FRI: Hate crime allegations added in latest Oñate statue shooting case, + More
Prosecutors add hate crime allegations in shooting over Spanish conquistador statue - Associated Press
State prosecutors added hate-crime allegations Thursday to charges of attempted murder against a New Mexico man accused in the shooting of a Native American activist amid confrontations about aborted plans to reinstall a statue of a Spanish conquistador in public, at a court hearing Thursday in northern New Mexico.
Defendant Ryan David Martinez pleaded not guilty to all charges at the arraignment overseen by a district court judge from a courthouse in TierraAmarilla.
Assistant District Attorney Tony Long indicated that his office will pursue sentence enhancements based on the use of a firearm and try to prove that the shooting was motivated by bias against a particular social group.
Martinez was arrested on Sept. 28 after chaos erupted and a single shot was fired at an outdoor gathering in Española over canceled plans to install a bronze likeness of conquistador Juan de Oñate, who is both revered and reviled for his role in establishing early settlements along the Upper Rio Grande starting in 1598.
The shooting severely wounded Jacob Johns, of Spokane, Washington, a well-traveled activist for environmental causes and an advocate for Native American rights who is of Hopi and Akimel O'odham tribal descent.
He had joined other advocates for Native American rights as they celebrated with song, prayer and speeches the county's decision not to install the statue that day.
Under state law, a hate-crime sentence enhancement could extend prison time by up to a year. The firearm-related enhancements could add up to eight years in prison.
Initial felony charges against Martinez carry possible sentences of up to 16 years and six months in prison, along with possible fines and parole, Long told the court. A misdemeanor charge of reckless driving could add up to 90 days in prison.
State District Court Judge Jason Lidyard scheduled a jury trial for May 2024. He has ordered that Martinez remain in jail pending trial.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to renew public health order targeting gun violence – Bryce Dix, KUNM News
A two-month-old public health executive order issued by Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham targeting gun violence and substance use was renewed Friday.
In a statement, the Governor said work, especially by law enforcement, is yielding real results. But, added “now is no time to slow down, and we will continue our efforts to eradicate gun violence.”
According to the Governor’s Office, local authorities have seized 86 guns and arrested more than 1,400 people in Bernalillo County since the original order was issued.
On September 7, Lujan Grisham declared a public health emergency and implemented a controversial ban on publicly carrying guns in Bernalillo County.
After legal challenges, the broad ban was quickly narrowed to apply only to parks and playgrounds.
Other than addressing gun violence, the order also requires school wastewater is tested for fentanyl and waives social service permission to book juveniles into jail.
In a statement sent to KUNM, spokesperson Maddy Hayden said 7 of the 29 young people detained in the month of October wouldn't have been before the executive order was issued.
The renewal extends the emergency to Dec. 1, 2023.
State police to host gun buy-back events across NM Saturday - By Nash Jones, KUNM News
As part of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s public health order to reduce gun violence, New Mexico State Police must host gun buy-back events. As the order is renewed through the end of the month, the department is set to hold three events across the state Saturday, Nov. 4.
The buy-back events are no-questions-asked. Chief of the New Mexico State Police Troy Weisler described them in a statement as a, “safe, anonymous way to surrender unwanted weapons.”
One of tomorrow’s events will be held at Expo New Mexico in Albuquerque. Attendees should enter at Gate 6, south of Lomas. Española will also have one at the Robert Gordy Vigil Regional Sportsplex. Meanwhile, Las Cruces-area residents can surrender their firearms at the New Mexico Game and Fish office.
Incentives to participate include Visa and American Express giftcards, according to the Governor’s Office.
Those who turn in handguns will get $200, while longguns will garner $300. The guns do not have to be in working order, but can be.
3 former New Mexico State basketball violated school sexual harassment policies, according to report - Associated Press
Three former New Mexico State men's basketball players violated school sexual harassment policies, according to an investigation conducted by an independent contractor hired by the university to review sexual harassment allegations, a local newspaper reported.
The Las Cruces Sun-News reported Wednesday that it obtained a copy of the investigation report completed for the university's Office of Institutional Equity. According to the report, the three players violated school Title IX policies regarding sexual harassment, fondling and conduct resulting in a hostile environment and interferes with a victim's academic or work performance.
The former players and other parties have a right to appeal the determination. It was not immediately clear Thursday if any appeals had been filed.
The independent contractor wrote in the notice of determination that the former players' conduct would have warranted expulsion had they still be subject to NMSU jurisdiction.
The school's basketball program was thrust into the spotlight last year as the season was marred first by a deadly shooting on a rival campus after a New Mexico State basketball player was ambushed in retaliation for a brawl that broke out in the stands at a football game weeks earlier. Then came a hazing scandal that ultimately forced the school to revamp the basketball program and begin a campaign to ensure nothing like it would happen again.
University officials reiterated Thursday that since the allegations surfaced, NMSU launched multiple investigations, canceled the remainder of the previous basketball season, terminated the previous head coach, and started putting safeguards in place.
"We now have a completely new coaching staff and a completely different group of student-athletes in place, and we look forward to them representing this university with integrity," university spokesperson Justin Bannister said in a statement.
In June, New Mexico State agreed to pay $8 million to settle a lawsuit involving two basketball players who said teammates sexually assaulted them.
In their lawsuit, Deuce Benjamin and Shak Odunewu described being ganged up on and assaulted on more than one occasion. Odunewu said that one time, after seeing Benjamin being assaulted, he asked a coach to do something, and the coach responded by laughing and asking, "What do you want me to do about it?"
Benjamin went to campus police after one of the assaults, which led to the abrupt cancellation of the 2022-23 season and the firing of then-coach Greg Heiar.
The Associated Press normally does not identify alleged victims of sexual assault, but Benjamin and Odunewu had both agreed to let their names be used in both the lawsuit and subsequent media interviews.
A report issued earlier this year as part of the school's investigation noted that two instances of possible Title IX violations had been reported to the Office of Institutional Equity involving members of the basketball team. The first was when the office received a phone call in early January. The second came after Benjamin went to New Mexico State University police in February alleging multiple instances that were described as hazing at the time.
Joleen Youngers, who represented the Benjamin family in the lawsuit, told the Sun-News that the Title IX notice of determination vindicated the lawsuit.
"This wasn't just hazing," Youngers said. "That view was supported by the hearing officer's evaluation."
The notice stated that the three former players were found to have routinely "humbled" a fellow player by forcing them to pull down their pants and perform tasks in view of fellow players, managers and other onlookers. The notice also outlines nonconsensual touching by the former players.
The state attorney general's office also continues to look into possible criminal charges in the case.
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.”
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 Arizona 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 (24 kilometers) 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 (1,046-kilometer-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.