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MON: Judge temporarily blocks extended school year in New Mexico, + More

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School bell and clock

Judge blocks extended school year in New Mexico, for now - Santa Fe New Mexican, KUNM News 

After more than 50 school districts sued the state and its education secretary over extending the school year to 180 days, a state judge has issued a temporary restraining order.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports the order prevents the Public Education Department from enforcing the rule it passed in March amid pushback from school staff and lawmakers.

The court battle comes as school districts draft their budgets and calendars for the next school year. The judge’s order also means the state cannot require that those comply with the new rule.

The next hearing in the case, when the state can argue to lift the order, is scheduled for next Monday.

Learn more about the new rule and the pushback on this week’s Let’s Talk New Mexico, Thursday morning at 8 am. 

Judge rules Los Ranchos broke the law when approving affordable housing development - Albuquerque Journal, KUNM News

A large, 3-story affordable housing development in the Village of Los Ranchos has stirred considerable controversy among residents, even becoming a key issue in last year’s mayoral race. Now, a judge has ruled the village broke the law when approving the plans.

The Albuquerque Journal reports a state judge ruled the village violated the Open Meetings Act and reversed the approvals for the three-story Village Center Project.

The project should have been discussed and voted on by the planning and zoning commission and Board of Trustees in public meetings. Instead, approvals went straight to the unelected planning and zoning director and village administrator, who the judge ruled did not have proper authority.

Resident group the Friends of Los Ranchos brought the complaint. The group used to be run by now-mayor Joe Craig.

Matthew Beck, attorney for the group, says the ruling may be appealed, but could halt construction for now. He says it could also force the approval process to start again from the beginning with the proper vetting.

FBI says an infant abducted from New Mexico park has been found safe; a suspect is in custody - Associated Press

An infant girl who was abducted from a park near Clovis, Mexico, has been found safe, and a suspect is in in custody, the FBI in Albuquerque said Monday.

Clovis police said 10-month-old Eleia Maria Torres has been taken to a Clovis-area hospital as a precautionary measure.

No other information was immediately available.

Authorities still are investigating the deaths of two women whose bodies were found at the park Friday along with a 5-year-old girl who was critically injured.

Police have identified the dead women as Samantha Cisneros and Taryn Allen, both 23 years old and from Texico, New Mexico.

They said Cisneros was the mother of the baby and the 5-year-old girl who remains hospitalized.

At least one of the women was fatally shot and the 5-year-old girl had a gunshot wound to the head, authorities said. Her name has not been released.

New Mexico State Police said the fathers of the girls were cooperating with investigators and were not believed to be suspects in the double homicide case.

Authorities said the women were found at a city park about 5 miles north of Clovis with their purses and belongings near their bodies, and a car belonging to one of the women also was found at the scene.

Clovis is located in eastern New Mexico close to the Texas border.

Stansbury, Vasquez join 88 Democrats calling for Biden to threaten pause of weapons sales to Israel - City Desk Staff Report
This story was originally published by City Desk ABQ 

88 Democratic members of Congress, including New Mexico’s Melanie Stansbury (D-NM01) and Gabe Vasquez (D-NM02), penned a letter to President Joseph Biden expressing “serious concerns regarding the Israeli Government’s conduct of the war in Gaza” and pressing the president to threaten to withhold the delivery of weapons transfers just approved by Congress.

The letter reiterates support for Israel but expresses alarm over Israeli strategies impacting civilians in Gaza. “We believe that despite recent advancements, there is sufficient evidence that Israel’s restrictions on the delivery of US-backed humanitarian aid violate Section 620I of the Foreign Assistance Act,” the signers wrote.

The letter calls on the president to threaten to pause delivery of weapons as a part of the United State’s broader diplomatic efforts to end the seven months-long war.

After voting for the bi-partisan Israel and Ukraine aid package last month, Vasquez explained his vote which included aid for Gaza civilians. “Support for our allies must always be in line with our American values. We must put a stop to the exponential loss of innocent lives and address the current humanitarian crisis in the region, which is why I supported the overall package. This legislation includes critical humanitarian assistance for Gaza, and I remain committed to demanding a lasting, effective ceasefire and a two-state compromise,” Vasquez stated.

Rep. Teresa Ledger-Fernandez (D-NM03) who represents Northern New Mexico did not sign the letter.


New fire rigs hit the streets - Rodd Cayton, City Desk ABQ

This story was originally published by City Desk ABQ

Three new fire engines are now patrolling the streets of Albuquerque.

Albuquerque Fire Rescue marked the start of the engines’ service Tuesday with traditional “push-in ceremonies.” As the name implies, crews lent elbow grease to guide the trucks to their new apparatus bays.

The new trucks replaced a trio of 12-year-old units that have responded to thousands of calls, according to a department press release.

The old engines will join AFR’s reserve fleet.

“This is a well-deserved upgrade for one of America’s finest and most active fire departments, and a prudent investment in the safety of Albuquerque’s families,” Mayor Tim Keller said in the release. “AFR continues to demonstrate excellence in their service to our community, and these new apparatus will help them continue carrying out that commitment.”

Lt. Jason Fejer said Friday the Pierce Enforcer engines, which cost $636,182 each, will help to improve in-service time and reduce operational costs.

“In-service time” refers to the time a truck is not out of service for repairs or maintenance, Fejer said.

“As an apparatus ages, the operational costs increase due to wear and tear,” he said.

The new engines have 500-gallon water tanks on board and can pump out 2,000 gallons a minute when fighting fires. They are also “clean cabs,” Fejer said, meaning that gear carrying potentially hazardous contaminants is stored away from where the firefighters ride — and breathe.

The money for the new fire engines came from a 2021 bond issue.

As US spotlights those missing or dead in Native communities, prosecutors work to solve their cases - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

It was a frigid winter morning when authorities found a Native American man dead on a remote gravel road in western New Mexico. He was lying on his side, with only one sock on, his clothes gone and his shoes tossed in the snow.

There were trails of blood on both sides of his body and it appeared he had been struck in the head.

Investigators retraced the man's steps, gathering security camera footage that showed him walking near a convenience store miles away in Gallup, an economic hub in an otherwise rural area bordered on one side by the Navajo Nation and Zuni Pueblo on the other.

Court records said the footage and cell phone records showed the victim — a Navajo man identified only as John Doe — was "on a collision course" with the man who would ultimately be accused of killing him.

A grand jury has indicted a man from Zuni Pueblo on a charge of second-degree murder in the Jan. 18 death, and prosecutors say more charges are likely as he is the prime suspect in a series of crimes targeting Native American men in Gallup, Zuni and Albuquerque. Investigators found several wallets, cell phones and clothing belonging to other men when searching his vehicle and two residences.

As people gathered around the nation on Sunday to spotlight the troubling number of disappearances and killings in Indian Country, authorities say the New Mexico case represents the kind of work the U.S. Department of Justice had aspired to when establishing its Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons outreach program last summer.

Special teams of assistant U.S. attorneys and coordinators have been tasked with focusing on MMIP cases. Their goal: Improve communication and coordination across federal, tribal, state and local jurisdictions in hopes of bridging the gaps that have made solving violent crimes in Indian Country a generational challenge.

Some of the new federal prosecutors were participating in MMIP Awareness Day events. From the Arizona state capitol to a cultural center in Albuquerque and the Qualla Boundary in North Carolina, marches, symposiums, art exhibitions and candlelight vigils were planned for May 5, which is the birthday of Hanna Harris, who was only 21 when she was killed on the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation in Montana in 2013.

It was an emotional day in Albuquerque, where family members and advocates participated in a prayer walk. They chanted: "What do we want? Answers! What do we want? Justice!" There were tears and long embraces as they shared their stories and frustrations. They talked about feeling forgotten and the lack of resources in Native communities.

Geraldine Toya of Jemez Pueblo marched with other family members to bring awareness to the death of her daughter Shawna Toya in 2021. She said she and her husband are artists who make pottery and never dreamed they would end up being investigators in an effort to determine what happened to their daughter.

"Our journey has been rough, but you know what, we're going to make this journey successful for all of our people that are here in this same thing that we're struggling through right now," she said, vowing to support other families through their heartbreak as they seek justice.

Alex Uballez, the U.S. attorney for the District of New Mexico, told The Associated Press on Friday that the outreach program is starting to pay dividends.

"Providing those bridges between those agencies is critical to seeing the patterns that affect all of our communities," Uballez said. "None of our borders that we have drawn prevents the spillover of impacts on communities — across tribal communities, across states, across the nation, across international borders."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Eliot Neal oversees MMIP cases for a region spanning New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Utah and Nevada.

Having law enforcement agencies and attorneys talking to each other can help head off other crimes that are often precursors to deadly violence. The other pieces of the puzzle are building relationships with Native American communities and making the justice system more accessible to the public, Neal said.

Part of Neal's work includes reviewing old cases: time-consuming work that can involve tracking down witnesses and resubmitting evidence for testing.

"We're trying to flip that script a little bit and give those cases the time and attention they deserve," he said, adding that communicating with family members about the process is a critical component for the MMIP attorneys and coordinators.

The DOJ over the past year also has awarded $268 million in grants to tribal justice systems for handling child abuse cases, combating domestic and sexual violence and bolstering victim services.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Bree Black Horse was dressed in red as she was sworn in Thursday during a ceremony in Yakima, Washington. The color is synonymous with raising awareness about the disproportionate number of Indigenous people who have been victims of violence.

She prosecutes MMIP cases in a five-state region across California and the Pacific Northwest to Montana. Her caseload is in the double digits, and she's working with advocacy groups to identify more unresolved cases and open lines of communication with law enforcement.

An enrolled member of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma and a lawyer for more than a decade, Black Horse said having 10 assistant U.S. attorneys and coordinators focusing solely on MMIP cases is unprecedented.

"This is an issue that has touched not only my community but my friends and my family," she said. "I see this as a way to help make sure that our future generations, our young people don't experience these same kinds of disparities and this same kind of trauma."

In New Mexico, Uballez acknowledged the federal government moves slowly and credited tribal communities with raising their voices, consistently showing up to protest and putting pressure on politicians to improve public safety in tribal communities.

Still, he and Neal said it will take a paradigm shift to undo the public perception that nothing is being done.

The man charged in the New Mexico case, Labar Tsethlikai, appeared in court Wednesday and pleaded not guilty while standing shackled next to his public defender. A victim advocate from Uballez's office was there, too, sitting with victims' family members.

Tsethlikai's attorney argued that evidence had yet to be presented tying her client to the alleged crimes spelled out in court documents. Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew McGinley argued that no conditions of release would keep the community safe, pointing to cell phone data and DNA evidence allegedly showing Tsethlikai had preyed on people who were homeless or in need of alcohol so he could satisfy his sexual desires.

Tsethlikai will remain in custody pending trial as authorities continue to investigate. Court documents list at least 10 other victims along with five newly identified potential victims. McGinley said prosecutors wanted to focus on a few of the cases "to get him off the street" and prevent more violence.
2 women found dead and 5-year-old girl critically injured in New Mexico park, police say - Associated Press

Two women were found dead and a 5-year-old girl critically injured at a park near Clovis, New Mexico, authorities said Sunday.

Meanwhile, police said they are searching for an abducted 10-month-old girl, who is the daughter of one of the victims. No suspect has been identified yet in the case.

Police have identified the dead women as Samantha Cisneros and Taryn Allen, both 23 years old and from Texico, New Mexico. They said at least one of the women was fatally shot. The 5-year-old girl was critically injured with a gunshot wound.

New Mexico State Police issued an Amber Alert late Friday for the infant.

Cisneros was the mother of both children and the fathers of the girls were cooperating with investigators and not believed to be suspects, according to police.

The women were found at a city park about 5 miles (8 kilometers) north of Clovis with their purses and belongings near the bodies, state police said.

A car belonging to one of the women also was found at the scene.

The FBI and Clovis police are asking the public to come forward with any tips or leads.

Clovis is located in eastern New Mexico close to the Texas border.

NM to receive over $28 million in federal fund to replace lead pipes - By Nash Jones, KUNM News

New Mexico’s congressional delegation announced Thursday that the state will receive more than $28 million in federal funding to replace lead pipes across the state.

Senior U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich said New Mexicans deserve “the right to a clean and reliable supply of safe drinking water.”

"Because of the investments that we made in the Infrastructure Law, our state will finally be able to replace lead pipes, using American-made materials installed by American plumbers and pipefitters," he said.

Specifically, the funds come from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, a provision of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, according to the announcement.

New Mexico’s allotment represents 1% of the more than $2.8 billion available to states, which was set using the Drinking Water Infrastructure Needs Survey and Assessment according to the EPA. Illinois will receive the biggest infusion, at more than $240 million.

The agency said it will prioritize replacing “known sources” of lead in the drinking water.

Representative Gabe Vasquez said the funding is not only an investment in infrastructure, but also “the health, well-being and prosperity of every New Mexican.”

Budget planning in full swing as council fields concerns about libraries, museums - Carolyn Carlson,City Desk ABQ

On Thursday, Albuquerque City Councilors held their first meeting to discuss and hear from constituents about the mayor’s $1.4 billion proposed budget for the next fiscal year.


Concerns about funding for the public library and the Explora Science Center and Children’s Museum drew the top comments from the handful of residents who attended the May 2 Committee of the Whole meeting. The COW is made up of all nine councilors who are acting as a committee to discuss city budget issues and the capital improvement program.

This meeting is one of two meetings where the Council will hear public input on the proposed budget for fiscal year 2025.

The mayor’s proposed FY 25 budget did not include an anticipated $400,000 in revenue for the library’s IT infrastructure, an omission that generated the most public comment.

Angela Mihm, president of Friends of the Public Library, stressed the importance of the funding, saying that the “library system is one of the most loved, most democratic and educational services that the city provides.”

“The library’s computer system is a surprisingly sophisticated system that has to connect all 19 branches that are in the city and county,” Mihm said. “It’s the way that we check out our books, it’s the way that we track and get educational and work information. It provides Internet access to our citizens who don’t have access otherwise.”

City administrators said at the meeting it was not intended to shortchange the library system and there is a plan in place to fill the gap.

Other comments addressed Explora, which also did not get $250,000 in expected funding.

“Explora welcomed over 400,000 people into the museum last year and over 5,000 of those were toddlers coming for the exclusive toddler time,” said Kathleen Larese, president-elect of Explora’s board of directors. “The importance of Explora to our community is really around improving outcomes.”

This first meeting targeted what the city considers to besocial goals, including funding for community safety, police, civilian police oversight, arts and culture, library services, family and community services, fire and rescue, senior services and more.

The next committee meeting will take place on May 9 and will focus on physical goals, including appropriations to animal welfare, transit, environmental health, finance and administration, human services, legal, planning and other departments.


In addition, councilors will hold their regularly scheduled meeting on Monday to consider approving the sale of tax improvement revenue bonds to purchase a new law enforcement helicopter and other projects. The $22 million in bonds will finance the new helicopter, as well as improvements to the city youth shelters, Southwest Public Safety Center, Cibola Loop Multigenerational Center, Gibson Health Hub, Westside Emergency Housing Shelter and the Albuquerque Railyards.

Other business councilors will consider Monday include:

  •  A grant application for violence intervention funds with the New Mexico Department of Health Office of Gun Violence Prevention.
  • Accepting grant funds from the New Mexico State Library.
  • The filing of an application for a Federal Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership Program Grant for the renovation of Mesa Verde Park 
  • Adopting an updated Albuquerque/Bernalillo County Comprehensive Plan.
  • An appeal of an Environment Planning Commission approval of a site plan for cannabis retail use near the intersection of Coors Boulevard and 7 Bar Loop on the city’s West Side.

After Roe, the network of people who help others get abortions see themselves as 'the underground' - By Laura Ungar, Ap Science Writer

Waiting in a long post office line with the latest shipment of "abortion aftercare kits," Kimra Luna got a text. A woman who'd taken abortion pills three weeks earlier was worried about bleeding — and disclosing the cause to a doctor.

"Bleeding doesn't mean you need to go in," Luna responded on the encrypted messaging app Signal. "Some people bleed on and off for a month."

It was a typically busy afternoon for Luna, a doula and reproductive care activist in a state with some of the strictest abortion laws in the nation. Those laws make the work a constant battle, the 38-year-old said, but they draw strength from others in a makeshift national network of helpers — clinic navigators, abortion fund leaders and individual volunteers who have become a supporting cast for people in restrictive states who are seeking abortions.

"This is the underground," said Jerad Martindale, an activist in Boise.

Abortion rights advocates worry Idaho is a harbinger of where more states may be headed. Here, abortion is banned with very limited exceptions at all stages of pregnancy, and a law signed by the governor but temporarily blocked forbids adults from helping minors leave the state for abortions without parental consent. Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments about Idaho's enforcement of its abortion ban in hospital emergencies.

Carol Tobias, president of the National Right to Life Committee, said such laws protect the unborn. While she doesn't know if anything can be done to prevent people from helping others get abortions, she said, "I would certainly wish that they wouldn't do it."

But Luna and others consider their work mutual aid essential to the community.

"I wouldn't be able to live with myself if I just acted scared and didn't do the things that I do," said the single parent of three boys, who uses the pronoun they. "I know I'm put here to do this."

Luna helps run Idaho Abortion Rights, launched in 2022 with extra bail money that was raised after they got arrested at a protest. A longtime activist, they strongly believe abortion pills should be accessible and once brought some to the state Capitol steps to prove residents could still get them online. Recently, they got a face tattoo of a mailbox with abortion pills falling out of it.

Luna is a full-spectrum doula, aiding in births as well as abortions. Most abortion work is remote, providing support, advice, answers to questions and referrals to resources like abortion funds.

"We've always found a way to make sure people get help no matter what that help is," Luna said of their group.

That also includes caring for people after abortions. One April morning, Luna assembled aftercare kits on the couch, pink-and-purple braids falling in front of their face as they filled packets with supplies like sanitary pads, Advil, over-the-counter stomach medicines and red raspberry leaf tea.

In places where abortion is legal, navigators at clinics provide some of the same sorts of logistical help. Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains has three navigators for its 21 clinics, one of them virtual, in Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada. They handle about 1,000 calls a month — some from out-of-state patients who drive up to 17 hours for care, said Adrienne Mansanares, the organization's president and CEO.

Abortion opponents try to steer people away from ending their pregnancies and toward centers they say also provide support like pregnancy-related information, parenting classes and baby supplies.

For someone "not sure how she is going to move forward and trying to figure out what resources are available for her if she wants to carry the pregnancy to term, there is support" at about 3,000 locations nationwide, said Tobias, of the Right to Life Committee. "That is definitely the better way to go."

Some people facing unplanned pregnancies find answers online, like DakotaRei Belladonna Frausto, a 19-year-old student at San Antonio College in Texas. They sought an abortion a couple of years ago and came across a Facebook group, and eventually decided to start their own private Facebook group where people can share abortion resources and experiences.

In April, about two dozen people gathered at a Boise community center to help Luna assemble boxes containing emergency contraception, condoms and information about accessing abortions.

Stephanie Vaughan, 39, said she had an abortion at 17, when a baby might have kept her from going to college and getting a good job.

Martindale recalled how a girlfriend was able to get an abortion when they were teens. He and his wife, Jen, now devote much of their free time to Idaho Abortion Rights; they keep thousands of packages of emergency contraception on hand to donate.

"It's a community responsibility," said Jen Martindale, 48.

The next morning, the Martindales took reproductive health supplies to local shops that offer them for free. Their first stop was Purple Lotus, a clothing and accessories store.

Worker Taylor Castillo immediately opened a box: "Pregnancy tests? Oh good," she said. "Those have been flying!"

Castillo said she's glad to help. When she suffered a miscarriage in 2021, her doctor prescribed the same pills used in medication abortion. She wonders what would happen if she needed them today.

"Now, everything is on fire," she said. "The good thing is, there are mutual aid programs that are willing to stand up for us."

23-year-old dies at the Bernalillo County jail - KUNM News, KRQE-TV

Bernalillo County’s Metropolitan Detention Center announced Friday that 23-year-old Marcella Montelongo died while in the jail’s custody the day prior.

In a statement, a spokesperson for MDC said the University of New Mexico Hospital medical team responded to notice of a medical emergency and attempted to save Montelongo’s life. The jail says Albuquerque Ambulance and Bernalillo County Fire and Rescue arrived at 2:30 p.m. to assist. Montelongo was pronounced dead about 10 minutes later.

According to the statement, the Bernalillo County Sheriff's Office and the jail’s Office of Professional Standards are investigating the death and the Office of the Medical Investigator is investigating the cause.

KRQE reports Montelongo was in jail awaiting trial for charges related to the death of her 5-year-old son with disabilities last summer. The child died from starvation and dehydration, according to an autopsy.

Motelongo’s death follows a lawsuit against the jail for the overdose death of 41-year-old April Peterson. The suit alleges a guard did not check on the inmate because he was playing computer games and watching videos.

The facility saw its first deaths since UNMH took over as the jail’s health care providerin September when two inmates died in one week. More than 20 people have died while in MDC custody since 2020.