owners and regulators nationwide to be more vigilant now that new federal safety mandates took effect this month and as the industry prepares to adopt more uniform anti-doping rules.

Irby was among those who testified before Congress in support of the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act, which was signed into law in 2020. It is being implemented in stages, with the racetrack safety program starting first. The anti-doping and medication rules are expected in early 2023, leaving the 38 states where horse racing occurs in charge for now.

The sport's lack of uniform rules across the U.S. came into focus after Medina Spirit tested positive for a banned substance following the 2021 Kentucky Derby.

California, New Mexico and other states also have received black eyes over the years for catastrophic injuries among race horses.

An investigation in 2012 found that five of the seven tracks with the nation's highest incident rates were in New Mexico and that four of the state's five tracks had incident rates double the national average. While all five tracks saw declines in their fatality rates over recent years, legislative analysts found that 112 horses died as a result of race-related injuries between 2018 and 2020.

There were 13 catastrophic injuries in 2021, according to records provided by the New Mexico Racing Commission.

Ismael "Izzy" Trejo, the commission's executive director, said the rate per 1,000 race starts is below the national average and there have been no complaints from jockeys or horse owners about conditions at Ruidoso Downs.

The track started its season in late May and is preparing for the Rainbow Futurity later this month. It's best known for hosting what is described as the richest quarter horse race in the world — the All American Futurity.

"Of course losing one horse out of 330 starters this weekend is never a good thing," Trejo said. "But if there was a method to prohibit horses from experience catastrophic injuries on the racetrack, we'd be the first — as long as I'm in this chair — to implement it."

Trejo and others have said one hurdle to enforcing anti-doping rules and other regulations going forward will be the shortage of licensed veterinarians nationwide.

Irby added that ensuring compliance from state racing authorities also will be key.

"I am convinced the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act is the American horse racing industry's last chance to clean up their act and bring legitimacy back to the sport, as well as breed confidence with the betting public, but there are so many groups and people already working to undermine the law at every turn," he said.

Ruidoso Downs general manager Ethan Linder said he spent the morning at the track barn, checking on the horses that were on Irby's list. He wanted to put his hands on each one, talk to each trainer and confirm the status before reporting back to state regulators.

Linder said it's too early to make predictions as the horse racing law is implemented, but he expects some pressure from activists. He added that many things called for by the act are already in place at Ruidoso Downs.

"Our job is to comply and when we do that and if anything were to happen we will let everyone know that by no means did we cut any corners," he said. "We are following the regulations to a T and that's the best we can do."

Marriage equality once again proposed in Navajo Nation bill - By Noel Lyn Smith Farmington Daily Times

Months after withdrawing legislation that proposed the Navajo Nation recognize marriage equality through repealing and amending tribal laws, a new bill is bringing back that recommendation.

The legislation seeks to end the ban on same-sex marriage under the Diné Marriage Act and repeal the section of the Navajo Nation Council resolution from 2005 that forbids couples of the same gender from marrying on the tribal land or having their marriage recognized.

The bill also proposes to amend other provisions in tribal law to conform with the repeal, including those that address spousal rights to property and employee benefits under the tribal government.

Delegate Eugene Tso recently introduced the legislation. It is now eligible for consideration by four standing committees, then the Navajo Nation Council.

Tso sponsored the previous bill but abruptly withdrew his sponsorship in April, citing the need to retool the legislation amid mixed reaction from delegates and the public.

In an interview with the Daily Times on July 1, Tso said he wants the bill to go to the council at the summer session.

That session starts July 18, but it is uncertain whether the bill will complete the legislative process by then. The first standing committee it was assigned to did not have a meeting scheduled this week, according to the Navajo Nation Council website.

"We're talking about people ‐ they're Navajos. They have census numbers too," Tso said.

A census number is another term to describe the number assigned to a Navajo person after completing the enrollment process with the tribe's vital records office.

"We can't discriminate them for who they are and who we are. It's bad to do that," he said.

Tso, who represents Chinle Chapter in Arizona and is not seeking reelection this year, said he does not want the matter to be a referendum or be sidelined by delegates through a work session.

Since the interview was before Independence Day, Tso mentioned the holiday and described it as celebrating freedom and individual rights.

"We should understand that we're changing. We're no longer back in the '40s, '30s or '20s, we're going forward. The LGBTQ, they like to enjoy life too," Tso said.

Struggling Latino students should be priority, leaders say - By Anita Snow Associated Press

Latino students should be a federal funding priority after they fell behind during the coronavirus pandemic despite making notable educational gains in recent decades, leaders with the largest U.S. Hispanic civil rights and advocacy group said Monday.

"There is funding there," said Amalia Chamorro, who oversees educational policy for UnidosUS, formerly the National Council of La Raza. "We need to make sure it is directed to students with the most needs."

An Associated Press analysis of state and U.S. data last year found the federal government had provided $190 billion in pandemic aid to schools, four times more than what the U.S. Education Department spends on K-12 schools in a typical year.

A new report on Latino student access released by UnidosUS at its current gathering in San Antonio says students of color and low-income students faced the most daunting challenges during the pandemic because of problems like a lack of internet access in their homes when classes were being taught online.

This report comes while schools across the nation struggle to recover from the pandemic.

"We cannot allow hard won educational gains to be reversed, yet we also know that the pre-pandemic status quo was not working as well as it should," it says.

The report said Latino parents described their frustrations in focus groups that UnidosUS held last year as they told of their children being distracted and hungry for social interaction.

It cited a 2021 survey that found more than 70% of Latino parents say their children suffered a learning challenge during the pandemic, and many worry whether they can support them in their school struggles.

"We've hit a speed bump and now we have to get back on track," said Eric Rodriguez, UnidosUS vice president for policy and advocacy. "We are especially worried about English learners."

The transition to remote instruction was especially difficult for English learners because the majority of them come from low-income families and tend to have parents with limited levels of education, the report said. They are also more likely to be homeless and less likely to have high-speed internet access.

The report said a survey of teachers by the Government Accountability Office found that teachers with more than 20% English learner students in the 2020-21 school year found the children were struggling with understanding their lessons and even accessing school meals.

Despite the struggles, the report says K-12 Latino students have made important gains over the last three decades, as their proportion in U.S. schools has tripled from 9% in 1984 to 28% now. High school graduation rates for Latinos reached an all-time high of nearly 82% in 2019, despite inequalities and barriers to success.

"The course of the next two decades will be determined by the decisions we make today," it concludes.

$1.7M committed for Roswell bridge repair, flood mitigation - Associated Press

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said the state is committing $1.7 million to repair a collapsed bridge in Roswell and implement additional flood mitigation strategies in the area.

Lujan Grisham made the announcement Saturday next to the damaged bridge in northeast Roswell.

The city has received close to three inches of rain so far this year and began experiencing intense flooding following severe torrential rainfall last year.

The $1.7 million is coming from the New Mexico Department of Transportation's State Road Fund.

The funding will go to repairing the bridge and implementing flood mitigation measures to be ahead of the curve before the next major storm hits, according to Lujan Grisham.

"The more we put into communities, so that we have safe roads, safe bridges, safe flood mitigation, the better it is for these communities," she said.

The bridge previously collapsed due to flooding in 2013. While it was replaced, additional changes to address the flooding vulnerabilities were not implemented, according to Albuquerque TV station KOB.

Community outraged after a SWAT standoff leaves a teen dead and a home destroyed – By Marisa Demarco, Source New Mexico

Demonstrators marched in Albuquerque’s International District last night to protest police violence after an hours-long SWAT standoff ended in a home burning down and the death of a teen who was inside.

Protesters and initial news reports have identified the child as 15-year-old Brett Rosenau.

Now, police have confirmed that the teen died from smoke inhalation.

On Wednesday, officers were following Qiaunt Kelley, who police say had arrest warrants for unlawful taking of a vehicle and a probation violation.

Police say Kelley and the teen went to a house and - when detectives tried to arrest Kelley, he ran inside. Police Chief Harold Medina says SWAT was then called in.

Observers say munitions that SWAT officers shot into the home started the fire. Albuquerque’s police and fire departments said they are investigating.

According to a fire department news release, they had to battle the flames from outside in coordination with APD because Kelley was still inside. When he came out, fire crews went in and found the teen dead.

Demonstrators said the teen was brought out of the burned house and laid in the street while people demanded he be given some dignity.

Tribal elders recall painful boarding school memories - By Sean Murphy Associated Press

Native American tribal elders who were once students at government-backed Indian boarding schools testified Saturday about the hardships they endured, including beatings, whippings, sexual assaults, forced haircuts and painful nicknames.

They came from different states and different tribes, but they shared the common experience of having attended the schools that were designed to strip Indigenous people of their cultural identities.

"I still feel that pain," said 84-year-old Donald Neconie, a former U.S. Marine and member of the Kiowa Tribe who once attended the Riverside Indian School in Anadarko, about 80 miles southwest of Oklahoma City. "I will never, ever forgive this school for what they did to me.

"It may be good now. But it wasn't back then."

As the elders spoke, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, herself a Laguna Pueblo from New Mexico and the first Native American cabinet secretary in U.S. history, listened quietly. The event at the Riverside Indian School, which still operates today but with a vastly different mission, was the first stop on a yearlong nationwide tour to hear about the painful experiences of Native Americans who were sent to the government-backed boarding schools.

"Federal Indian boarding school policies have touched every Indigenous person I know," Haaland said at the start of the event, which attracted Native Americans from throughout the region. "Some are survivors. Some are descendants. But we all carry the trauma in our hearts.

"My ancestors endured the horrors of the Indian boarding school assimilation policies carried out by the same department that I now lead. This is the first time in history that a cabinet secretary comes to the table with this shared trauma."

Haaland's agency recently released a report that identified more than 400 of the schools, which sought to assimilate Native children into white society during a period that stretched from the late 18th century until the late 1960s.

Although most closed their doors long ago and none still exist to strip students of their identities, some still function as schools, albeit with drastically different missions that celebrate the cultural backgrounds of their Native students. Among them is Riverside, which is one of oldest.

Riverside, which opened in 1871, serves students from grades four through 12 these days, offering them specialized academic programs as well as courses on cultural topics such as bead-working, shawl-making and an introduction to tribal art, foods and games. Currently operated by the Bureau of Indian Education, it has nearly 800 students from more than 75 tribes across the country, and the school's administration, staff and faculty are mostly Native American.

It is one of 183 elementary and secondary schools across the country funded by the Bureau of Indian Education that seek to provide education aligned with a tribe's needs for cultural and economic well-being, according to the bureau's website.

But Riverside also has a dark history of mistreating the thousands of Native American students who were forced from their homes to attend it.

Neconie, who still lives in Anadarko, recalled being beaten if he cried or spoke his native Kiowa language when he attended Riverside in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

"Every time I tried to talk Kiowa, they put lye in my mouth," he said. "It was 12 years of hell."

Brought Plenty, a Standing Rock Sioux who lives in Dallas, recalled the years she spent at Indian boarding schools in South Dakota, where she was forced to cut her hair and told not to speak her Native language. She recalled being forced to whip other girls with wet towels and being punished when she didn't.

"What they did to us makes you feel so inferior," she said. "You never get past this. You never forget it."

Until recently, the federal government hadn't been open to examining its role in the troubled history of Native American boarding schools. But this has changed because people who know about the trauma that was inflicted hold prominent positions in government.

At least 500 children died at such schools, but that number is expected to reach into the thousands or tens of thousands as more research is done.

The Interior Department's report includes a list of the boarding schools in what were states or territories that operated between 1819 and 1969 that had a housing component and received support from the federal government.

Oklahoma had the most, 76, followed by Arizona, which had 47, and New Mexico, which had 43. All three states still have significant Native American populations.

Former students might be hesitant to recount the painful past and trust a government whose policies were to eradicate tribes and, later, assimilate them under the veil of education. But some welcome the opportunity to share their stories for the first time.

Not all the memories from those who attended the schools were painful ones.

Dorothy WhiteHorse, 89, a Kiowa who attended Riverside in the 1940s, said she recalled learning to dance the jitterbug in the school's gymnasium and learning to speak English for the first time. She also recalled older Kiowa women who served as house mothers in the dormitories who let her speak her Native language and treated her with kindness.

"I was helped," WhiteHorse said. "I'm one of the happy ones."

But WhiteHorse also had some troubling memories, including the time she said three young boys ran away from the home and got caught in a snowstorm. She said all three froze to death.

"I think we need a memorial for those boys," she said.

Ex-Las Cruces police officer's murder trial to start Monday - Associated Press

A fired Las Cruces police officer who put a suspect in a fatal chokehold is set to begin his murder trial next week.

KRQE-TV in Albuquerque reports opening statements are scheduled for Monday in the trial of Christopher Smelser.

The former officer is accused of causing the February 2020 death of Antonio Valenzuela.

Valenzuela, 40, was a passenger in a vehicle that officers stopped. When officers realized he had a warrant out for drug charges, Valenzuela fled.

Smelser was one of two officers who tried to detain him.

Body camera footage shows Smelser use a chokehold after a taser didn't work. Authorities say police realized five minutes later that Valenzuela was dead.

A coroner determined he died from "asphyxial injuries" and that he had methamphetamine in his system, which contributed to his death.

The Las Cruces Police Department fired Smelser, who was charged with manslaughter. Attorney General Hector Balderas's office later took over the case and upgraded the charge to second-degree murder.

Smelser's attorney, Amy L. Orlando, has previously said Smelser used the chokehold as part of his training and the murder charge was a headline-grabbing political move.

Valenzuela's death led to a $6.5 million settlement with his family as well as changes with Las Cruces police. These include banning all chokeholds and firing any officer who violates the new policy.