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THURS: A man is shot and wounded as tempers flare in New Mexico over the statue of a Spanish conquistador

People hug after a shooting in Española during a prayer event to oppose the reinstallation of a statue of conquistador and war criminal Juan de Oñate.
Anna Padilla
Source NM
People hug after a shooting in Española during a prayer event to oppose the reinstallation of a statue of conquistador and war criminal Juan de Oñate.

A man is shot and wounded as tempers flare in New Mexico over the statue of a Spanish conquistador- By Associated Press

Chaos erupted Thursday as a gunshot rang out during a protest in northern New Mexico where officials had planned to install a statue of Spanish conquistador Juan de Oñate, an event that county officials had already postponed anticipating that tempers would flare.

One man was struck by the gunfire and rushed to the hospital as Rio Arriba County sheriff's officials took the suspected shooter, 23-year-old Ryan Martinez, into custody. Authorities said they were not currently seeking any other suspects in connection with the shooting.

Oñate has been a controversial figure in New Mexico's history for generations, with activists targeting the statue and other likenesses of the Spaniard for his oppressive and sometimes brutal treatment of Native Americans during his country's conquest of what is now the Southwestern United States. Some Hispanics have pointed to the statue as a symbol of their heritage.

Although the county had postponed the installation of the statue the previous day because of public safety concerns, people still turned out.

Protesters arrived Tuesday and pitched tents. They placed offerings on and around the empty pedestal to Oñate: pottery, corn stalks, votive candles, a basket of vegetables. Banners read, "not today Oñate," and "celebrate resistance not conquistadores."

The man who would later draw and fire a gun used profanity in arguments with protesters and was told by law enforcement officers to leave. Video captured by onlookers showed the man jumping a short wall and heading toward the crowd as others grabbed him.

One person yelled, "Hey, hey, hey. Let him go!" as he broke free and jumped back over the wall. That's when he pulled a gun from his waistband and fired a single shot before running off. Screaming ensued.

One person could be heard saying, "Help me! Help me!" and "I can't breathe."

The shooting occurred just outside the doors of county offices, which include sheriff offices. More than 20 law enforcement vehicles responded, crowding an Española city roadway that overlooks the Upper Rio Grande Valley.

The wounded man, whose name was not immediately released by authorities, was shot in the upper torso and was being treated at a local hospital, authorities said.

Authorities said a motive for the shooting was unclear.

"Once again, the saddest part about this is we have another incident of gun violence," county Sheriff Billy Merrifield said at a brief news conference.

Merrifield said he expressed concerns about safety issues to county commissioners about reinstalling the statue in Española outside the county building. He said he was grateful to commissioners who decided against putting up the statue.

He declined to take any questions, saying New Mexico State Police were handling the crime scene and the investigation.

The shooting happened on the day the New Mexico Department of Health released a report on gunshot victims treated at New Mexico's hospitals. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham commissioned the report earlier this month, alongside issuing a public health order that temporarily suspended gun rights in the Albuquerque area over recent gun violence.

A federal judge blocked aspects of it while a flurry of lawsuits alleging violations of constitutional rights played out.

According to the report, there was a 16% increase in patients admitted to intensive care units for firearm injuries between 2019 and 2022. Gunshot victims transferred from emergency departments to operating rooms increased by 61% over the same time frame.

The report also noted that deaths from firearm injuries between 2017 and 2021 increased among Hispanics, non-Hispanic Native Americans and non-Hispanic Black populations.

Tony Ortega, a 78-year-old retired technician who worked at Los Alamos National Laboratory, said he was glad to hear the county planned to put the Oñate statue back on public display as a symbol of local Hispanic pride. But he said he knew it would cause trouble.

"I knew this was going to be a problem. Native Americans don't want it," Ortega said. "They think Oñate was a bad person more or less."

Oñate, who arrived in present-day New Mexico in 1598, is celebrated as a cultural father figure in communities along the Upper Rio Grande that trace their ancestry to Spanish settlers. But he is also reviled for his brutality.

To Native Americans, Oñate is known for having ordered the right feet cut off of 24 captive tribal warriors after his soldiers stormed the Acoma Pueblo's mesa-top "sky city." That attack was precipitated by the killing of Onate's nephew.

In 1998, someone sawed the right foot off the statue of Oñate near Española, where it had been on display until it was taken down in 2020 amid a national movement for racial justice that sought to topple countless monuments.

A likeness of Oñate among a caravan of Spanish colonists set in bronze outside an Albuquerque city museum also drew protests in 2020 that resulted in it being taken down.

Rio Arriba County Commission Chairman Alex Naranjo, a Democratic former magistrate judge and school board member, said he is still committed to returning the statue to public display. He said the bronze likeness and companion cultural center in the nearby community of Alcalde was commissioned at a cost of more than $1 million in county, state and federal funding, in a project championed by his uncle Emilio Naranjo as a state senator and public figures including former Gov. Bill Richardson.

He blamed Thursday's confrontations on "disrespectful" protesters from beyond the Española Valley, though many protesters Thursday cited local Native American ties.

"To me it's a matter of principle," said Naranjo, who traces his ancestry to Spanish settlers who arrived in the late-1500s. "I don't question anybody who disagrees with me as long as they do it in a respectful, cordial way."


Associated Press writers Terry Tang and Walter Berry in Phoenix and Christopher L. Keller and Susan Montoya Bryan in Albuquerque contributed to this story.

The one-time boyfriend of a Navajo woman has been convicted of her fatal shooting in emblematic case- By Associated Press

The boyfriend of a Navajo woman whose case became emblematic of an international movement launched to draw attention to an epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women was convicted of first-degree murder in her fatal shooting.

Tre C. James, 31, was convicted Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Phoenix, in the domestic abuse and killing of his girlfriend Jamie Yazzie. The jury also found James guilty of several acts of domestic violence committed against three former intimate and dating partners.

James faces mandatory imprisonment when he is sentenced on Jan. 29.

Yazzie was 32 and the mother of three sons when she went missing in the summer of 2019 from her community of Pinon, on the Navajo Nation. Despite a high-profile search, her remains were not found until November 2021 on the neighboring Hopi reservation in northeastern Arizona.

Many of Yazzie's family members, including her mother, father, grandmother, and other relatives and friends attended all seven days of the trial, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Arizona said.

"Vindicating the rights of missing and murdered indigenous persons requires all the energy and compassion we have," U.S. Attorney Gary Restaino said. "That means not only investigation and prosecution of tough cases, but also community engagement, cultural competence, and active listening to next of kin and other family members."

Yazzie's case gained attention through the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women grassroots movement that draws attention to widespread violence against Indigenous women and girls in the United States and Canada.

The U.S. Interior Department's Bureau of Indian Affairs characterizes the violence against Indigenous woman as a crisis.

Women from Native American and Alaska Native communities have long suffered high rates of assault, abduction and murder. A 2016 study by the National Institute of Justice found that more than four in five American Indian and Alaska Native women — 84.3% — have experienced violence in their lifetime, including 56.1 % who have experienced sexual violence.

As migration surges in Americas, 'funds simply aren't there' for humanitarian response, UN says- By Associated Press

Countries in the Americas are reeling as the flow of migrants reaches historic levels, but international "funds simply aren't there" for humanitarian needs, a United Nations official said.

Ugochi Daniels, deputy director of operations for the International Organization for Migration, said a larger and coordinated regional effort is necessary for a longer term solution to the steady movement of vulnerable people toward the United States.

But other global crises — among them the war in Ukraine, conflict in Sudan, Morocco's earthquake — have pulled global funds away, Daniels said Wednesday in an interview with The Associated Press.

The U.N. estimated that this year through August, it needed $55.2 billion to take on compounding global crises, but it received funds for only 71% of that.

A growing number of countries like Panama and Costa Rica are pleading for international aid in handling the flood of migrants, though Daniels would not say who should pay the tab.

"Obviously, it's not an issue that can be solved by any one country," she said. "The unprecedented flows in the region require attention — international attention."

The flood of migrants to the Mexico-U.S. border has swelled in recent years, with recent days seeing thousands of people crossing daily just into Texas. In fiscal year 2017, U.S. authorities stopped migrants 310,531 times on the border, while in the first 11 months in fiscal year 2023, they recorded more than 1.8 million stops.

The crush of people — many of them Venezuelans — is overwhelming Latin American governments, many of which lack the funds to take care of their own citizens. On Wednesday, Costa Rican President Rodrigo Chaves announced a state of emergency due to the number of people entering the country.

"We all know that there is a migration crisis throughout the entire American continent. We are fundamentally a country of passage for migrants, people who come, who pass through Costa Rica largely trying to reach the United States," Chaves said.

Lack of aid dollars is not a new problem, and has been especially notable in the mass migration from Venezuela.

As more than 7.2 million people have fled the South American nation's economic and political turmoil, the mass migration has received pennies on the dollar in aid compared to other global migration crises like Syria's. For years, countries receiving the bulk of Venezuelan migrants like Colombia, Peru and Ecuador have pleaded for more support.

In September, a U.N. report said that $400 million was required to address the Venezuelan migration, but that the international body had received only a third of that.

"Aid dollars are clearly insufficient," said Juan Pappier, deputy director of the Americas for Human Rights Watch. "But it's also a reflection of the insufficient attention that Latin America gets, and the insufficient interest that Latin American governments have in properly addressing this issue."

Pappier said the lack of aid to help pay for migrant services generated resentment and xenophobia in many South American nations, which led to more restrictive policies. Such policies pushed Venezuelans to travel north through routes like the Darien Gap, helping fuel the new flood of migration to the U.S., he said.

Analysts and Daniels note the international response has been defined by largely short-term patchwork measures.

Pressures by the U.S. on countries to keep migratory flows at bay and create new barriers has produced temporary pauses of arrivals to the border, but that has been followed by new surges, said Adam Isacson, an analyst with the Washington Office on Latin America.

"They're just looking for new ways to keep pushing the numbers down for as long as they can," Isacson said. "It's not permanent, it's super super short term."

Daniels said governments really need to address the root causes of migration, such as poverty, corruption, crime and political repression.

But in the meantime, she said, instead of putting up restrictions, governments should do more to help migrants, such as creating work programs. She also urged countries to provide legal pathways for migrants to travel, so they don't have to turn to smugglers, which she said rake in between $7 billion and $10 billion a year annually just on the U.S.-Mexico border.

She urged countries to resolve their squabbling over the flood of migrants, and praised Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador for announcing this week that he would convene a meeting of 10 regional nations to discuss the recent wave of migrants.

"I've heard some people talking about migration control, closing borders, and we know that it doesn't work. We know that what people will do is still find a way to move, but it will be more risky and they'll be more vulnerable," Daniels said. "You can't control migration; you can manage it."

Chinese immigrant workers sue over forced labor at illegal marijuana operation on Navajo land — Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

Chinese immigrant workers allege they were lured to northern New Mexico under false pretenses and forced to work 14 hours a day trimming marijuana on the Navajo Nation where cultivating the plant is illegal, according to a lawsuit filed Wednesday in state court.

Job advertisements for the operation in Shiprock promised $200 per day, housing and food in exchange for "gardening" and "flower cutting." But when the workers arrived in New Mexico, the complaint says, their phones and car keys were taken away, they were barred from leaving and, in some instances, family members were separated.

In a statement Wednesday, lawyers for the 15 workers said their clients were treated like animals and commended their bravery for coming forward.

"Ending forced labor requires that the perpetrators of forced labor and those who seek to benefit from such schemes face serious consequences," attorney Aaron Halegua said. "We hope that this lawsuit will demonstrate that such abusive practices do not pay."

The lawsuit names as defendants Navajo businessman Dineh Benally and Irving Lin, a Taiwanese entrepreneur based in Los Angeles. It also names associates of Benally and Lin, as well as businesses linked to the farming operation, which authorities say ballooned to nearly two dozen farms and more than 1,100 greenhouses spread across 400 acres (162 hectares).

At least 19 rooms at a motel in nearby Farmington supported the operation, the complaint alleges. Workers were treated like prisoners at the motel, which was under watch by armed security guards, and like machines while toiling in the fields, according to the complaint.

Farmington police busted the operation in October 2020 after they were called to the motel to investigate a "strong odor" of marijuana. They found 2,000 pounds of marijuana, worth $3 million to $10 million, according to the lawsuit. Workers who were there at the time were arrested, but drug charges later were dropped.

In late 2020, federal, state and tribal authorities also raided the Shiprock-area farms, destroying a quarter-million plants.

The Navajo Nation Department of Justice sued Benally, leading to a court order halting the operation that the lawsuit says Benally and his associates ignored.

Benally didn't respond to phone and emailed requests for comment. David Jordan, who represented Benally in the Navajo case, declined to comment on the lawsuit, although he denied that Benally ignored the tribal judge's order to halt farming.

Lin couldn't immediately be reached for comment Wednesday. It wasn't clear from court records whether he has an attorney who could comment on his behalf, and a lawyer in New Mexico who represented Lin previously wasn't available Wednesday evening.

But in a March 2021 affidavit detailed in the lawsuit, Lin stated there was "no violence and human trafficking" and no "human rights" violated by the farming operation.

The lawsuit filed in Santa Fe seeks a jury trial and unspecified damages.

Benally, a former Navajo Nation presidential candidate who campaigned on growing hemp to boost the economy, is accused in the lawsuit of turning a blind eye to federal and tribal laws that make it illegal to grow marijuana on the reservation. The complaint says he instructed his associates and the workers to refer to the marijuana as "hemp" to avoid law enforcement scrutiny.

The lawsuit claims that Benally and Lin intentionally targeted Chinese immigrants in California who were out of work in 2020 at the height of the coronavirus pandemic.

Phillip Francisco, then-chief of police for the Navajo Nation, previously estimated there were 1,000 people working for the operation, mostly foreign workers brought to New Mexico from Los Angeles. Other law enforcement officials estimated the number of workers surpassed 2,000.

Navajo residents described seeing the workers sleeping in the fields and ditches, "shivering through the night," the lawsuit states. One worker said he slept on the floors of greenhouses and was never paid any of the roughly $12,000 in wages he was promised. Workers did not get adequate rest, or enough food and water throughout the day, according to the lawsuit.

The workers were monitored by cameras and security guards, some of whom were armed, the complaint states. When they sought to leave or just rest, the lawsuit alleges they were forced to continue working.

Photos included in the lawsuit show cannabis plants blanketing the floor of one motel room, with the room's mattress leaning on its side against a wall.


This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Francisco's first name. It is Phillip, not Philip.


Yamat reported from Las Vegas, Nevada. Associated Press journalist Felicia Fonseca in Flagstaff, Arizona, contributed.


Teen testifies about boy's death and firearms training at New Mexico compound — Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press


With his hand placed on his son's neck, Siraj Ibn Wahhaj recited verses of the Quran as part of a ritual meant to rid the toddler of evil spirits that Wahhaj and members of his extended family believed were causing the boy's ailments.

The ritual known as ruqyah had been done countless times on the boy. But this time was different. It ended with the child foaming from the mouth until he stopped breathing.

There were no calls to 911 or attempts to rush him to the nearest hospital. Nor was he given any medication that December day in 2017 at a remote desert encampment in northern New Mexico.

Details about the last moments of Abdul-Ghani Wahhaj's life were laid out in testimony Wednesday in a trial that centers on accusations of kidnapping and terrorism. The boy's father and three other family members, including two of his aunts, were charged following an August 2018 raid of a squalid compound near the Colorado state line as authorities searched for the 3-year-old boy, who had been taken from Georgia without his mother's permission.

The defendants were living with their 11 hungry children. There was no running water at the encampment, which was encircled by berms of tires with an adjacent shooting range where guns and ammunition were seized.

Prosecutors presented evidence Wednesday that Siraj Ibn Wahhaj and his partner Jany Leveille, a Haitian national, took Abdul-Ghani to resettle in New Mexico, where they performed prayer rituals on the boy and the other children. Leveille was initially charged with kidnapping and terrorism-related charges, but she agreed to accept a reduced sentence on weapons charges. She has not appeared at the trial.

Siraj Ibn Wahhaj, along with his sisters Hujrah and Subhanah Wahhaj, and the latter's husband, Lucas Morton, were charged with conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States, among other counts. Morton and Siraj Ibn Wahhaj were also charged with conspiracy to kill U.S. government personnel.

No one was charged in the boy's death because the body was too badly decomposed to determine how he died. His body was initially wrapped in plastic and placed under one of the beds in the trailer where the family was living. The body was brought out daily so it could be washed, until the remains were eventually placed in a tunnel on the property.

Leveille's son, who was 13 at the time, was asked by prosecutors about the moments before the boy died, the family's journey to New Mexico and the prophecy that his mother had relayed to the group — that the boy would be resurrected as Jesus Christ and an army they hoped to recruit would rid the world of nonbelievers.

The teen said his role was to memorize the Quran and teach it to others, while Siraj Ibn Wahhaj's role was to train the army.

The teen described the firearms and tactical training he and his older brother participated in at the makeshift shooting range. Fearing that they were being surveilled by federal authorities, the group spent months out of sight under a tarp, in a camper trailer and underground in tunnels they had dug. They used a bucket for the bathroom, and Morton was able to get food from a food bank miles away.

The teen, who now lives with an aunt and cousins in New York, testified that life at the compound was "terrible."

"I was stuck in a hole that I couldn't get out of," he said.

The teen spent more than three hours on the stand, with defense attorneys scheduled to question him Thursday. Two other children who lived at the compound also were expected to testify.

Defense attorneys for Wahhaj's sisters have argued that the terrorism charges are largely based on a fantastical diary written by Leveille about her belief that Abdul-Ghani would be resurrected and that the family's efforts to secure basic shelter in a harsh, remote environment were being misrepresented by prosecutors.

Prosecutors showed numerous photos of the compound and videos of some of the firearm exercises while Leveille's son was on the stand. The teen testified that the group had to stay hidden because Abdul-Ghani had been reported missing.

Early on, authorities who were searching for the boy had visited the home where they were staying in Georgia. The teen said it was soon after that his mother, stepfather and the others gathered a few belongings and began the caravan to New Mexico, where Morton owned land.

The teen said his mother had received a message from Allah that they had to move quickly. The teen was told to pack seven outfits. He also took his game console. Everything else was left behind.

A prosecutor asked about the mood the night they left Georgia.

"It felt dark and rushed and surreal," the teen testified.


Central New Mexico Community College and Central New Mexico Educators Union reach impasse in bargaining process — Alice Fordham, KUNM News


Central New Mexico Community College and the Central New Mexico Educators Union have reached an impasse in their bargaining process.

According to the union, the parties are scheduled to begin mediation with a federal mediator Thursday, after no agreement was reached by the end of August on either full or part time faculty contracts.

Union president Mark Love-Williams told KUNM in an email that the number one issue is workload for the full time faculty.

He said that since the beginning of the pandemic, educators have been expected to do things like maintain and upgrade online courses, ensure compliance with accessibility mandates and develop more new courses.

He said large segments of the full time faculty report working more than 60 hours a week to complete their duties, and that some people have left their jobs because of the workload.

Love-Williams also said that the part time faculty also face problems to include no guarantees that they will be included in scheduling from term to term, making it hard to create a liveable budget or even take on a second job.

The community college said in a statement that, “CNM considers the negotiation process with the faculty union to be ongoing and will continue to follow the confidentiality provisions required by the collective bargaining agreements.

The statement confirms plans for mediation and adds, "CNM is proud to have outstanding, dedicated faculty serving our students and will continue to negotiate in good-faith in an attempt to resolve the impasse quickly.”


Santa Fe National Forest continues prescribed burns, smoke visible around Abiquiú —  Alice Fordham, KUNM News


The Santa Fe National Forest is continuing with a prescribed fire in the Cuba Ranger District, which began at the start of this week, and which has caused smoke around Abiquiú and nearby communities.

Fire managers say that the Golondrina prescribed burn is proceeding well and that more than 1,500 acres have been burned with low-intensity fire.

They are using a combination of hand ignitions around the edge of the fire and a helicopter for ignitions in the interior of the burn.

Another burn planned for this week in the nearby Coyote Ranger District has been postponed but could begin Thursday if weather conditions are favorable.

A statement from the Santa Fe National Forest said that the objectives of the burns includes reducing juniper encroachment, enhancing foraging for wildlife and reducing the amount of flammable vegetation on the forest floor.


New Mexico to pay $650K to settle whistleblower's lawsuit involving the state's child welfare agency Associated Press


New Mexico's Children, Youth and Families Department has reached a $650,000 settlement in a whistleblower lawsuit brought by two former agency officials.

The settlement was announced Tuesday, just weeks before the case was scheduled to go to trial in a state district court in Santa Fe.

The suit was brought by former CYFD public information officer Cliff Gilmore and his wife, Debra Gilmore, who headed the agency's office of children's rights.

The couple were both fired in 2021 after raising concerns about the CYFD's practice of conducting official business through an encrypted messaging app and automatically deleting messages in potential violation of New Mexico's public records law, according to their lawsuit.

"We wanted to hold CYFD accountable and stand up for others who may have been treated the way we were," the Gilmores said in a joint statement. "We aimed to shine light on what we believed to be wrongdoing that was directly harmful to the very children that CYFD was sworn to protect."

CYFD admitted no wrongdoing or liability in agreeing to settle and an agency spokesperson declined to comment other than to say the case had been resolved and the settlement was public.