TUES: APD was ‘mistaken’ about federal warrant for the man targeted in SWAT raid, + More
APD was ‘mistaken’ about federal warrant for the man targeted in SWAT raid – By Austin Fisher, Source New Mexico
In the days following a deadly SWAT raid on a house that burned down in Albuquerque’s International District, police and local media repeatedly said that the man they were trying to arrest that night was wanted on a federal warrant.
The morning after the incident, Police Chief Harold Medina said at a news conference that the Department’s Investigative Support Unit (ISU) was searching for Qiaunt Kelley who “had some felony warrants, one from the state level, one from the federal level.”
Later in the same news conference, a lieutenant said they had found “two active warrants for Mr. Kelley” in an internal police database, one for a “federal probation violation for carjacking” and another for “unlawful taking of a motor vehicle out of the city of Santa Fe.”
However, a search of federal court records over the past month by Source New Mexico shows no federal warrant issued against Kelley or any property associated with him.
There were no federal warrants for Kelley in N.M. when SWAT was called out to the house Kelley was visiting on July 6, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office said Tuesday.
“In the district of New Mexico, there were no federal warrants at that time,” said Scott Howell, spokesperson for the N.M. District Office.
On Monday, the Journal, again citing police, reported that Kelley was wanted “on felony warrants.” That is also not true.
In reality, New Mexico Corrections Department Probation and Parole Division Director Melanie Martinez on March 21 signed a warrant for Kelley’s arrest, saying he violated five conditions of his parole.
A parole violation is not a felony and is not handled by a criminal court. Instead, it is adjudicated by the state Probation and Parole board.
Kelley was on parole after having completed his sentence in a 2018 carjacking in Las Cruces, according to court records.
Albuquerque Police Department Det. Eric Endziel used the arrest warrant as part of his reasoning to ask Second Judicial District Court Judge Britt M. Baca-Miller for a search warrant, giving police legal authority to search the house where they found Kelley and 15-year-old Brett Rosenau and two cars parked in the driveway.
Source New Mexico reviewed copies of the arrest warrant and the search warrant.
Reached for comment on Tuesday, Albuquerque Police Department spokesperson Gilbert Gallegos said the references to a federal warrant were mistaken, and that detectives told him on Tuesday there is no federal warrant.
“There is an ongoing investigation by APD and a federal law enforcement agency that could result in federal charges,” Gallegos said. “I was under the impression on the morning of the incident that the investigation had resulted in a warrant.”
Gallegos did not respond to a question asking which federal police agency he was talking about.
Kelley was transferred from the Bernalillo County jail to a state prison on Monday and remains in custody as of Tuesday. He has not been charged with anything other than parole violations, according to a search of state court records on Tuesday.
Albuquerque police have also noted in news conferences and releases that Kelley is a “person of interest” in other crimes, but so far he has not been named as a suspect in any of them. His involvement in them, and whether he was involved at all, remains to be shown.
“In addition to being an absconder for the parole violation, our detectives wanted to get him into custody and attempt to question him for that investigation, as well as separate investigations into a homicide and an officer-involved shooting,” Gallegos said Tuesday. “The fact that he was considered a person of interest in three different violent crimes also led to making his apprehension a priority.”
After hours of SWAT tactics on Wednesday night, where officers launched cannisters of tear gas, pepper spray and flash-bang devices into the home where Kelley was, the residence caught fire.
Firefighters delayed entering the building because, Medina said, there were concerns Kelley was armed, and he was still inside. When he surrendered after the house was burning, Albuquerque Fire Rescue entered and found Rosenau dead, according to news releases.
Early reports from the Office of the Medical Investigator indicate the teen died of smoke inhalation, and police say investigators are looking into whether the munitions police used ignited the blaze.
When things go wrong with police actions, folks are often demonized, said Barron Jones. He is a senior policy strategist at the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico and a former journalist.
“This is a situation where we want that person to look as bad as we possibly can, to either justify or mitigate the actions taken by APD that night,” Jones said. “I’m not saying that is the case, but that is a thing that happens.”
The fact that Kelley was wanted on a parole violation is significant, because right now, the way the warrant is written, we don’t see that there was any immediate danger, Jones said. And the police response resulted in a tragedy — all over parole violations.
“It’s significant because we believe this is not an immediate call to where this person is in the community, wreaking havoc, where you have to take the steps that were taken that night that led to the tragic loss of life of a 15-year-old boy and the destruction of a person’s home,” Jones said. “If a little patience were exercised, I think there would have been a different outcome.”
It’s also an unfortunate example of how the media sometimes takes law enforcement’s statements as gospel, Jones said.
“Overpolicing of communities of color is a major problem,” Jones said. “And I just wonder if the approach would have been a little bit different if it was in another part of town.”
These kinds of SWAT callouts, he added, do not make us safer.
“The community is traumatized. A family lost their home. A family is displaced. A young child who barely started living lost their life, which is a horrible tragedy,” Jones said, “and there is a further erosion of trust between the community and APD.”
US awards $3B contract to manage nuclear waste repository - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press
Management of the U.S. government's only underground nuclear waste repository will be taken over later this year by a company created by one of the largest engineering, construction and project management firms in the world.
The U.S. Energy Department announced Monday that the new contract with the Bechtel company to oversee the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in southern New Mexico is worth up to $3 billion if all options are exercised over the next decade.
The current contract with Nuclear Waste Partnership will expire at the end of September, when Bechtel's Tularosa Basin Range Services LLC is scheduled to take over.
Nuclear watchdog groups have been pushing for years for a change at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, citing problems that included a 2014 fire and radiation release. The incidents forced a nearly three-year closure and a costly overhaul of the policies and procedures that govern the nation's cleanup of waste resulting from decades of nuclear weapons research and bomb making.
The Energy Department's Office of Environmental Management received five proposals for the lucrative contract. The agency did not disclose the other bidders.
Dena Volovar, Bechtel National Inc.'s executive vice president, called it an honor for the company to be chosen.
"The mission to safely dispose of defense-related nuclear waste is vitally important for protecting people and the planet," she said in a statement.
Over more than 20 years, tons of Cold War-era waste have been stashed deep in the salt caverns that make up the repository, with officials saying the shifting salt will eventually entomb the radioactive waste. The waste includes special boxes and barrels packed with lab coats, rubber gloves, tools and debris contaminated with plutonium and other radioactive elements.
The repository's current footprint includes several sections, which the U.S. Energy Department estimates will be filled in a few years. Federal officials confirmed during a community meeting last week that more space is needed and the mining of additional sections would have to go through an environmental approval process that would include an opportunity for public comment.
Environmentalists and residents shared concerns during the meeting about New Mexico becoming a sacrifice zone for the nation's nuclear waste and about the safety of continuously transporting waste across the country.
Bechtel also will inherit a couple of multimillion-dollar infrastructure projects that are underway at the repository, including the construction of a new ventilation system necessitated by the radiation release. Adequate airflow will be needed to ramp up waste disposal operations and for the mining of more disposal space.
Construction prep begins on La Bajada hill – Santa Fe New Mexican, KUNM News
Commuters between Albuquerque and Santa Fe can expect some delays on I-25 over the coming weeks as construction preparation has begun on La Bajada hill.
The Santa Fe New Mexican reports that while the project is expected to last into the fall of 2024, significant impacts to drivers should be much shorter-lived – only a few weeks.
A spokesperson for the New Mexico Department of Transportation told the newspaper that they’re building alternative routes to keep traffic flowing in two lanes each direction on the familiar stretch of highway linking the state’s largest city with its capital.
During rush hour, drivers can expect all lanes to be open. Though — until about the end of the month — traffic will likely be moving at about half the usual speed.
The interstate construction on La Bajada is meant to improve the roadway’s stability and drainage and will cost over $42 million, according to DOT.
The push to tap NM’s Land Grant Permanent Fund for education - Shaun Griswold, Source New Mexico
Tribal leaders and advocates leading education reform in New Mexico launched their campaign to ask voters to support a ballot initiative that would take more money from the state’s $25.5 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund and spend it on public school students, including those in pre-K.
“New Mexico has the unique opportunity to be the leader nationally, and from our perspective as Indigenous people, of our respective nations, we can create for a whole shift in the paradigm in education,” Regis Pecos said.
Pecos (Cochiti) is at the forefront of education reform as an advocate and expert witness testifying in the landmark lawsuit Yazzie-Martinez. He said it’s taken more than a decade to reach this point and contends voters have a rare chance to amend the state constitution “to provide the opportunity to access one of the wealthiest, permanent funds in this nation.”
In 2018, Judge Sarah Singleton ruled that the state of New Mexico provided an inadequate public education for students who are Native American, living with disabilities, learning English as a second language and from families that have low incomes. The state is mandated to reform its education system and made some financial gains to meet the court order, but advocate groups like NM Native Vote want a greater commitment.
Chloe Jake is with NM Native Vote, the organization that built the Indigenous coalition to support this campaign. She said the Land Grant Permanent Fund was created at “the expense of the loss of Indigenous lands.”
“The fact that we have not seen equity in so many areas, especially education, especially in preparing our young ones for a future that is successful and prosperous, it is really important that we be able to leverage those funds to make those investments into the young people,” said Jake (Pawnee/Laguna).
As of 2020, the state’s constitution takes 5% of New Mexico’s Land Grant Permanent Fund and distributes it to state agencies. More than $1 billion was spent from the fund during the previous fiscal year, with more than two-thirds going to public education.
Tracey Cordero is the director of the Indigenous Montessori Institute, a program within the Keres Children’s Learning Center.
“With this abundance of funding, there’s no longer a need to do education from a deficit model or a scarcity approach,” she said. “There’s enough for all of us.”
If Pecos and his group succeed in getting voters on their side to support the constitutional amendment, then the state would increase its permanent fund distribution by 1.25%, with that money going toward early childhood education and an increase of funding for K-12 schools. Revenue projections show that if the amendment is passed, the fund could distribute at least $125 million in pre-K and up to $75 million in K-12 programs each year.
The fund is derived from 13 million acres of land grants from the United States under the Ferguson Act of 1898 and the Enabling Act of 1910.
Revenue on these lands from sources like mineral exploration and from oil and gas industries — booming industries in New Mexico — are placed in a permanent endowment that is then invested by the State Investment Council.
According to a report released by the Legislative Finance Committee, the fund has seen growth each year for nearly a decade. It sits at $25.5 billion. In 2017, the land grant permanent fund was valued at $15.8 billion.
This is why education advocates think it is time to tap the fund and give additional money to early childhood education and a K-12 initiative they say will support the court mandate for reform under Yazzie-Martinez.
Not only do Native American groups say this money will go a long way toward the court’s mandate to reform education, there is also a demand that the state must meet its obligations to Indigenous communities by returning money made off lands taken from Native people.
The All Pueblo Council of Governors supports the ballot initiative. Chairman Mark Mitchell (Tesuque) said the reform can provide a sense of equity for tribal communities.
“We must bring attention to the fact that the land from which we all benefit monetarily is ancestral land to our indigenous people. It is precious land,” Mitchell said. “Our Pueblo handprint covers the entire state and region of the Southwest. The Apache and Navajo people have also been divested of their traditional land holdings in the state.”
The group also has concrete plans about where to spend additional money, with a goal of directing funds to tribal education departments they say can reform local schools efficiently.
Directors from the Walatowa Head Start Language Immersion Program and Keres Children’s Learning Center also spoke in support of the ballot initiative, saying their programs are examples of successful education models that center traditional values such as language with contemporary education models that could benefit from additional investments.
“It’s a model of education that best allows our own heritage language of Keres to exist naturally,” said Cordero (Cochiti).
Cordero (Cochiti) said her Montessori program at the KCLC teaches students how to be dual citizens as members of their traditional culture and the United States. However, state and federal funding is something the school does not receive because she says the state does not support the Montessori structure, despite vocal support from state Public Education Department leadership, such as PED Secretary Kurt Steinhaus.
“Even though our children can multiply, divide, read and write English and speak Keres, at a developmentally fluent level, we’re not seen as a school,” Cordero said. “We’re constantly fundraising.”
She not only wants this permanent fund to provide more funding overall but to see state leaders make pathways to support models like the KCLC.
“When you shine the light on us, you shine the light on everybody, and we all benefit from it,” she said. “And I’m talking about Cochiti children. I’m talking about Indigenous children not having to compromise their identity.”
New Mexico’s Oil and Gas Revenues Are Breaking Records and Complicating Budgets – Jerry Redfern, Capital and Main
Oil and gas revenues added more than $1.7 billion to New Mexico coffers in the first four months of the year — more than in any other four-month period in state history.
A lot more.
Records compiled by the New Mexico Tax and Revenue Department show that year-on-year, revenues from January through April more than doubled from $782 million in 2021 — itself a record year. (Records lag by two months to allow producers time to report their production numbers.) This money gusher comes from increasing production in New Mexico’s portion of the Permian Basin — currently the most productive oilfield on the planet — and skyrocketing oil and gas prices brought on by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
State Sen. George Muñoz (D-Gallup), vice chair of the powerful Legislative Finance Committee, says that committee economists peg the state’s likely take from oil and gas at $5.2 billion for the fiscal year — roughly a billion more than last year’s oil and gas revenue. That tally may rise if world oil prices remain high.
Mountains of money are generally a good thing for anyone, but the unplanned windfall does come with complications. The first is the kind of money brought in by oil and gas production. Roughly speaking, state government views revenues in two ways: as one-time or recurring income. Recurring money remains fairly steady year after year. For example, people will generally remain employed and use their earnings to buy things, making income and sales taxes a reliable source of steady, recurring revenue for the state.
However, record-breaking fossil fuel revenue is treated as one-time money: It can’t be counted on to repeat, so it can’t be used to create new programs, add permanent jobs or increase pay for state employees across the board. One-time money can build police stations and water treatment plants and schools, but it can’t pay the people to fill them. And that makes budgeting difficult. “When you have that one-time money surpassing recurring money, it becomes a little topsy-turvy,” Muñoz says. And he says that his committee’s economists are predicting that that is exactly what is about to happen.
The second problem stems from the first: This is oil money, and oil money has a roller-coaster history and a murky, finite future.
“I have ridden the roller coaster,” Muñoz says. “I came in in  where we had to cut a billion dollars out of the budget” because fossil fuel production had tanked during the Great Recession. It’s not something he wants to do again.
Kelly O’Donnell, a New Mexico economist who keeps tabs on the oil and gas industry, agrees that this isn’t the state’s first boom year — but that history rarely serves as a guide. “New Mexico has had a tendency towards selective amnesia about these things,” she says. “We are always surprised when the bad times show up.” Yet they always do.
“To progress economically, over time, we are going to have to get out of this boom-bust resource cycle,” she says. “When it goes down next time, it may not come back up, and we have to be prepared for that reality.”
* * *
New Mexico sits atop half of the Delaware Basin, the most lucrative portion of the greater Permian Basin, and the state’s fossil fuel production continues to grow. New Mexico was the first state to return to — and then exceed — pre-pandemic oil production levels earlier this year after they cratered in early 2020 as the planet closed down in the face of COVID-19. Nationally, only Texas and the offshore fields in the Gulf of Mexico produce more oil.
The Tax and Revenue Department’s figures do not account for all oil and gas revenues collected by the state — they don’t include revenue from federal mineral leases, for example — but they do reflect how much is coming in. The total is calculated during the state’s fiscal year, which runs from July 1 to June 30 of the following year.
And while oil and gas revenues tallied by Tax and Revenue for the full 2022 fiscal year won’t be known for another two months due to the reporting lag, they are already nearly double all of last year’s take: $3.6 billion this year compared to nearly $2 billion last fiscal year.
A large chunk of the oil and gas tax bonanza will go to long-term economic and social investment, primarily the Early Childhood Trust Fund. Set up in 2020, the fund invests in the health and education of the state’s toddlers, with an eye on their — and the state’s — future development. “If we invest in our people, if we have the workforce ready to attract employers, if we have the schools ready to attract employers … over the long term that will improve our situation,” says State Rep. Matthew McQueen (D-Galisteo), chair of the House Energy, Environment and Natural Resources committee.
McQueen also argues that the windfall should be used to cap abandoned oil and gas wells. “We should do that while the money is flowing,” he says. “When it’s not flowing, the state can get left holding the bag.” And he says that “maybe even a higher priority” is hiring more oil and gas field inspectors at the Oil Conservation Division and Environment Department to find leaks and prosecute offenders. “The reason you cap abandoned wells is because of the methane leaks, right? They’re tied together,” he says. But hiring inspectors for more than a year requires long-term funding, not a one-time windfall.
“Funding additional oversight programs and positions is unfortunately not ultimately up to the executive,” says Nora Meyers Sackett, press secretary to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. “Last year the administration proposed funding for additional regulatory staff at both [the Oil Conservation Division and Environment Department] that were not funded by the Legislature, which does affect the state’s ability to monitor and enforce pollution regulations.”
Sen. Muñoz says he’s eyeing funding increases for capital projects that were approved last year. “All those projects are underfunded,” he says, because of recent sharp inflation — which is also driven by increasing energy prices. One-time money could cover those increases.
But his ongoing concern is paying state employees a wage that can compete with private-sector jobs. “We’re going to have to raise those payments in order to recruit engineers, lawyers, those degreed staff to get them back to state work,” he says. But once again, that would require recurring money, not one-time oil and gas payouts.
“It’s like you only get one apple off the tree,” Muñoz says. And everyone will try to get a bite during New Mexico’s notoriously short legislative session. Last year’s session was 30 days. And though the upcoming session will be twice as long, it still may not be enough time to thoughtfully deal with the complications of this sudden cash infusion. “The bigger the budget gets,” he says, “the harder it becomes to manage.”
* * *
“I think that the resource curse really explains a lot of New Mexico’s difficulties,” O’Donnell says. Before going into the private sector and becoming a research professor of economics at the University of New Mexico, she held a number of leadership roles under former Gov. Bill Richardson, including director of state tax policy, deputy cabinet secretary for economic development and superintendent of the New Mexico Regulation and Licensing Department.
The resource curse theory explains why developing countries often underperform when their revenues are based on extractive resources — usually fossil fuels. The developing economy relies heavily on the one money stream, both because it is lucrative and because of fears of upsetting the apple cart. Thus, it locks itself into an economic cycle tied to natural resources.
“We have to start planning in a more concrete fashion for a future where oil and gas has a less prominent role in the economy,” she says. “That seems inevitable.” Inevitable because world economies are turning ever more quickly away from fossil fuels to renewables as the effects of climate change become ever more obvious and dire.
“It’s becoming increasingly clear to New Mexicans, in the wake of the most recent fires, that climate change is here, and that it has the potential to destroy the state and, really, to destroy the economy,” O’Donnell says. “Putting all of our eggs in the oil and gas basket, to mix a metaphor terribly, becomes increasingly problematic.”
“A productive industry can and should also be a responsible one,” says Meyers Sackett at the governor’s office. “We remain committed to holding those who do not comply with our methane and ozone rules accountable. There is no situation where we will accept anything less than compliance, but there is every opportunity for the industry to exceed our requirements.”
“I don’t care how high oil and gas gets this year,” says Lucas Herndon, energy and policy director of ProgressNow New Mexico. “I don’t care if it stays high this year. I don’t even care if it stays high next year. What I can guarantee is that sometime in the next two to five years, oil and gas will crash again.”
He says that oil and gas is not a sustainable method for funding the state government. “It never has been and it never will be … It always goes back down.”
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."
Murder trial begins for ex-New Mexico officer in 2020 death - Associated Press
A former New Mexico police officer charged with murder in a man's death during a 2020 struggle with officers didn't properly use a chokehold that gradually ended the man's life, a prosecutor told jurors Monday in opening statements at the ex-officer's trial.
Las Cruces Officer Christopher Smelser had told investigators he had difficulty in applying the lateral vascular neck restraint on Antonio Valenzuela because Valenzuela kept tucking his chin, but he eventually carried out the maneuver by sliding his arm under Valenzuela's chin when he lifted his head.
A medical examiner concluded Valenzuela, who fled on foot from officers during a traffic stop, died from asphyxial injuries due to physical restraint - and that methamphetamine in his system was a contributing factor in his death.
"The defendant knew that the way that he was doing it during the course of time before unconsciousness was rendered was not working," prosecutor Mark Probasco told jurors.
An attorney for Smelser said none of the earlier uses of force were effective in stopping Valenzuela from fighting.
The struggle grew from a traffic stop of a truck in which Valenzuela was a passenger. Valenzuela, who was wanted on a warrant for a probation violation, bolted from officers once he exited the truck.
When catching up with Valenzuela in a dirt lot next to a church, officers took him to the ground, struggled to handcuff him, struck him with their hands and shot at him with a Taser.
Then Smelser used the chokehold. Once Valenzuela stopped moving and was handcuffed, an officer put one of his knees on his back as Valenzuela lay on his stomach. Smelser then took the other officer's place, putting a knee on Valenzuela's back.
At one point during the encounter, Smelser profanely told Valenzuela that he was going to "choke you out, bro."
An autopsy report said Valenzuela had hemorrhaging in his eyes and eyelids, which is indicative of asphyxiation and may occur when the neck or chest is compressed. His neck had a deep muscle hemorrhage, his Adam's apple was crushed and his ribs were fractured. There also was swelling in his brain.
Officers said they feared Valenzuela was trying to access a weapon when he reached toward one of the pockets on his pants, where police found an all-in-one plier set that contained a knife that folded out. The defense characterized it as a knife, while prosecutors called it a tool.
Smelser's attorney, Amy Orlando, described the struggle as a chaotic, explosive fight in which officers repeatedly urged Valenzuela to stop resisting. Orlando said the force used on Valenzuela before the chokehold didn't faze him.
Orlando said physical restraint alone didn't kill Valenzuela, explaining that the autopsy found he also experienced the toxic effects of methamphetamine use.
"You can't take the meth out of the equation," Orlando said.
Valenzuela's death led to Smelser's termination and a settlement in which the city agreed to pay Valenzuela's family $6.5 million and ban the use of chokeholds by its police officers.
New Mexico track confirms health status of race horses - By Susan Montoya Bryan 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."
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.
Another US appeals court upholds right to record police - By Colleen Slevin Associated Press
People have a right protected by the First Amendment to film police while they work, a Western U.S. appeals court ruled Monday in a decision that concurs with decisions made by six of the nation's other 12 appeals court.
The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver ruling came in the case of a YouTube journalist and blogger who claimed that a suburban Denver officer blocked him from recording a 2019 traffic stop. Citing decisions from the other courts over about two decades as well as First Amendment principles, the 10th Circuit said the right to record police was clearly established at the time and reinstated the lawsuit of the blogger, Abade Irizarry.
A three-judge panel from the court said that "Mr. Irizarry's right to film the police falls squarely within the First Amendment's core purposes to protect free and robust discussion of public affairs, hold government officials accountable, and check abuse of power."
While bystander video has played a vital role in uncovering examples of police misconduct in recent years, including in the killing of George Floyd, whether or not it is a right is still being determined in courts and debated by lawmakers.
The nation's five other appeals courts have not ruled yet on the right to record police and the U.S. Supreme Court would likely not get involved in the issue unless appeals courts were on opposite sides of the issue, said Alan Chen, a University of Denver law professor and one of the First Amendment experts also urged the appeals court to rule in favor of the right of people to record police.
Meanwhile, Arizona's Republican governor last week signed a law that makes it illegal to knowingly video record police officers 8 feet (2.5 meters) or closer without an officer's permission.
In the Colorado case, a lower court had said there was a right to record police but did not think it was clearly established in 2019 so it blocked the officer from being sued because of the controversial legal doctrine called "qualified immunity." It shields police officers from misconduct lawsuits unless lawyers can show that the officers were on notice that their actions violated the law at the time.
U.S. government lawyers intervened in Irizarry's appeal to support the public's right to record police in the 10th Circuit, which oversees four western and two midwestern states — Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico and Utah — as well as parts of Yellowstone National Park that lie in Idaho and Montana.
Irizarry's lawyer, Andrew Tutt, said the ruling will protect the right of every citizen under the court's jurisdiction to record police carrying out their duties.
"Today's decision also adds to the consensus of authority on this important issue, bringing us a step closer to the day when this right is recognized and protected everywhere in the United States," he said.
In his lawsuit, Irizarry said he was filming a police traffic stop in the city of Lakewood when he claimed Officer Ahmed Yehia stood in front of the camera to block Irizarry from recording. The officer shined a flashlight into Irizarry's camera and the camera of another blogger. Then Yehia left the two, got into his cruiser and sped the cruiser toward the two bloggers, the lawsuit said. The cruiser swerved before reaching the bloggers and they were not hit, according to the lawsuit.
A telephone message left in the Lakewood city attorney's office, which represented Yehia, was not returned.
Even though the court said the right to record police existed in 2019, the ruling will mostly have an impact going forward since lawsuits for police misconduct must be brought within two or three years in most states, Chen said.