FRI: New Mexico energy regulator who led crackdown on methane pollution is leaving her post, + More
New Mexico energy regulator who led crackdown on methane pollution is leaving her post- Associated Press
A top state regulator of the petroleum industry in New Mexico who helped implement new restrictions on methane pollution and waste is leaving her post at year's end, the governor's office announced Thursday.
Sarah Cottrell Propst is ending her five-year tenure as secretary of the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department — a period that saw an unprecedented expansion of oil and natural gas production. New Mexico is the nation's No. 2 oil producer.
Advanced oil-drilling techniques have unlocked massive amounts of natural gas from New Mexico's portion of the Permian Basin, which extends into Texas, while producers sometimes struggle to fully gather and transport the gas.
State oil and gas regulators recently updated regulations to limit methane venting and flaring at petroleum production sites to rein in releases and unmonitored burning of the potent climate warming gas, with some allowances for emergencies and mandatory reporting.
In a statement, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham praised Cottrell Propst for responsible stewardship of natural resources that limited local climate pollution.
She also highlighted Cottrell Propst's role in negotiating 2019 legislation that set benchmarks for modernizing the state's electrical grid with the integration of more electricity production from solar and wind installations.
Cottrell Propst has led an agency with more than 550 employees with responsibilities ranging from forest health to oversight of 35 state parks.
Santa Fe school officials to ask lawmakers to boost bus drivers' pay- Santa Fe New MexicanSanta Fe Public Schools officials’ decision to discontinue seven bus routes due to a lack of drivers went into effect this week, leaving hundreds of students and families across the district in a transportation bind.
During a Thursday night meeting, the school board considered solutions — including asking for state action to boost bus drivers’ pay — to the districts’ critical shortage of bus drivers.
The district is trying to cover 39 bus routes — down from more than 60 two years ago — with just 29 drivers, Superintendent Hilario “Larry” Chavez told the board.
The paused bus routes are impacting students at Tesuque and Chaparral elementary schools, El Dorado Community School, El Camino Real Academy, Milagro and Ortiz middle schools, Mandela International Magnet School, the Early College Opportunities high school, Capital High and Santa Fe High.
“Those drivers, we want to tip our hats to because they are pulling off an amazing job of doubling routes [and] covering routes,” Chavez said.
So far, the district has offered per diem stipends to families willing to use their own vehicles to transport students as well as established hubs at elementary schools — with the exception of Atalaya, Chaparral and Tesuque — to transport students to and from Milagro Middle School, Mandela International Magnet School and Early College Opportunities and Santa Fe high schools.
“It’s just been an ongoing struggle, and our staff has bent over backwards to get kids to school,” said board Vice President Sascha Anderson. “I know that that’s hard for folks who are impacted to see, but I know that everyone’s doing absolutely everything that they can do.”
Still, the canceled routes make it more difficult for many Santa Fe students to get to school — a change that may worsen the district’s already-low attendance and proficiency rates.
The district is monitoring students who made it to school through the altered bus routes and those who did not, Chavez said.
The main challenge making it harder to find school bus drivers: low pay.
School bus drivers are paid $19 an hour, Chavez said — up from $15 an hour about a year ago — with paid training hours available for prospective drivers to earn their commercial licenses.
But $19 an hour doesn’t go very far in Santa Fe, he noted.
Cesario Flores, the district’s transportation director, recently said most bus drivers in the district work around five to six hours a day, split between the early morning and afternoon, for an average of 30 to 33 hours a week.
“Because of cost of living, it really does impact us a little differently than other communities,” Chavez said.
The answer may lie in new legislation mandating and funding pay increases for bus drivers.
Legislation increasing school bus driver pay is not a new concept in New Mexico. In 2021, state Sen. Pete Campos introduced a bill requiring school bus drivers be paid at least $150 per day of work.
The bill never advanced past the Senate Education Committee.
Chavez has told Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s office and the Public Education Department about the challenges Santa Fe Public Schools has faced in bus driver staffing.
The next step, he said, is requesting support from Santa Fe’s state lawmakers to push for an increase in bus driver pay during the 2024 legislative session.
“Our legislators that represent us really know what we went through — and so I think they would be behind it,” Chavez said.
Virgin Galactic lays off 185 employees; will pause flights from Spaceport in 2024- Source New Mexico
Virgin Galactic announced 185 employee layoffs and that the company will “take a pause” for near-space tourism flights from Spaceport America in 2024.
In an announcement on Wednesday, just under 40% of the layoffs will be people working in New Mexico, according to a Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) letter sent to the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions.
None of the 73 employees are represented by a union, according to the notice.
Technicians, mechanics, inspectors, engineers, controllers, welders and an astronaut instructor, were all New Mexico positions included in the layoffs.
Virgin Galactic declined an interview and did not provide answers to emailed questions from Source NM determining which positions were laid off, or if there were severance packages.
The cuts to staff and flights will save money for Virgin Galactic to “redirect our resources” and build its new class of suborbital spaceplanes, said CEO Michael Colglazier in anall-staff memo.
The manufacturing site for “Delta-class” ships is still under construction in Phoenix, Arizona, with officials saying it will be online sometime next year.
In the third-quarter earnings call, Colglazier said Wednesday that the six near-space suborbital commercial flights out of Spaceport America “demonstrated the efficacy” of Virgin Galactic’s system.
“We are now stepping forward and placing all focus on safely, efficiently and successfully executing the Delta program,” he said.
He said after cuts, the company’s $1.1 billion balance should carry the company to 2026, when the Delta-class flights can carry paying customers. This would follow a flight-testing period in 2025 from Spaceport America, Colglazier said.
The Delta-class flights would have the ability to seat six people, and fly “twice per week” generating more revenue than the current Unity flights. He estimated the Delta-class ships would cost at least $50 million to $60 million to build, and would have a life-cycle of “500 or more flights.”
Colglazier celebrated the six commercial near-space flights, occurring once per month betweenMay and November.
Those flights came after years of promises from the company.
Former Virgin Galactic CEO and billionaire Richard Branson promised spaceflight tours out of New Mexicosince 2008.
Branson and five others in the first fully-crewed flighttook off from the Spaceport in May 2021.
Once-monthly commercial flights started in 2023.
After a maintenance pause, at least two Unity flights in the current ship are scheduled for 2024. Customers can pay a “premium price” to fly in open spots on the remaining Unity flights.
“These seats, as they become available, have been priced closer to $1 million than to our prior price-point of $450,000.” Colglazier said.
The two flights planned for 2024 are projected to have revenues between $2 million and $2.5 million, he said. That’s four times greater than previous flights, putting revenues for Unity flights at about $500,000.
The increase, he said, was driven by adding another seat previously occupied by the astronaut instructor and added research revenue.
New Mexico Spaceport Authority Executive Director Scott McLaughlin said there are no concerns about Virgin Galactic’s lease payments or long-term operations in an emailed statement.
“We understand that numerous New Mexicans and their families have been impacted by this reorganization,” McLaughlin said. “We wish them well and hope they find other employment in the area, including those who can continue in the region’s growing space sector.”
The spaceport authority said it will “continue to support other customers and continue to bring in new business and new companies to the spaceport.”
Virgin Galactic’s current lease with the spaceport extends through Jan. 1, 2033.
Class-action lawsuit alleges unsafe conditions at migrant detention facility in New Mexico — Morgan Lee, Associated Press
A new class-action lawsuit alleges that U.S. immigration authorities disregarded signs of unsanitary and unsafe conditions at a detention center in New Mexico to ensure the facility would continue to receive public funding and remain open.
The lawsuit announced Wednesday by a coalition of migrants' rights advocates was filed on behalf of four Venezuelans ranging in age from 26 to 40 who have sought asylum in the U.S. and say they were denied medical care, access to working showers and adequate food at the Torrance County Detention Facility, all while being pressed into cleaning duties, sometimes without compensation.
The detention center in the rural town of Estancia, about 200 miles (320 kilometers) from the Mexico border, is contracted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement to accommodate at least 505 adult male migrants at any time, though actual populations fluctuate.
Advocates have repeatedly alleged in recent years that the the facility has inadequate living conditions and there is limited access to legal counsel for asylum-seekers who cycle through. They have urged ICE to end its contract with a private detention operator, while calling on state lawmakers to ban local government contracts for migrant detention.
"The point is that ICE can't turn a blind eye to conditions in detention facilities," said Mark Feldman, senior attorney at the National Immigrant Justice Center, which is among those representing the plaintiffs. "They maintain congressionally mandated oversight responsibility over conditions wherever immigrants are detained."
The detention center failed a performance evaluation in 2021, and the lawsuit alleges that ICE scrambled to avoid documentation of a second consecutive failure that might discontinue federal funding by endorsing a "deeply flawed, lax inspection" by an independent contractor.
The lawsuit says the agency disregarded contradictory findings by the Department of Homeland Security Inspector General and a contracting officer at ICE that suggested continued unhealthy conditions and staff shortages.
A spokesperson for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said Thursday that the agency does not comment on litigation. Last year Chief of Staff Jason Houser said ICE would continuously monitor the facility and noted that it stopped using the Etowah County Detention Center in Alabama when expectations there were not met.
CoreCivic, the private operator at Torrance County, said ICE has repeatedly audited the Estancia facility with results that support continued operations.
"We provide a safe, humane and appropriate environment for those entrusted to us and are constantly striving to deliver an even better standard of care," spokesperson Ryan Gustin said via email.
As of September about 35,000 migrants were being held in ICE detention facilities across the U.S., while the agency monitors another 195,000 under alternatives to detention as they advance through immigration or removal proceedings, according to Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University.
The southern border region has struggled to cope with increasing numbers of migrants from South America who move quickly through the Darien Gap between Colombia and Panama before heading north.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court in Albuquerque, are also represented by the ACLU, Innovation Law Lab and attorneys for Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan.
Man charged in shooting over Spanish conquistador statue appeals detention order pending trial — 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."
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.
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.
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.”
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.
Former New Mexico State players charged with sex crimes in locker-room hazing case — Eddie Pells, Associated Press
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.
AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-basketball-poll and https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball