THURS: Former NMSU basketball players charged with sex crimes, + More
Former New Mexico State players charged with sex crimes in locker-room hazing case - By Eddie Pells AP National Writer
Three former New Mexico State basketball players were charged with multiple sex crimes Thursday related to a series of alleged assaults of teammates that led to the disbandment of the team in the middle of last season.
A New Mexico grand jury indicted former Aggies Deshawndre Washington, Kim Aiken Jr. and Doctor Bradley with multiple counts of criminal sexual penetration, criminal sexual conduct and false imprisonment. Washington and Bradley could face 27 years in prison if convicted on 13 charges apiece. Aiken could face 24 years on 11 charges.
In announcing the indictments, the state attorney general did not release the names of the victims. Earlier this week, two former players and a student manager filed a civil lawsuit against the school, athletic director Mario Moccia and former coaches, along with Washington, Aiken and Bradley, contending they were sexually assaulted and threatened with guns in the New Mexico State locker room.
Those allegations were similar to others lodged by former players Deuce Benjamin and Shak Odunewu in a lawsuit the school settled for $8 million earlier this year.
The lawsuits described a "humbling" ritual in which the defendants would pull down the victims' pants and sometimes grab their genitals. The descriptions were in line with findings in the school's recently completed Title IX investigation into the same players.
Thursday marked the first criminal charges stemming from what the school initially called a hazing incident. The indictments recount episodes dating from August to November 2022 in which the defendants are accused "of holding younger players and student staff against their will while they violated them. Alleged acts included multiple incidents in which they forcefully restrained victims while violently grabbing their genital area."
All three players are also charged with second-degree sexual penetration, which by itself is punishable by up to nine years in prison.
Their first court appearance is scheduled for Nov. 22 in Dona Ana County, where New Mexico State is based. No attorneys were listed for the players.
Neither Washington nor Aiken found new teams after leaving New Mexico State when the season was abruptly canceled, and the team disbanded in February. Bradley signed with Nicholls State, though a university spokesman there told TV station KTSM on Thursday that Bradley was no longer on the team.
State Attorney General Raúl Torrez has also been looking into the school's handling of the events that led to the team's season being canceled.
Players, coaches and administrators "should also be aware that while this action is an important first step in addressing this inexcusable behavior, our work in correcting the culture that allowed these crimes to occur is far from finished," Torrez said in a statement.
Nobody has been charged in the death of a University of New Mexico student shot by Aggies forward Mike Peake, who was ruled to have been acting in self-defense. Carrying guns on campus or on school-sponsored trips is against university policy and is a misdemeanor in New Mexico.
Two N.M. prison guards named three times in civil rights complaints - By Maddie Pukite, Miyawni Curtis And Austin Fisher, Source New Mexico
Corrections and clarifications were added to this story on Thursday, Nov. 9, at 11:30 p.m.
Two New Mexico correctional facility officers have been accused multiple times of abusing and harassing incarcerated people.
This past year, the prison guards Lt. Christian Trujillo and Sgt. Danny Pelayo were both named three times in civil complaints and civil rights lawsuits.
Trujillo and Pelayo work at the Northeast New Mexico Correctional Facility in Clayton.
Civil complaints allege the guards have been involved in a lengthy pattern of abuse against incarcerated people. Their personnel files show that the incidents did not prevent them from moving up the ranks. Settlement negotiations haven’t gone anywhere, court records show.
Reached for comment on the civil and criminal cases against Trujillo and Pelayo, New Mexico Corrections Department Public Information Officer Brittany Roembach did not condemn their actions arguing that “as with the justice system in our country, accusations are not findings of guilt.”
Steven Allen is one of the attorneys with the New Mexico Prison and Jail Project that is representing the incarcerated people who filed the civil lawsuits. Allen said the pattern of abuses shows there is no internal accountability within the New Mexico prison system.
“Some of these Corrections Department staff members are able to engage in what seems to be criminal behavior, and they’re able to get away with it, because very bad behavior is consistently covered up in these systems,” Allen said.
Carl Berry, a Black man who was incarcerated in Clayton, accused both guards of beating, sexually assaulting and taunting him with racial slurs in reference to the murder of George Floyd on April 15, 2021.
When Berry filed an informal complaint about the abuse, he was told it had already been referred to the Office of Professional Standards.
This office handles internal complaints and investigations against New Mexico Corrections Department employees.
Allen said their investigations bring some information to light, but are not often vigorous and are “often part of a cover up.”
“These systems are so hard to expose, they’re almost almost designed to hide information,” Allen said. “It’s like any other institution — police departments are like this — where there’s always an institutional penchant for covering up any misconduct.”
When Berry said he was assaulted in April, he was called a “PREA p – – – y” by one of the guards. PREA refers to the Prison Rape Elimination Act, the federal law that prohibits prison guards from sexually assaulting people who are incarcerated.
The New Mexico Corrections Department formally received his grievance on May 3.
Training records and another incident shows that Pelayo knew that he was not supposed to sexually harass incarcerated people.
On June 4, 2020, Pelayo indicated on a DOC self-declaration form that there had been a substantiated allegation of sexual harassment against him, but also that he had never engaged in sexual abuse or had any criminal conviction or civil adjudication against him.
On Jan. 27, 2022 he filled out another self-declaration form and left blank the section asking about whether a past claim of sexual harassment had been made against him.
On Feb. 15, 2022, he was promoted to be a sergeant.
On Sept. 13, 2022, Pelayo was allegedly involved with the harassment of Jonathan Silva, also at the prison in Clayton, according to a criminal complaint.
Shortly thereafter, he joined the emergency response team, a group that responds to violent disturbances from incarcerated people.
TRUJILLO KNEW TOO
In 2019, Trujillo signed paperwork acknowledging that he understands PREA, knows what sexual harassment is, and that he knows it is illegal.
He also swore an oath to the mission: “We commit to the safety and well-being of the people of New Mexico by doing the right thing always.”
Jonathan Silva, another person incarcerated at the same prison in Clayton, accused Trujillo of beating him on Sept. 13, 2022 while Pelayo and other guards held him down.
Video reviewed weeks later by a police officer shows Trujillo strike Silva in the head multiple times while he was held down on the floor by other guards, with his hands behind his back, according to the officer’s report.
Pictures of Silva provided proof of injury and temporary disfigurement, according to the criminal complaint.
Berry was not afforded the same proof.
New Mexico State Police Officer Edward Quintana investigated the Berry incident six hours after it happened, according to his incident report.
In the Silva case, Quintana found that Trujillo was the primary aggressor, and charged him with aggravated battery. Quintana arrested Trujilo on Jan. 3, 2023.
UPDATE: Friday, Nov. 10, 2023, at 10 p.m.:
After a weeklong trial in August in Clayton, a jury found Trujillo not guilty, according to court records. His attorney, John James D’Amato Jr., said in an interview the jurors did not believe Silva’s account. He said his client is a target because in his opinion, he is very effective at his job.
“A lot of these excessive force claims could be avoided,” D’Amato Jr. said. “I represent a lot of police officers and — just obey their commands. Listen to their orders. Everybody blames the officer but, in the first instance, if you’re given an order: obey it. If you’re given a command: obey it.”
There wasn’t enough evidence to charge the other guards involved, Quintana wrote in a criminal complaint filed in Clayton Magistrate Court.
Berry’s civil rights lawsuit accuses Officer Ashley Lawrence of harassing him in 2021. She was suspended for five days in March 2022, according to her personnel file.
Wardens and other prison and jail administrators often cite understaffing as the cause of problems in their facilities. Allen disagrees and says prisons do not have a problem with staffing.
“The problem is we have too many people in prison and jail,” Allen said. “A lot of prisons, a lot of jails, should be shut down.”
Allen said mass incarceration in the United States has been a “complete failure.”
“We’ve been doing this experiment for decades now in the United States, with incarcerating people to try and increase public safety, and it’s just clearly and obviously not working,” Allen said.
LACK OF DISCIPLINE
A review of Trujillo and Pelayo’s personnel files obtained through an Inspection of Public Records Request shows they were employed with the New Mexico Corrections Department at least through 2022.
The agency would not directly respond to questions about whether they are still employed.
Roembach responded with general comments to questions about the allegations, but did not answer several questions specific to Pelayo and Trujillo.
Not reporting an instance of harassment is against state Corrections Department policy, Roembach said.
Corrections officials will only take disciplinary action against guards if internal investigators determine the force they used was excessive, Roembach wrote.
Any reports by incarcerated people of abuse are investigated internally.
“While an investigation is active, the accused staff member may be placed on administrative leave or required to work in a different area, if the circumstances of the incident deem it necessary,” Roembach wrote in statement.
Trujillo’s arrest warrant was filed after the Silva incident.
Months after Pelayo was present during Silva’s harassment, the incident that led to Trujillo’s arrest by state police, he left blank a self-declaration form asking if he had any past claims of harassment.
In February 2022 Pelayo was promoted to sergeant.
Trujillo has held at least six jobs at the prison since 2013, according to his personnel file. He was first promoted in 2017, and has been promoted five times since.
“You do often see the OPS investigator coming from that same facility, or asking leading questions to get to the result they want,” Allen said. “The result they want is almost always a lack of accountability for Corrections Department staff.”
There was no public accountability for the abuse until Berry filed a civil rights lawsuit with the New Mexico Prison and Jail Project in April 2023.
Berry and his attorneys on Sept. 14 offered to settle with the New Mexico Corrections Department. It was not accepted.
As of October, both Berry and the guards were handing over evidence and witness testimony about the incident to a judge.
Attorneys with The Prison and Jail Project allege Steve Watkins was sexually assaulted during the same incident on the same day as Berry. The group is also representing him in a separate civil rights suit filed in federal court.
In Watkins’ civil rights case, the incarcerated people and the prison guards are gathering evidence, documents and testimony for trial. On Oct. 20, the guards’ legal team filed a demand for Berry to hand over evidence in the Watkins case.
His case is scheduled for a trial in November 2024.
Silva filed a civil rights complaint over the beating in January.
Studies show 95% of people who go into prison will eventually get out.
Allen said even if one does not care about human and civil rights, people should because how others are treated while on the inside correlates to how they will integrate back into society.
“We should be doing a lot more for these people than simply ensuring that they aren’t getting the crap beaten out of them for no reason,” Allen said.
1) The first sentence of the story has been replaced because it is not known whether the two guards still work for the Corrections Department.
2) The date that Carl Berry said he was assaulted by guards has been corrected.
3) It is unclear whether Trujillo and Pelayo were still employed by the Corrections Department after April 12, 2023.
4) The arrest warrant for Trujillo was filed after the incident involving Silva.
5) Information about the frequency with which Trujillo was promoted has been removed.
1) The incident which the State Police investigated six hours after the fact has been clarified.
2) More specific attributions have been added throughout the story.
3) This article was updated to include the outcome of the trial for Lt. Christian Trujillo.
Governors call for more funds to secure places of worship as threats toward Jews and Muslims rise - By Joey Cappelletti Associated Press
A Democratic group of governors led by Michigan's Gretchen Whitmer have joined national leaders in calling for an increase in funding for security at places of worship as concerns grow over threats against Jewish and Muslim communities sparked by the Israel-Hamas war.
Governors of 10 states and the territory of Puerto Rico sent a letter Wednesday, first obtained by The Associated Press, that was addressed to leaders in both chambers of the U.S. Congress. It calls for an increase in funding to the federal Nonprofit Security Grant Program, which is set to give $305 million this year to nonprofits to help secure their facilities against potential attacks.
"My fellow governors and I are calling for an increase to the federal Nonprofit Security Grant Program so we can help keep people safe amid rising threats and violence targeted towards Jewish, Muslim, and Arab communities and houses of worship," Whitmer said in a statement.
The letter echoes calls from other national Democrats to increase the program's funds to address concerns over potential hate crimes motivated by the Israel-Hamas war. President Joe Biden asked for an additional $200 million for the security grant program in a supplemental budget request last month.
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said on social media Monday that he was asking for an additional $1 billion for the grant program to "counter acts of hate targeting places of worship and gathering like schools, religious community and senior centers," and more. Other U.S. senators, including Nevada's Jacky Rosen, have made similar requests.
In addition to Whitmer, the letter was signed by Democratic governors in Wisconsin, North Carolina, New Mexico, New York, New Jersey, Minnesota, Colorado, Louisiana, Maryland and Puerto Rico. They asked for "swift consideration" of the funding increase "in light of ongoing concerns within our states and territories."
The letter cites the fatal stabbing of a 6-year-old Muslim boy in Chicago and a man arrested in Michigan after saying he wanted to hunt Palestinians as examples of the rising hate crimes related to the Israel-Hamas war. The increased fears of violence follow a familiar pattern of crimes against Jewish and Muslim communities rising when conflict erupts in the Middle East and Americans have been killed or taken hostage.
"Vigilance comes at a cost, and we must ensure our constituencies who are threatened by violence have the robust supports they need to stay safe," the letter says. "We must secure the safety of our homeland, especially at its heart — where people gather to find comfort and identity in their faiths, cultures, and beliefs."
In its annual report released last month, the FBI estimated hate crimes increased by 7% to 11,634 cases in 2022 compared to the previous year. With 1,124 incidents, anti-Jewish attacks were the second-most reported hate crime, after anti-Black cases. There were 158 reported incidents of anti-Muslim attacks and 92 reports of anti-Arab cases, according to the report.
States across the U.S. are looking for ways to bolster security in the wake of threats. In New York, state education officials on Tuesday announced the release of $45 million in existing funds for school safety equipment for non-public schools to address the rise in antisemitism and anti-Muslim threats. Schools including Islamic or Jewish schools will now be able to access the money immediately.
"As our communities face increased threats and violence in our schools statewide, these funds will help ensure safety and peace of mind for our students, staff, and families," Khadijah Jean Pryce, head of Islamic Cultural Center School in Manhattan, said in a statement.
Associated Press writers Maysoon Khan in Albany, New York, and Mary Clare Jalonick in Washington contributed to this report.
Man charged in shooting over Spanish conquistador statue appeals detention order pending trial - By Morgan Lee Associated Press
A judge's order to deny bail is being challenged by a New Mexico man charged with attempted murder in the September shooting of a Native American activist during confrontations about canceled plans to reinstall a statue of a Spanish conquistador, according to court documents obtained Tuesday.
Attorneys for defendant Ryan David Martinez, 23, are urging the New Mexico Court of Appeals to overturn a court order that keeps him jailed pending trial on charges that also include assault with a deadly weapon and potential sentence enhancements on alleged hate-crime and weapons violations.
The man from Sandia Park has pleaded not guilty to all charges in the Sept. 28 shooting at a protest 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. Chaos erupted at the gathering as a single shot was fired in events recorded by bystanders' cell phones and a surveillance camera.
Multiple videos show Martinez attempting to rush toward a shrine in opposition to installing the statue on that spot — only for Martinez to be blocked physically by a group of men. Voices can be heard saying, "Let him go," as Martinez retreats over a short wall, pulls a handgun from his waist and fires one shot.
The appeal of the detention order argues that bail was denied arbitrarily in a decision that stems from "false narratives" and insufficient evidence.
"Even where there is a finding of potential for failure to appear or danger to the community, the defendant is still entitled to release if those issues may be reasonably controlled by conditions of release," the appeal states.
Defense attorneys Nicole Moss and Ray Marshall described three men in the crowd — including the man who was shot — as the instigators and say Martinez only pulled out a lawfully permitted concealed handgun after being tackled.
"Mr. Martinez will have a strong argument for self-defense to the underlying charge," the appeal states.
Prosecutors say they expect the pretrial detention order to be upheld.
"We disagree with the defense's assessment, and so did Judge Jason Lidyard," said Nathan Lederman, a spokesperson for the Santa Fe-based district attorney's office.
The Court of Appeals could call on the attorney general's office to respond.
"Mr. Martinez poses a threat to the community and if released no conditions of release would reasonably protect the community," said agency spokesperson Lauren Rodriguez.
Lidyard authorized a trial and denied bail for Martinez after nearly five hours of court testimony and a review of video evidence. He ruled that Martinez should have known he was provoking a crowd with contrary views about the conquistador statue after arriving with loaded, concealed weapons on his waist and in his car.
Lidyard overruled a public safety assessment for Martinez that recommended pretrial release for a defendant with no prior criminal convictions or failures to appear in court. He highlighted aggressive conduct by Martinez, including expletives directed at a sheriff's deputy and bystanders at the demonstration and past violent threats in social media posts against the U.S. Federal Reserve. Lidyard also highlighted testimony that Martinez appeared to be converting semi-automatic guns at home into automatic weapons.
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.
An attorney for Johns expressed confidence in the judge's detention ruling.
"The reality is everyone has seen the video where Martinez is aggressive and violent and pulls a gun on unarmed people," attorney John Day said. "Judge Lidyard was very careful and methodical when he made his ruling."
New Mexico revisits tax credits for electric vehicles after governor's veto - Associated Press
The administration of New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham used a legislative hearing Monday to outline new priorities for state credits toward the purchase of electric vehicles that would aid low-income residents as well as small businesses.
Taxation and Revenue Department Secretary Stephanie Schardin Clarke told a panel of legislators the administration envisions tax credits that would provide a refund for low-income residents toward the purchase of a electric or plug-in electric vehicle.
She said the credit likely would apply to new and used vehicles, mimicking federal incentives.
That would ensure that people with the lowest incomes and have the lowest tax liability can fully participate, Schardin Clarke said.
She also signaled support for corporate income tax credits to spur deployment of electric vehicles by small businesses, an offer that wouldn't apply to large vehicle fleets.
Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, intends to pursue tax credits for electric vehicles during the upcoming legislative session, starting in January 2024. Bills have not yet been introduced.
In April, the governor vetoed a package of tax credits from Democrats in the legislative majority designed to rein in climate change and reduce fossil fuel consumption, including a credit of up to $4,000 toward the purchase of an electric vehicle — indicating that she wasn't satisfied with provisions.
Schardin Clarke said the appropriate size of tax credits for electric vehicles is still under study.
Monday's hearing also explored aspirations and concerns surrounding proposed rules for automakers to provide an increasing number of electric cars and trucks for sale in New Mexico. Republicans in the legislative minority pilloried that plan as impractical for residents of rural swaths of the state and a threat to local vehicle dealerships.
Last year's Inflation Reduction Act provided a federal tax credit of up to $7,500 to use toward certain EVs. Starting in 2024, people who want to buy a new or used electric or plug-in hybrid vehicle will be able to get U.S. government income tax credits at the time of purchase.
Santa Fe voters approve tax on mansions as housing prices soar — Morgan Lee, Associated Press
Voters have approved a tax on mansions to pay for affordable housing initiatives in New Mexico's capital city of Santa Fe.
Uncertified election results on Wednesday show that nearly three-fourths of ballots were cast in favor of the new tax on home sales of over $1 million, in a city prized for its high-desert vistas, vibrant arts scene and stucco architecture.
The ballot measure was pitched as a lifeline to teachers, service-sector workers, single parents and youth professionals who can't afford local mortgages or struggle to pay rent amid a national housing shortage and the arrival in Santa Fe of high-income digital nomads.
Santa Fe resident and state Rep. Andrea Romero said the tax galvanized voters and will shore up spending for local affordable housing in perpetuity.
"It's just exactly in the nexus of what matters," said Romero, a Democrat who led a fundraising and educational effort in support of the tax. "Truly, we're in a crisis."
Tuesday's vote signals newfound public support for so-called mansion taxes to fund affordable housing and stave off homelessness.
Voters in Los Angeles last year approved a tiered-rate tax on residential and commercial real estate sales of $5 million or more to address housing shortages, while Chicago may ask voters next year whether to raise real estate transfer taxes, starting with sales over $1 million, to fight homelessness.
The city of Santa Fe estimates that the tax would generate about $6 million annually for its affordable housing trust fund, which underwrites price-restricted housing, down-payment assistance for low-income homebuyers and rental assistance to stave off financial hardship and evictions. The trust awards funds each year to affordable housing providers who can secure matching funds from other government and nonprofit sources.
The new tax is levied against the buyer for residential property sales of $1 million or more — with no tax on the first $1 million in value.
On a $1.2 million home sale, for example, the new tax would apply to $200,000 in value. The buyer would pay $6,000 to the city's affordable housing trust fund.
Santa Fe voters previously shied away from prominent tax initiatives, rejecting a 1% tax on high-end home sales in 2009 and defeating a tax on sugary drinks to expand early childhood education in 2017.
The city of roughly 90,000 residents is in the midst of a building boom, with thousands of recently approved housing units gradually coming online within city limits since 2021 — but most new units rent at free-market rates that can strain personal or family finances.
Meanwhile, more than 400 single family homes sold for more than $1 million across Santa Fe in 2022, according to a city-commissioned analysis.
The Santa Fe Association of Realtors has filed a lawsuit aimed at blocking the voter-approved tax, arguing that the city overstepped its authority under state law by extending an excise tax beyond services and goods, such as tobacco and vehicles, to real estate.
Association President Drew Lamprich said the tax falls on the buyer's side of the ledger in a home sale, but ultimately has implications for the seller and overall home values in the city.
"We're just validating that they have the legal right to do this," he said. "Ultimately it needs to go to the state level to adjust the state statutes, if that's what the voters want."
Moderate 5.3 magnitude earthquake recorded in sparsely populated West Texas county — Associated Press
An earthquake struck a sparsely populated and remote area of West Texas on Wednesday, the U.S. Geological Survey reported, and the temblor could be felt hundreds of miles away.
The USGS reports the 5.3 magnitude quake shook Loving County, on the border with New Mexico, shortly before 4:30 a.m. about 23 miles southwest of the unincorporated town of Mentone.
A 5.3 magnitude earthquake is considered a moderate temblor that can damage buildings, according to the USGS. However, no damage or injury was reported. A message left with the county sheriff's office Wednesday was not returned.
The Census Bureau reports that Loving County, one of the least populated counties in the U.S., had an estimated population of 51 in 2022 and Mentone has a population of about 10.
Reports to the USGS said the earthquake was felt as far away as Ferris, Texas, some 437 miles east of Mentone in the Dallas area.
The earthquake was followed by three other quakes, the strongest of which was recorded at a 3.4 magnitude and comes nearly a year after another 5.3 magnitude temblor was recorded in the same area.