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MON: New Mexico police say planned attack led to university shooting, + More

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New Mexico police: Planned attack led to university shooting - Associated Press

New Mexico investigators say a University of New Mexico student conspired with two other students and a teenage girl to lure a visiting New Mexico State University basketball player onto campus, leading to a shootout that left the UNM student dead and the player wounded.

The investigation into the shooting early Saturday continued Monday, with New Mexico State Police confirming that they arrested and charged the teen with aggravated battery and conspiracy. It was too early to say whether others would face charges.

Police identified Brandon Travis as the University of New Mexico student who was fatally shot and accused of planning the assault on Mike Peake, the starting power forward for the Aggies basketball team. Police have identified the other two students, but their names have not been released.

The shooting in Albuquerque happened hours before the scheduled tipoff of a basketball game between the rival schools, which was later postponed. It was not clear if the game would be rescheduled or if a Dec. 3 matchup in Las Cruces would go on as scheduled.

New Mexico State Police said an altercation between Travis, 19, and Peake led to the shooting. They said Travis had plotted with his friends "to lure the 21-year-old victim to UNM campus and assault him." How and why they initially crossed paths remained unclear.

"Once at the campus, Travis, armed with a firearm, confronted and shot the victim. The victim, who also had a firearm, shot Travis," authorities said in a statement issued Sunday.

The teen girl and Travis' friends fled the scene outside a dormitory at UNM's Albuquerque campus.

Peake was listed in stable condition at a hospital.

New Mexico State University officials confirmed Monday that the player was Peake, a Chicago native who spent most of high school playing in Kansas before signing with Georgia and then transferring to Austin Peay State University. He came to NMSU for the 2021-22 season.

New Mexico State University Chancellor Dan E. Arvizu said in a statement it was important that "no one rush to judgment until all the facts are made available."

The shooting came six days after a former University of Virginia football player allegedly killed three Cavaliers football players and wounded two other students on the Charlottesville campus before being arrested.

New Mexico State University officials said no students are allowed to have any weapons on university property or at university sponsored activities, and that doing so is a violation of the student code of conduct. They noted that players' bags will be searched in the future when they board the bus for road trips.

University officials also said they have become aware of other student athletes who violated team curfew rules during the trip to Albuquerque, but those student athletes were not part of the incident.

After dinner, the team had returned to the hotel and watched video footage from 10:30 to 11:30 p.m. to prepare for the game. Bed checks were done at 11:45 p.m., and officials said all student athletes were in their rooms at that time. An assistant coach was present in the hotel lobby from midnight until 2 a.m., they said.

General election certified in NM counties that previously resisted - Andrew Beale, Source New Mexico 

Two New Mexico counties that delayed or resisted verifying June’s primary election results certified the general election without incident this week. In a third county, a commissioner that voted against certifying the June primary again voted no, but was again outvoted four to one by the other commissioners.

HOW IT’S SUPPOSED TO WORK

Before the votes, Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver and State Elections Director Mandy Vigil sent a notice to county commissions that they are required by state law to certify the elections.

If commissioners determine there were errors in the election returns, they should issue a summons to a precinct board and notify the secretary of state, but “still must proceed with the canvass of all correct election returns, as its duty is to find errors, not correct them,” the letter said.

Alex Curtas, a spokesperson for the Secretary of State’s Office, said state law does not provide commissioners the option to refuse. “They don’t have any discretion in the last instance to not certify the results,” he said. “We do expect these counties to follow the law.”

OTERO COUNTY

The all-Republican Otero County Commission initially voted against certifying the results of the June primary election, before being ordered to do so by the New Mexico Supreme Court. Following the court order, the county reversed its decision and voted two to one to certify the results. The lone remaining “no” was from former-Commissioner Couy Griffin, who called in to the meeting to vote just after his sentencing for federal charges relating to his participation in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Griffin was later banned from serving in public office by a state judge, who found he had participated in an insurrection at the Capitol and was therefore ineligible for office under the terms of the 14th Amendment.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham appointed Democrat Stephanie DuBois to replace Griffin. DuBois lost the Nov. 8 election to Republican Amy Barela, who will replace her at the start of the new year. Last week, Griffin disrupted the Otero County Commission meeting during public comment, repeatedly calling DuBois a “loser” before being removed by the sheriff. He was later allowed to return and finish his comment.

Congressional oversight panel to investigate ‘vigilante’ audit in Otero County

Griffin was not present at Tuesday’s meeting to certify the election in Otero County. Earlier the same day, the New Mexico Supreme Court tossed out his appeal asking for the decision barring him from office to be overturned.

All three commissioners voted yes, after Commissioners Vickie Marquardt and Gerald Matherly noted that the law required them to do so and DuBois said she was confident in the results. Marquardt expressed continued skepticism at the use of voting machines, though she said she didn’t have a specific reason to doubt the accuracy of Otero County’s elections.

During the meeting, Marquardt also expressed regret over a June vote to remove ballot boxes, stop the use of voting machines and hand-count all ballots. The Secretary of State’s Office asked the Attorney General’s Office to investigate that decision on the grounds that it overstepped the commission’s authority, and Marquardt said she now agrees.

“We voted on these three things, and I feel bad for doing that, because we really had no authority,” she said. “I feel bad that we gave you guys that false hope… we shouldn’t have done that.”

PUSHBACK FROM ELECTION DENIERS

The vote on the three election measures, as well as the commission’s initial vote against certifying the primary, were taken at the urging of far-right conspiracy theorists David and Erin Clements. The pair endorsed a number of election-denying candidates in New Mexico and other states, including Republican candidate for secretary of state Audrey Trujillo in New Mexico and GOP nominee for the governor’s race in Arizona Kari Lake, both of whom lost their races.

Voters around the country overwhelmingly rejected candidates that cast doubt on the 2020 election.

In an email, Erin Clements falsely insisted that many candidates endorsed by the pair did in fact win their elections but were declared the losers because of fraud. She said the Otero County Commission “failed in their duty to stand up for the citizens of Otero County” when it voted to certify the election results.

In an interview, Griffin said he would have again voted against certifying the election results if he had been allowed to remain in office.

“I don’t have respect for commissioner Marquardt’s comment and vote that followed, because in her comment, she said that she as well doesn’t believe in the accuracy of the machines,” he said. “She questions the machines, yet she still votes to certify the election, and she does so under the intimidation of being removed from office.”

STILL NO EVIDENCE

Conspiracy theories fueled by former president Donald Trump have cast doubt on the reliability of voting machines, though no credible evidence of widespread problems with the machines has emerged in the two years following the 2020 election. Local and national experts say that New Mexico’s elections are among the most secure in the country.

UNOFFICIAL AUDIT IN TORRANCE COUNTY

In Torrance County, the conservative panel of commissioners voted in June to delay the vote on certification of the primary results, but reconvened and unanimously voted to certify after the state’s Supreme Court intervened in Otero County. On Thursday, the commission unanimously voted to certify the general election results, before hearing an update on an unofficial election audit the county began after the June primary.

A similar audit undertaken in Otero County failed to produce evidence of fraud, and was the subject of state and federal investigations into its use of funds and its potential intimidation of voters. In Thursday’s update, Torrance County Manager Janice Barela, who is overseeing the unofficial audit, told the commission that she does not have evidence of fraud and is seeking additional information from the county clerk. In October, Barela told the Associated Press that she is “not going to be perfect in it (auditing the election), but I can tell you that I’m trying.”

Barela was also a key figure in the push to remove former Torrance County Clerk Yvonne Otero. The county asked the state to remove Otero from her post following an investigation into whether Otero was properly certifying voting machines. Commissioners say the investigation also found that Otero had used drugs and harassed employees.

CONSPIRACY THEORISTS IN BERNALILLO COUNTY

At a Tuesday meeting of the Bernalillo County Commission, around a dozen public commenters demanded the commission vote against certification, citing debunked election conspiracy theories pushed by the Clements and former President Trump. The Bernalillo County Commission is meeting Monday to vote on the matter, and commissioners Debbie O’Malley, Adriann Barboa and Charlene Pyskoty told Source New Mexico they will certify and don’t anticipate any no votes or delays.

Bernalillo County Deputy Clerk Jaime Diaz said if voters have concerns about election integrity, they should talk to their County Clerk’s office directly.

“If they have any questions, they really should just talk to the Clerk’s Office and ask them, let us understand more how you do things,” he said. “I know we’re very transparent in Bernalillo County, and if they still kind of wonder, take a day and volunteer so they can be poll officials and be part of that process and see how that runs.”

SANDOVAL COUNTY

Republican Sandoval County Commissioner Jay Block voted Friday against certification of the election results, repeating his no vote after the June primary.

Block, a Clements ally who has expressed skepticism about the election process, was not present at Friday’s meeting and called in on speakerphone. He said he voted no because he was unable to see an information packet that commissioners who were present in the chambers were given during the meeting. The vote passed, with all four other commissioners voting to approve certification.

Reached by email for comment before the meeting, Block demanded to know why Source New Mexico did not cover a laundry list of items, including Stacey Abrams and “election deniers from 2016.” Abrams is a former gubernatorial candidate in Georgia who has never run for office in New Mexico. Source New Mexico was founded five years after the 2016 election. Block then went on the offensive: “Not sure if mom raised you that way, but it’s disappointing. Mom should have instilled in you values to stand for something, answer a question and be truthful.”

Block continued to email while Friday’s commission meeting was underway. Several minutes before casting his “no” vote on certification, he wrote “Your integrity is in question and trust. I hope you can build that trust up with me.”

Draft FEMA rules give Northern NM fire victims only 25% of what their trees were worth - By Patrick Lohmann, Source New Mexico

Those who lost acres of trees to the Hermits Peak-Calf Canyon Fire are asking the federal agency overseeing $2.5 billion in aid to change what they say is an improper cap on the amount they can receive for burned trees, which make up a significant amount of expected claims under the act.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency last week published 20 pages of preliminary regulations for how victims of the biggest fire in state history can receive compensation for their damages.

Congress in late September passed the huge compensation program to pay people who lost property to the wildfire that the federal forest service lit. Two escaped burns that burned more than 530 square miles of land in and around Mora and San Miguel Counties.

One of those rules was criticized repeatedly at a meeting Thursday night in a middle school lecture hall in Las Vegas, N.M., where about 100 people showed up to provide public comment. It would cap the amount paid for “trees and other landscaping to 25% of the pre-fire value of the structure and lot.”

Trees on private land are essential to many livelihoods in the burn scar – for firewood, Christmas tree sales and other uses.

Thousands of acres of private forest land burned when the blaze spilled from federal forests. One woman who spoke, Tina Clayton, said the government should change the rule.

“We should be compensated 100% of what was burned on the property. Trees have value not only in providing wood, but they also clean our air,” she said. “And we haven’t charged the government for that.”

The rule was included as a vestige of a program that the Hermit’s Peak Fire Assistance Act was modeled after. In 2000, Congress passed a law to compensate victims of a botched prescribed burn started by the National Park Service near Los Alamos.

Much of the language in the interim rules is carried directly from that law, even though the destruction and the people impacted are quite different. In Los Alamos, victims were often homeowners and themselves federal employees at national laboratories.

Fire victims this time around are are less well-off, less able to prove damage and ownership of structures lost, and live in more rural areas. There are also far more small farmers and ranchers. There are at least 2,000 farms in Mora and San Miguel Counties, where most of the fire burned, according to recent Census figures.

Angela Gladwell, the FEMA official in charge of the Hermit’s Peak-Calf Canyon Fire Claims Office, told Source New Mexico after the meeting that the 25% cap is one of many rules the agency could change before the rules are official. She also noted that the agency had to publish the draft rules, a process that often takes months, in a very short time-frame, due to the requirements in the law.

“I can’t comment on that (whether the cap will change),” she said. “But I can say that we were working under a statutory deadline of 45 days, so a lot of the baseline of what we issued is based on Cerro Grande. We’re going to consider the comments that we’ve received.”

FEMA officials did not answer any of the questions asked during the public comment meeting, saying that the gathering’s purpose was to hear and take down comments to be considered when the agency revises its rules. Each comment will get a response when the agency publishes its final rules in a couple months, officials said.

FEMA is holding three more meetings as part of the public comment portion of its rule-making.

State officials scramble to meet a federal target date to map gaps in internet access - Megan Gleason, Source New Mexico 

Data mistakes and an inability to keep up with a federal program’s demands could cause the state to miss out on several hundred million dollars that would extend broadband to underserved areas in New Mexico.

Kelly Schlegel is the state’s broadband director. She talked to the legislative Science, Technology and Telecommunications Committee on Thursday about staffing problems that could prevent a full internet expansion.

New Mexico is taking part in a national high-speed internet effort to get broadband to areas that don’t have it or that lack fast, reliable internet altogether. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration is distributing the funding so states can set up or expand broadband access in those underserved or unserved locations.

Many of the regions in New Mexico that are most in need are rural communities, and some say they’ve been ignored for a long time.

But the state is struggling to keep up with the program’s suggested timelines. Schlegel said the broadband division needs more staff to sort out issues to ensure that the state receives the money it needs for a full internet expansion.

OFFICIALS NEED TO FIGURE OUT INTERNET ACCESS IN THE STATE

N.M. broadband officials need to submit information about what areas in New Mexico have internet access to the Federal Communications Commission by Jan. 13 for the best funding consideration. This will update a national draft map the FCC released on Friday, Nov. 18 and will determine how much money New Mexico gets.

But Schlegel said the broadband division has found a number of errors in the FCC map of New Mexico detailing broadband access. She said the division, right now, probably doesn’t have enough staff to fix it by the program’s mid-January target date.

“It’s so important to get the maps right, and our maps are not really there yet,” she said.

Administration spokesperson Charlie Meisch Jr. acknowledged that the office and Schlegel as director are fairly new and said the agency is still trying to support them. “We’re there to try to address these issues and make sure they have the information and resources that they need,” he said.

But Schlegel said the federal agency announced the January date suddenly, only telling New Mexico about it with two months to turn the information around — despite the state asking previously about when the FCC needed the mapping info — sending the team scrambling to get their data together.

Meisch said the January date isn’t actually a hard deadline and is rather just the best time for states to submit internet information. The agency wants to get the program moving quickly, though, he said. “Any day that goes by where someone doesn’t have access, there is a cost with it,” he said.

Schlegel said she thinks the mapping issues of the state could cause New Mexico to miss out on hundreds of millions of dollars. That could potentially leave thousands of people in the dark without internet access.

Meisch declined to comment on whether a submission after the January date could cause New Mexico to miss out on money.

HOW MUCH MONEY IS AVAILABLE?

The Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program will provide $42.5 billion for internet access across the U.S., Washington D.C., Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

In total, Schlegel said New Mexico is hoping for at least $700 million. The minimum states can get is $100 million. With that money, New Mexico can allocate grants to communications companies for the broadband setup and expansion.

But she said, “right now, I am worried that we’re a few hundred million dollars short.”

She said the broadband division was essentially waving a red flag to the legislators on Thursday.

“We don’t want New Mexico to lose a dollar,” she said.

And the lawmakers were receptive to the news. Many voiced concern and potential solutions, like who could help solve the map issues. Sen. Michael Padilla (D-Albuquerque), chair of the committee, said this vital data cannot be incorrect, leading the state to lose out on that much funding.

“This is a big deal,” Padilla said. “We cannot let this happen.”

OTHER FEDERAL FUNDING

The state’s broadband division finished submitting several other applications for federal funding projects that are being processed, Schlegel said. She said the state hasn’t received any money yet, but she’s been assured it’s coming.

Since September, the division has awarded millions of dollars in grants to local electric companies to get homes connected to the internet, many of which are located in rural areas of the state.

New Mexico attorney general selected as college president - Associated Press

Outgoing New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas has been selected as the next president at Northern New Mexico College.

He was the unanimous choice as the school's board of regents voted Thursday. Balderas was among four finalists for the position following a monthslong national search.

The next step will be contract negotiations between the college and Balderas, who will finish his second term as the state's top prosecutor at the end of the year. In a statement issued Friday, Balderas said it will be an honor to work with the regents, faculty and staff to take the institution into the future and build on student successes.

"I'm inspired that the community was involved in the selection process. They have hope for change," Balderas said.

The finalists visited the campus earlier this fall and spent two days interviewing with students, faculty, staff, alumni and others during a series of community forums.

Board of Regents President Michael Martin said Balderas, who grew up in the rural community of Wagon Mound, identified strongly with the college community during his visit last month.

The other finalists included Patricia Trujillo, the deputy secretary of the state's Higher Education Department; Bruno Hicks, vice president of academic affairs at Dalton State College in Georgia; and Southern Illinois University professor of applied psychology Yueh-Ting Lee.

Barbara Medina has led the college on an interim basis since the departure of Rick Bailey, who left in January to become president of Southern Oregon University.