THURS: 2020 Oñate statue shooter will not serve prison time at victims’ request, + More
At victims’ request, 2020 Oñate statue shooter will not serve prison time - By Austin Fisher, Source New Mexico
In line with the wishes of the people he harmed more than three years ago, Steven Ray Baca will not spend any more time in jail.
Baca, 34, is a failed Albuquerque City Council candidate and Trump supporter who brought a concealed handgun to a peaceful protest on June 15, 2020 at the statue depicting Spanish colonizer Juan de Oñate called La Jornada at Tiguex Park in Albuquerque’s Old Town neighborhood.
No one showed aggression toward Baca that day, but video shows him come up from behind Vivian Norman, grab her shoulders and throw her to the ground, injuring her legs. He pleaded guilty to battery for this in September.
In court on Wednesday, Norman said she has experienced overwhelming pain and confusion since. What’s most telling about Baca’s attacks, she said, “is that he targeted only women, especially individuals smaller than him.”
“Baca was not acting in protection of anything, but rather he was taking out his frustrations on people he felt were easy targets,” Norman said.
Video shows Baca grab Julie Harris on her shoulder and head, and body slam her onto a concrete sidewalk. He pleaded no contest to aggravated battery causing great bodily harm for this attack.
Baca claimed he threw Harris to the ground because he “only intended to reach my friend,” but Second Judicial District Court Judge Brett Loveless corrected him, saying he did it “because he was angry.”
Harris said she will never get back the three-and-a-half years since the attack, which caused her profound depression and crippling anxiety. She said the crowd, including Scott Williams, acted reasonably when they tried to chase him away from the protest.
“Mr. Baca could have left,” Loveless said.
Video shows Baca shoot Williams four times in the back at close range with a .40-caliber handgun. Prosecutors initially charged Baca with aggravated battery with a deadly weapon, but Special Prosecutor David Foster chose not to prosecute him for it.
Baca pleaded guilty to unlawful carrying of a deadly weapon. It would have been legal for him to openly carry the gun, Loveless said.
Foster said Baca’s decision to bring a gun to a protest, lawful or not, was “a serious error in judgment.”
Diego Esquibel, one of Baca’s two private attorneys in the case, said his client “knew there was an issue” when he concealed his handgun, but he saw the crowd react negatively to New Mexico Civil Guard members who were openly carrying.
Although Baca and the New Mexico Civil Guard were not affiliated, local prosecutors said his actions contributed to the hostile environment created by the right-wing militia.
“He had a right to bring a gun, but it was not wise,” Loveless said.
Esquibel said Baca’s actions were “a one-time incident for him.” He said Baca only went to the protest because his friend attended.
INCARCERATION IS NOT THE ANSWER
Williams has said putting Baca in prison would not change anything for the better. Baca’s two other victims and the judge came to similar conclusions Wednesday.
“I believe time behind bars will only make Baca more violent, and more likely to harm unsuspecting women,” Norman said.
“Prison time does not make people kinder or less violent,” Harris said. “I so strongly believe that the violence that we show others is the violence that we cannot address toward ourselves, that we really feel toward ourselves.”
Foster asked the judge to put Baca in prison for one year, and then put him on probation for another.
Loveless agreed with the victims, entirely suspending the sentence of two years minus one day in prison for the remaining charges against Baca.
“I do not believe incarceration would be fruitful or appropriate,” Loveless said.
Instead, Loveless sentenced Baca to anger management courses because of his “inability to control his temper.” He also sentenced him to whatever treatment will be required by the New Mexico Corrections Department Probation and Parole Division.
Under the terms of his probation, for the next two years Baca will not be allowed to consume any alcohol or illegal drugs, he cannot contact any witnesses or victims in the case and he cannot possess any guns.
Baca must also take regular drug tests, maintain full-time employment or education, volunteer for 250 hours, and tell his probation officer whenever he goes to work in Colorado.
He said in a written statement to the court he intends to move away from New Mexico.
NOT THE ONLY OÑATE MONUMENT SHOOTING
Baca’s attacks came during a summer of protests in 2020 over the police murder of George Floyd, and the destruction or removal of more than 160 monuments to the Confederacy — including the removal of the Spanish colonial statues in Alcalde, Santa Fe and Albuquerque.
A similar, more recent case in a different part of New Mexico was mentioned three times during Baca’s sentencing on Wednesday.
In that case, a man drove more than an hour from his home in the foothills near Albuquerque to Española where he provoked a crowd, shot someone, assaulted someone else and fled south until he was stopped by a tribal police officer.
He had blamed Albuquerque mayor Tim Keller for what Baca did, and trolled online commentators expressing sadness at the violence. He is in jail until trial.
Baca was initially held in jail for a week. Foster said putting Baca behind bars again would both punish him and deter others from doing what he did.
“It would send the message that you don’t bring guns to these sorts of encounters,” Foster said.
Harris said gun violence around statues in New Mexico is “a pervasive problem that needs to be addressed.”
“In this day and age, judge, we as a society have lots of political disagreements, but we cannot tolerate taking out those disagreements through violence,” said Tova Indritz, Norman’s attorney.
Norman said Baca’s attacks were acts of cowardice.
“Some of the other witnesses experienced attempts at intimidation from individuals who ideologically align with Baca,” she said. “Someone’s house was shot up and another witness had a man show up armed at his front door. I stand here to remind you that we will not be intimidated by acts of cowardice and violence.”
Ethics complaint filed against ABQ District 4 City Councilor incumbent Brook Bassan - Albuquerque Journal, KUNM News
Earlier this week, a resident in Albuquerque’s 4th district filed an ethics complaint against City Councilor Brook Bassan –– accusing the councilor and her policy analyst of changing voter registration records in order to encourage a contribution to the campaign and garner a potential vote for Bassan’s re-election.
Asthe Albuquerque Journal reports, 4-year resident David Esdale wrote that Bassan is “using her position as a City Councilor and direct supervisor of (policy analyst Dawn Marie) Emilio to encourage and consent for Emilio to change her voter registration and vote for Bassan.”
Bassan called the complaint a “dirty trick” to distract voters before election day.
In an email to the Journal, Bassan’s policy analyst said she would not be voting in the district 4 election, but from the district she currently lives in.
City Clerk Ethan Watson says letters to both parties should be sent Thursday to give an update if the case will be referred in full or in part to the Board of Ethics.
However, the complaint won’t be addressed until after the local elections. That’s because a city charter prohibits the ethics authority from adjudicating a complaint at a certain point before an election.
Las Vegas NM police chief investigated for domestic violence incident - Las Vegas Optic, KUNM News
Las Vegas Chief of Police Antonio Salazar is on paid administrative leave pending the results of an investigation into alleged domestic violence and possible child endangerment.
The Las Vegas Optic reports Salazar’s girlfriend called the Las Vegas police on October 4 to report that Salazar had tackled her when a child was in the room. The State Police then took over the investigation to avoid a conflict of interest, according to police reports.
Both parties told police they’d initially been “messing around.” Salazar’s girlfriend told police that he then painfully grabbed her wrists and wouldn’t let go, so she struck him in the face. She said he then grabbed her and pushed her to the ground. The woman had red marks on her arm, according to police photos.
Salazar says his reaction to being slapped was to do a “double-leg takedown” and “guided her to the ground.”
The girlfriend called investigators days after the incident to identify herself as the “aggressor” in the altercation. According to incident reports, she said she wasn’t being coerced to say so and that Salazar’s role in the city police department wasn’t a factor.
No charges have been filed in the case. Salazar will remain on leave until the investigation is complete, according to Mayor Louie Trujillo.
Cattle grazing is ruining the habitat of 2 endangered bird species along Gila River, lawsuit says - Associated Press
Two environmental groups have filed a lawsuit against the federal Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for allegedly failing to protect the habitat for two endangered species of birds along Arizona's Gila River.
The Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity and Maricopa Audubon Society said damage from cattle grazing is decimating the streams that the southwestern willow flycatcher and western yellow-billed cuckoo rely on.
The lawsuit filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Tucson targets seven grazing allotments spanning 15 miles of the river downstream from Coolidge Dam.
The environmental groups said field surveys this year and in 2022 documented open gates, downed fences and extensive damage to the Gila River's riparian vegetation.
Officials with the Center for Biological Diversity said they filed two notices of intent to sue the agencies following the surveys, but cattle grazing continued along the river that extends into New Mexico.
They said up to 75% of Arizona's resident wildlife species depend on riparian areas for their survival.
The Gila River is a nearly 650-mile-long tributary of the Colorado River and flows through parts of Arizona and New Mexico.
Calls to the Bureau of Land Management and the Fish and Wildlife Service seeking comment on the lawsuit weren't immediately returned Thursday.
Albuquerque City Council will look at controlled encampments again as an injunction takes effect – Albuquerque Journal
A court injunction is now in effect that prohibits the city of Albuquerque from throwing away the possessions of people living on the street. It also blocks the city from forcing people who are unhoused from public spaces unless it’s school property or the encampment blocks a public right of way, like sidewalks.
The Albuquerque Journal reports a Bernalillo County District Court judge ruled in September there were not enough shelter beds for all the unhoused people in the city. They totaled at least 2,400 at the beginning of this year, although advocates say the actual number is probably higher.
The city has asked the New Mexico Supreme Court to intervene against the injunction and for clarification about its scope. A spokesperson for the city said people are notified when officials ask them to vacate a public area, and that the city would increase shelter capacity as the injunction took effect.
Unhoused folks told the Journal they have lost identity documents and other valuables when city officials clear encampments.
The city council will consider a proposal at its November 8 meeting that would require staff to find locations and submit applications for three outdoor sanctioned encampments. The council passed a zoning code update last year allowing for the safe spaces, but then legislation was filed to prevent the city from accepting applications.
Reading and writing proficiency are up, while math fell among NM students - Albuquerque Journal, KUNM News
The New Mexico Public Education Department released long-awaited standardized test results Wednesday with mixed results.
The Albuquerque Journal reports reading and writing proficiency statewide rose about 4% from the prior school year.
Education Secretary Arsenio Romero called the change “significant,” adding that he feels confident the state can achieve double-digit gains next year.
However, math levels faltered a bit, sinking one percentage point.
Department officials argue this last school year was a stabilizing one, though forward momentum is crucial.
They pointed to teacher training around reading for the progress in that subject. They say they’re now developing training for math teachers.
New Mexico sees first flu cases of the season - By Nash Jones, KUNM News
As the weather took a steep drop this week, New Mexico reported its first cases of flu.
The state Department of Health says its Scientific Laboratory Division confirmed two infections, one in northern New Mexico and one in the south.
Secretary Patrick Allen said in a statement that the far-reaching spread of the cases shows the department that the state is likely to confirm more cases in the coming weeks.
He recommended New Mexicans six months and older get their flu vaccine now while cases are low. He also encouraged people to get an updated COVID shot.
Deputy Secretary Laura Parajon clarified that while the vaccines for each respiratory virus won’t prevent a person from getting them, they will reduce how sick they get.
N.M. housing nonprofit wins $3.5M federal grant to update energy efficiency in buildings - By Danielle Prokop, Source New Mexico
A southern New Mexico nonprofit will receive a $3.5 million federal grant that will facilitate upgrades to their building and for other nonprofits to spend on making their buildings energy-efficient.
The Tierra Del Sol Housing Corporation in Las Cruces is one of nine recipients of $45 million from the U.S. Department of Energy. The program picked nine “prime recipients” who will distribute funds, and manage any programs for smaller “subrecipient” nonprofits.
Tierra Del Sol manages low-income apartments and senior housing across southern New Mexico and far west Texas, provides temporary housing for farmworkers, and constructs low-income housing, according to theirwebsite.
Executive Director Rosa Garcia told Source NM that the nonprofit will provide funding to other nonprofits such as programs at Doña Ana Community College, New Mexico State University, faith groups and housing nonprofits in Arizona and Texas to upgrade a total of 17 buildings.
“Each one lays out specific improvements, and then each of us have to match it,” she said.
The money would be used in offices, or in the case of religious organizations, their parish halls or other facilities, Garcia said.
The $3.5 million grant will require a nearly $900,000 match from nonprofits, according to the grant’s website.
Garcia said the organization was waiting on further details from the federal government on when the money will come down, or how much was approved for each organization.
Last year, the nonprofit received $1.6 million in earmarks from U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich for the planning and engineering costs to build 14 low-income entirely electric houses in Columbus, New Mexico.