FRI: Activists Renew Criticism Of Conquistador Statues, + More

Jun 12, 2020

Activists Take Aim At Conquistador Statues In New Mexico - By Morgan Lee, Associated Press

Two public statues of conquistador Juan de Oñate in New Mexico are drawing renewed attention and criticism as memorials erected in honor of Confederate leaders and other historical figures worldwide become a focus of protests.

More than 1,500 people have signed a petition calling for the removal of an Oñate statue on the outskirts of Española in northern New Mexico. It describes the conquistador's inhumane treatment of indigenous people and invokes solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.

Activists are calling on Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller to remove another Oñate likeness from a caravan of colonists set in bronze outside a city museum.

Oñate arrived in present-day New Mexico in 1598. He is celebrated as a cultural father figure but also reviled for his brutality.

To Native Americans, Onate is known for having ordered the right feet cut off of 24 captive tribal warriors after his soldiers stormed Acoma Pueblo's mesa-top "sky city." That attack was precipitated by the killing of Onate's nephew.

In 1998, someone sawed the right foot off the statue of Oñate near Española.

Critics scheduled public protests at the Oñate statues for Monday.

Police Pursuit Law Divides New Mexico Supreme Court Associated Press

The New Mexico Supreme Court has ruled that a state law making it a felony to flee a pursuing law enforcement officer requires police to be in uniform and driving a vehicle with visible markings such as the police agency's insignia.

The divided decision came Thursday in a pair of cases that involved a law used to prosecute people who lead police on high-speed chases. One case was from San Juan County and the other was from Curry County.

The majority opinion found that flashing lights and a siren on a vehicle aren't enough and that a police officer's badge alone doesn't constitute a uniform.

Justice Michael E. Vigil wrote in the majority opinion that the court considered the plain meaning of the words "uniform" and "appropriately marked" to interpret the law.

In a dissenting opinion, Chief Justice Judith K. Nakamura disagreed with the strict interpretation of the wording at issue. She said it "has the pernicious effect of permitting some offenders who knowingly disobey officer commands and then flee in a manner that endangers the public to avoid criminal punishment simply because an officer's uniform and/or vehicle were not sufficiently distinctive."

New Mexico Offers COVID-19 Testing For Utility WorkersAssociated Press

New Mexico health officials are offering coronavirus testing for utility workers as part of a statewide effort to keep essential workers in various fields safe and healthy.

Friday's announcement by the state Department of Health covers those workers who ensure critical infrastructure such as electrical, water and wastewater systems keep operating.

The special testing hours being set aside for utility workers also is meant to help the state with identifying, isolating and tracing new cases of COVID-19.

State officials say they are still working to reach their testing goals. New Mexico has 9,526 cases and 426 people have died as of Friday.

Just over half of the state's cases are in McKinley and San Juan counties. Hundreds of cases also have been documented in state and federal jail populations in New Mexico, with more than 20 new cases among inmates being reported Friday.

Albuquerque Mayor Signs On To Obama-Led Reform Initiative - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

The mayor of New Mexico's largest city says he's joining other Democrat mayors who are vowing to take action on police reform.

Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller said Friday he has signed the Obama Foundation-sponsored My Brother's Keeper pledge. He says it will be a continuation of work already underway.

The Albuquerque Police Department began implementing reforms under a prior mayoral administration as part of a consent decree with the U.S. Justice Department.

Federal authorities in 2014 issued a scathing report in response to a series of deadly shootings in the city that pointed to patterns of excessive force and a lack of training and oversight of officers.

New Mexico Man Gets 6 Years In Prison In Embezzlement SchemeAlbuquerque Journal, Associated Press

A federal judge has sentenced a court-appointed guardian to six years in federal prison after he was convicted of stealing millions of dollars from vulnerable and special needs clients.

The Albuquerque Journal reported that U.S. District Judge Martha Vazquez dismissed a plea Thursday for Craig Young to be sentenced to home confinement.

Prosecutors say the now-defunct Albuquerque firm was shuttered in 2017 after authorities discovered about 1,000 clients lost more than $10 million in the multi-year embezzlement scheme.

Young's attorney Ryan Villa asked for a year of home confinement, with three years of supervised release. Prosecutors recommended 15 years in prison.

Lawmakers Ask High Court To Keep Legislature Open To Public - By Morgan Lee Associated Press

Republican legislators and a handful of Democrats are decrying as unconstitutional a plan to close off public access to the New Mexico Statehouse during a special legislative session. 

Twenty-two legislators on Thursday petitioned the state Supreme Court to prevent the Legislature from the move intended as a precaution against the coronavirus. 

Webcasts of committee meetings and floor debates would be available to the public under a plan devised this week by a panel of leading House and Senate lawmakers, including Democratic House speaker Brian Egolf. The special session starts on June 18.

But a group of mostly Republican legislators have condemned those arrangements as "contrary to the duty of transparency owed to the public in a representative democracy." They say that residents in remote, rural areas don't have reliable internet service to watch the webcasts and that other precautions such as physical distancing and face masks could be taken to guard against COVID-19.

The Supreme Court gave the legislative council committee that drew up the attendance restrictions until Monday to respond to the lawsuit.

Former state land commissioner Aubrey Dunn signed on as a plaintiff to note that he would have difficulty participating in the special session from his rural ranch where internet service is spotty.

Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham called a special session of the Legislature to rewrite the state's spending plans as state government income plummets. Proposals from the governor and a lead budget-writing committee would fill the budget hole by tapping federal relief funds and state financial reserves, while scaling back spending increases on public salaries, public education and more.

Breweries Allowed To Re-Open As Officials Report 10 New COVID-19 Deaths Associated Press, Albuquerque Journal

The rate of transmission of COVID-19 is falling in New Mexico and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced Thursday that breweries will be allowed to re-open around the state.

The Albuquerque Journal reported they can re-open outdoor and patio seating at 50% capacity starting Friday. On Monday, they will be able to open indoor dining at 50% capacity, as restaurants are currently allowed to do.

New Mexico is reporting an additional 121 coronavirus cases, bringing the statewide total 9,367.

The Health Department on Thursday also reported 10 new deaths, raising the death toll to 420. McKinley and San Juan counties in the northwestern corner of the state continue to account for more than half of the confirmed infections.

Prison facilities also remain hotspots of the outbreak. More than 600 cases have been reported among inmates being held at federal and state lockups in New Mexico.

State officials continued Thursday to urge residents to stay at home and wear face coverings when out in public. They said the rate of spread was improving as is New Mexico's testing capacity but more work still needs to be done.

Besieged Hospital On Edge Of Navajo Nation Fires CEO - By Morgan Lee, Associated Press

The board of a rural New Mexico hospital that was hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic has fired the chief executive.

An email sent to staff at Rehoboth McKinley Christian Hospital in Gallup on Thursday said the CEO's termination was effective immediately and a search would begin soon for a replacement.

The hospital came under fire in recent weeks after it laid off nurses in March and then was overwhelmed by the pandemic. Some employees protested inadequate staffing and urged CEO David Conejo to resign.

Dozens of hospital staff contracted the virus as doctors and nurses scrambled to attend to critically ill COVID-19 patients, eventually opting to transfer patients with severe respiratory problems to health care facilities in Albuquerque.

Conejo has defended his handling of the pandemic and said decisions on staffing and medical care were not his alone.

Officials from McKinley County, which owns and leases the hospital to a private operator, grew frustrated trying to audit hospital finances and threatened in May to cut off property tax funding. State Auditor Brian Colón entered the fray in mid-May to negotiate the release of hospital financial documents.

Navajo Residents Urged To Stay The Course, Keep Curve Flat Associated Press

Navajo Nation health officials are reporting 125 new coronavirus cases and five new related deaths on the reservation.

The death toll is approaching 300 and reservation-wide cases totaled 6,275 as of Wednesday. Tribal officials said preliminary reports from 11 health care facilities indicate nearly 3,000 people have recovered from COVID-19 with more reports pending.

Navajo officials are cautioning tribal members about letting up their guard too soon while the pandemic remains a serious threat throughout U.S. In Arizona, health care officials are reporting spikes in new cases and hospitals have been told to prepare for the worst.

Navajo Nation Sues Over Hemp Growing Operation - Associated Press

The Navajo Nation Department of Justice is suing a tribal member over what authorities say is an illegal hemp farming operation in northwestern New Mexico. 

Attorney General Doreen McPaul said the lawsuit was filed Thursday in tribal court. 

The complaint names Dineh Benally, Native American Agriculture Co. and Navajo Gold Co. 

Benally and his businesses are accused of running an industrial hemp operation within the reservation's boundaries and unlawfully issuing tribal land use permits to foreign entities to grow and cultivate hemp on the Navajo Nation. 

An attorney for Benally said he hasn't seen a copy of the complaint and declined to comment.