WED: Latest federal court order favors right to carry guns in some NM public parks, + More
Latest federal court order favors right to carry guns in some New Mexico public parks - By Morgan Lee, Associated Press
A U.S. District Court judge is standing by her decision to block portions of a public health order from New Mexico's governor that would suspend the right to carry firearms in many public parks in the Albuquerque area, with appeals pending before a higher court.
The Monday order from Albuquerque-based Judge Kea Riggs denied a request from the governor to leave in place a temporary ban on firearms in some public places in greater Albuquerque, including most public parks.
Riggs earlier concluded that Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has not yet demonstrated a historical tradition of banning firearms in public parks or similar areas in the past, in response to a lawsuit by Torrance County resident James Springer — a plaintiff in one of several lawsuits filed against the governor by gun rights advocates.
"Our position is that's not something that is contemplated under the Second Amendment," said Springer's attorney, A. Blair Dunn, applauding the judge's order.
Last year, U.S. District Judge David Urias ruled in the other direction in a victory for the governor, rejecting a request from other gun rights advocates to block temporary firearms restrictions while challenges move forward. It will likely fall to the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver to reconcile the orders from Urias and Riggs.
Lujan Grisham spokesperson Maddy Hayden said Tuesday that the governor "respectfully" disagrees with Riggs.
"Judge Riggs' opinion ignores this caselaw and the massive amount of historical evidence in the record supporting the constitutionality of the temporary restrictions imposed by the public health order," Hayden said in an email. "We respectfully disagree with the opinion and are confident that our ongoing appeal to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals will be successful."
Lujan Grisham, a second-term Democrat, invoked the emergency orders last year in response to a spate of gun violence including the fatal shooting of an 11-year-old boy outside a minor league baseball stadium.
Gun rights advocates also are urging the New Mexico Supreme Court to block the orders. The court recently heard oral arguments in the lawsuit brought by Republican state legislators, the National Rifle Association and several residents of the Albuquerque area.
The rest of the public health orders have remained intact, including directives for monthly inspections of firearm dealers statewide, reports on gunshot victims at New Mexico hospitals, wastewater testing for illicit substances at schools and more.
During a 30-day legislative session that concludes Feb. 15, Lujan Grisham also is advocating for a broad suite of legislative proposals on gun control and enhanced penalties for violent crime.
On Tuesday, a proposal to shore up New Mexico's red-flag gun law advanced past its first House committee hearing on a 4-2 party-line vote with Democrats in support of the bill from legislators including state Rep. Christine Chandler, of Los Alamos. Votes against the bill were cast by two Republican lawmakers who are pursuing impeachment proceedings against the governor for her emergency health orders on gun violence.
New Mexico's red-flag law, aimed at removing firearms from people who pose a danger to themselves or others, was enacted in 2020 in response to a mass shooting by a lone gunman at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, the prior year that killed 23 people. Proposed changes would expedite procedures for obtaining an "extreme risk" order to seize firearms and expand the range of people who can petition to temporarily remove guns to include health care professionals.
This version corrects the spelling of the first name of Judge Kea Riggs and the number of people killed in El Paso to 23, not 24.
APD Chief addresses federal investigation into DWI officers - Elise Kaplan, City Desk ABQ
This story was originally published by City Desk ABQ.
Five days after federal authorities searched the homes of Albuquerque Police Department officers and the office of a local defense attorney, department leadership provided additional details about the case and announced that it has launched an administrative investigation into the officers.
None of the officers have been charged with a crime “at this point in the investigation,” said Gilbert Gallegos, an APD spokesman. The federal investigation has resulted in the Second Judicial District Attorney’s Office dismissing over 150 DWI cases that were primarily handled by four officers in the DWI unit.
Gallegos said the administrative investigation is targeting five officers—four of whom have been put on leave and the fifth who is on administrative assignment after the federal investigation became public.
He said Chief Harold Medina opened an investigation over a year ago after hearing “allegations related to the handling of DWI cases by unknown officers.” He did not immediately answer questions about what kind of investigation Medina opened a year ago and how it is different from the administrative investigation the department is launching now.
“Then, last fall, Chief Medina learned of new, but similar allegations of wrongdoing by officers and others in the criminal justice system,” Gallegos said. “Chief Medina informed the FBI and provided information about APD’s investigation.”
“This case goes to the heart of public trust in the criminal justice system and I immediately opened an investigation when I learned of allegations of wrongdoing,” Chief Medina said. “APD investigators have been made available to assist the FBI and leadership has full confidence in the FBI and the U.S. Attorney to see this investigation to its conclusion, and expose anyone who played a role in this.”
Mayor Tim Keller also addressed the federal investigation for the first time on X (formerly Twitter) last night and in a statement this morning, after his administration received a barrage of questions from city councilors Monday night.
Keller said the investigation “involves a handful of long-time officers at APD, going back a decade.” One of the officers who is being investigated has been with the DWI unit since 2011.
“If true, what these individuals did is a disgrace to the badge, and erodes faith in law enforcement.” Keller said in a statement. “APD leadership fully supports this investigation and continues to work with our partners to serve justice. Any individuals who engaged in this conduct will never work for the City again, and should be held accountable to the full extent of the law. The department’s willingness to drive accountability, especially on its own, reflects how far we have come.”
APD comes under fire at City Council meeting - Rodd Clayton, City Desk ABQ
This story was originally published by City Desk ABQ.
Allegations of unchecked corruption, lack of leadership, lack of communication and a call for accountability dominated the Albuquerque City Council meeting Monday.
Councilors had sharp words for leaders of the Police Department and Mayor Tim Keller after recent FBI raids on the homes of police officers as part of a federal investigation.
The investigation led to the suspensions of a handful of officers and more than 150 DWI cases being dropped by the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office.
No official information has been publicly released and no one has yet been charged but the allegations appear to center around reports of DWI unit officers colluding with defense attorneys in order to get cases dismissed.
During a question-and-answer period early in the meeting, Councilor Dan Champine said he was concerned by the lack of communication to the council or the public from the department or from Keller’s administration regarding the development.
City Chief Administrative Officer Dr. Samantha Sengel said that leadership has declined to provide much detail about the matter because it’s an ongoing federal investigation.
“This investigation is bigger than APD,” Sengel said. “It goes back more than a decade.”
Champine, a retired APD detective, countered that the administration and the department should still be communicating to citizens to assure them that the matter is being handled correctly. He said he’s frustrated when constituents ask him about the situation and he has to tell them he knows only what has been in published reports.
He said he’s also disappointed that no one made a phone call or other outreach to show that the department is aware of the issue.
“You guys dropped the ball on this one,” Champine said. “To have the administration not reaffirm that they are standing behind those officers that do their jobs, is bad.”
About 10 minutes into the meeting, Mayor Tim Keller sent a tweet addressing the issue. “While we can’t discuss the details of the investigation into a group of officers, we take these allegations very seriously,” his statement reads. “Our administration will hold all bad actors accountable, and @ABQPOLICE will continue to work closely with the FBI on the investigation,” he said.
On Tuesday, Keller released a statement saying the investigation “involves a handful of long-time officers at APD, going back a decade.”
“If true, what these individuals did is a disgrace to the badge, and erodes faith in law enforcement,” Keller said. “APD leadership fully supports this investigation and continues to work with our partners to serve justice. Any individuals who engaged in this conduct will never work for the city again, and should be held accountable to (the) full extent of the law. The department’s willingness to drive accountability, especially on its own, reflects how far we have come.”
SENGEL: ‘WE SUPPORT THE OFFICERS’
The mayor released a more extensive statement early this afternoon.
Sengel said that the investigation involves only a handful of officers and that their alleged actions could color the community’s perception of the APD in a troubling way.
She said that Police Chief Harold Medina has been transparent when he’s able to and that the administration anticipates being able to provide more information later.
“It is important to note that we absolutely support the officers that do show up to do their jobs,” Sengel said.
‘LEADERSHIP IS THE ISSUE’
City Councilor Louie Sanchez, a retired APD lieutenant, said he’s concerned about what’s going on in the department.
“There’s no doubt about it that leadership is 100 percent the issue,” Sanchez said. “Leadership of the mayor and of the Police Department.”
He cited several other incidents in recent history, including a police cadet killed by her husband in a murder-suicide and the reassignment of several training officers at the police academy. Sanchez also said that 328 homicides have occurred in Albuquerque during Keller’s term.
Sanchez said that a lack of adequate training in the department has led to officers now facing criminal charges related to alleged assaults.
“Nobody goes into the Police Department looking to commit a crime against other people,” he said. “Now, we’re dealing with something else. We’re dealing with a public corruption issue.”
Sanchez said that the resulting dismissals of the DWI cases, including four felony cases, threatens the safety of the community.
“That means we are letting these defendants — these drunk drivers — back out on the streets, free to do it again,” he said. “And to expose our families to them again.”
He said that other leadership failures have resulted in a SWAT team walking off, greatly reduced narcotics, gang and vice units and record numbers of officers retiring or taking jobs with other agencies.
The decline in staffing, Sanchez said, has resulted in some officers having to work two shifts per 24-hour period.
In response to a later question, Deputy Chief Cecily Barker said that the APD is currently assigning 12-hour shifts, with an officer ending the a two-week period with a four-hour shift. She said that schedule was chosen by a vote of officers.
Sanchez said that the Police Department is also experiencing a shortage of civilian staff, meaning longer times before 911 and non-emergency calls are answered. He said he waited 21 hours to get a response to a report he made after his license plate was stolen.
“The mayor dropped the ball,” Sanchez said. “The police chief he hired dropped the ball.”
BASSAN: ‘THERE SHOULD HAVE BEEN A PRESS CONFERENCE.’
Councilor Brook Bassan said that news of the raids comes as a huge blow to all of Albuquerque, none more than the honest, hardworking officers who make up the majority of the police force.
“In a world of press conferences and press releases, it is a disappointment to see that one has not occurred to date announcing that the administration is taking this seriously,” Bassan said.
When prompted by Council President Lewis, Barker said that the Police Department is taking the investigation very seriously and providing the FBI with all the information it needs.
“It is very disheartening to the officers who are working hard every day,” she said. “And we will do everything we can to cooperate with the investigation.”
Lewis said it is appropriate for the council to express “grave concern” about the allegations at the center of the FBI probe, and that the investigation appears to show “unchecked corruption.”
He said the allegations undermine public confidence in APD and create an appearance of a profound lack of leadership within the department.
FEMA devotes more resources to outstanding claims filed by New Mexico wildfire victims - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press
The Federal Emergency Management Agency said Tuesday that it is devoting more resources to processing outstanding claims filed by victims of the largest wildfire in New Mexico's recorded history.
The 2022 blaze was caused by a pair of prescribed fires that were set by the U.S. Forest Service in an attempt to clear out vegetation to reduce the threat of a catastrophic wildfire. Officials have acknowledged that they underestimated the dry conditions that had been plaguing the region for years.
Hundreds of homes were destroyed, thousands of residents were displaced and mountains were charred, leaving behind damage that experts say will have environmental effects for decades to come.
FEMA officials said more employees have been placed on temporary assignment to help with the claims and the agency is prioritizing claims that were submitted some time ago.
The agency has received $518 million in claims with documentation and has approved $330 million in payments so far for people with property, financial and business losses, said John Mills, a spokesperson for the agency.
The federal government set aside nearly $4 billion last year to pay claims related to the wildfire. Lawsuits have been filed by residents who say FEMA has been slow to pay their claims.
The federal agency recently announced that it will be implementing new rules this year aimed at simplifying and speeding up the recovery process for natural disasters nationwide. FEMA officials called it the most comprehensive update to its individual assistance program in two decades.
The changes were the result of feedback from survivors, organizations that work in disaster recovery, and elected officials. New Mexicans have been among those calling for changes in the wake of the wildfire.
The announcement that more employees will be assigned to claims from the Hermit's Peak/Calf Canyon Fire follows a letter sent Monday by members of New Mexico's congressional delegation. U.S. Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández and U.S. Sens. Martin Heinrich and Ben Ray Lujan pointed to the failure of the claims office to meet a congressionally mandated 180-day deadline for settling each claim.
They said the deadline already has been missed on more than 100 claims and that the office is expected to reach the deadline on many more in the coming weeks.
Members of the delegation said it's important that any new claim reviewers brought on to address the backlog understand their role is not that of insurance adjusters trying to save money but rather to use the resources provided by Congress to satisfy claims.
"The people of northern New Mexico endured unimaginable suffering at the hands of the federal government, which started the Hermit's Peak/Calf Canyon Fire," the lawmakers wrote. "We urge you to do everything in your power to expedite the process to compensate claimants."
Christopher Nolan on 'Oppenheimer' Oscar success: 'Sometimes you catch a wave' - By Jake Coyle, AP Film Writer
Christopher Nolan was still sleeping when his film, "Oppenheimer," landed a leading 13 Academy Awards nominations Tuesday. Emma Thomas, Nolan's wife and producing partner, roused him after a flurry of congratulatory messages came through on her phone.
"Don't take it as being blase," Nolan told The Associated Press, laughing. "We just didn't want to jinx anything. Watching the nominations was more than our nerves could take so we just had a restless night and slept through."
Nolan and Thomas didn't have much reason to be anxious. "Oppenheimer," Nolan's sprawling American saga of J. Walter Oppenheimer and the creation of the atomic bomb, has more or less been the Oscar frontrunner since it made its acclaimed debut in late July. On Tuesday, it earned nominations for seemingly every creative aspect of its achievement, including acting nods for Cillian Murphy, Robert Downey Jr. and Emily Blunt.
"Oppenheimer" was nominated for Nolan's direction and adapted screenplay; for Hoyte van Hoytema's cinematography; Jennifer Lame's editing; Ellen Mirojnick's costume design; Ruth De Jong and Claire Kaufman's production design; Luisa Abel's makeup and hairstyling; best sound; and Ludwig Göransson's score. It came one nomination shy of tying the record for best Oscar nominations ever.
"It's flabbergasting," said Thomas who spoke with her husband in an interview a few hours after nominations were announced. "Then we got on with the routine of getting a 16-year-old out of bed, but with a spring in our step."
Though Nolan is regarded as the big-canvas auteur of his era, he's never won an Academy Award — nor have any of his films won best picture. He was nominated for best director once before, for "Dunkirk." But Nolan's absence from the movie's biggest stage has often been more notable than the honors his films have collected. After his "The Dark Knight" was overlooked for best picture in 2009, the academy expanded the category beyond five films.
But this year's Oscars may be leading toward a coronation for the 53-year-old Nolan and a three-hour opus that broke records — and Hollywood conventional reasoning — in grossing nearly $1 billion worldwide. On Tuesday, he and Thomas reflected on the movie's Oscar success. ___
AP: Do you see the success of "Oppenheimer" as a statement to the industry — which usually funnels big budgets only to sequels and remakes — about what's possible for an original film made with scale?
Nolan: I grew up loving Hollywood movies and believing studio filmmaking can take on anything. Seeing audiences respond to that this summer was incredibly thrilling and getting this kind of recognition from the academy, I don't know what to say, really. It certainly confirms our faith in what studio filmmaking can be.
AP: Have you reflected on why "Oppenheimer" has resonated so much?
Nolan: It's always a tricky thing to try to analyze the zeitgeist or analyze success. We were really interested and excited, in particular, to see young people responding to a piece of history. I keep coming back to the unique nature of the story. I think it is one of the great American stories. It encompasses so much that's important and dramatic about our history. That gives audiences a lot to hang to, when you get a great group of actors and incredible cast like we have, you can make this feel real and emotionally accessible. That's as far as I can analyze its success. Beyond that, sometimes you catch a wave and it's a wonderful and unique thing.
Thomas: Oftentimes you think of history as being the ancient past, and it's not terribly relevant to today. But I think the unique thing about the Oppenheimer story is that everything the movie deals with has direct relevance to this moment in time as well. And so I think that's something that really touched audiences.
Nolan: Yeah, that's a good point. When I first started on the project, one of my kids said to me about nuclear weapons, people my age don't really worry about that so much. This was a couple of years ago. With everything that's going on in the world since, that's very much changed. We came along right at a time when people were beginning to worry about this again, and worry about the fate of the world. Oppenheimer's story is so relevant to that — not just the threat of nuclear weapons but also the burgeoning threat of AI and what it can do to our world.
AP: Though your films have often been celebrated by the academy, neither of you have won an Oscar. Does this year feel different?
Nolan: I think the breadth of recognition that we woke up to this morning is something we haven't experienced before, and it's really thrilling for us. It's a very unique feeling to see in academy recognizing all different aspects of the film, from the performances to the technical achievement of the film. I mean, I grew up watching the Academy Awards. It's the pinnacle of sort of the recognition of your peers.
AP: Do you see "Oppenheimer" as the culmination of your collaboration together?
Thomas: It definitely feels like a film that was made with all the things we've learned together over the years. It all came together on this film. But I'm hoping it's not the culmination. I'm hoping that we'll get to make another one. (Laughs) We're at the midway point!
Nolan: We're just getting started! With every film, you try to build on what you've learned previous films.
AP: Any big plans to celebrate tonight?
Thomas: Well, we'll probably be having dinner with our kids. We've got one who's going back to college. We'll have a family celebration, which feels entirely appropriate given the nature of our movie and the way we work.
Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP