FRI: Albuquerque Police Misconduct Cases Spike, + More

Sep 18, 2020

Report Finds Albuquerque Police Misconduct Cases SkyrocketKOAT-TV, Associated Press

The number of policies violated at the Albuquerque Police Department skyrocketed 275%, and suspension jumped more than 350%.

KOAT-TV reports documents on police misconduct showed the number of policy violations increased from 190 to 716 over a year. The number of violations requiring a suspension rose from 52 to 237.

The station compared data from July 2018 to June 2019 to information from July 2019 to June 2020.

Interim police chief Harold Medina says the Albuquerque Police Department is now holding officers accountable.

But Albuquerque Police Officers' Association president Shaun Willoughby says officers are being punished for things like not putting away lapel cameras properly.

Albuquerque police are under court-ordered reforms following a U.S. Justice Department investigation into excessive force.

Biologists Ask Public For Help In Investigating Bird Die-OffAssociated Press

New Mexico biologists are asking the public for help as they investigate a statewide die-off among migratory birds.

The state Game and Fish Department is working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other agencies to determine the number of deaths and reason for the occurrence.

Officials are asking people to use the iNaturalist app to upload photos and other information to help track the event. The state agency says about 300 samples have been collected over the past week.

Dead birds have been reported in the Taos area and at Valles Caldera National Preserve in the north to the cottonwood forest along the Rio Grande to southern New Mexico.

Experts say residents have reported birds dying in groups and living birds exhibiting lethargic and unusual behavior such as not eating, flying low or gathering on the ground and being hit by vehicles.

Samples also are being collected by biologists at White Sands Missile Range and New Mexico State University.

More Navajo Nation Schools Could Reopen As Virus Wanes - Cedar Attanasio AP/Report For America

The New Mexico Public Education Department has given the green light for more students in tribal areas to attend school in-person.

McKinley County, which covers much of the Navajo Nation, now has a low enough rate of COVID-19 cases that it can allow schools to offer in-person learning two days per week to students in kindergarten through the fifth grade.

Middle school and high school students across New Mexico are not allowed to return to school.

Some urban school districts like Albuquerque and Las Cruces have decided to stay online for the rest of the year, despite being marked in the “green zone” based on COVID-19 testing criteria.

The stakes are higher in rural areas in the northwestern part of the state, where half or more of children don't have access to the internet.

Navajo Nation Reports 19 New Coronavirus Cases, 1 More DeathAssociated Press

Navajo Nation health officials on Thursday reported 19 new confirmed cases of coronavirus with one additional death.

The Navajo Department of Health says there now have been 540 known deaths and 10,083 confirmed cases on the vast reservation since the pandemic began.

The latest numbers include five additional positive COVID-19 cases that were previously unreported due to delayed reporting from health care facilities on the Navajo Nation, which covers parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.

Tribal health officials said 101,249 people have been tested for the coronavirus and 7,226 have recovered.

The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.

State Reports 154 New Virus Cases And Five More DeathsKUNM, Associated Press

New Mexico health officials reported a 154 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, bringing the total to 27,350 since the pandemic began.

Bernalillo had the most new cases at 30, followed by Doña Ana and Lea counties, both with 17.

There were also five more deaths, including a man in his 40s from McKinley County. The number of deaths in New Mexico related to COVID-19 is now 841.

Yesterday Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced a modified public health order to allow children to practice sports and residents to camp at state parks.

The governor said the state is trending in the right direction but that more can be done to move the state to a level where schools can resume in-person learning and more businesses can reopen.

This reflects a correction on the number of new cases sent out by the office of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.

Native American Activist Guilty Of Rape But Not KidnappingAssociated Press

A New Mexico jury found a Native American activist guilty of rape and voyeurism, but acquitted him of kidnapping — the most serious charge.

Santa Fe jurors on Friday announced their verdict against Redwolf Pope.

Prosecutors had accused Pope of raping a woman in a Santa Fe hotel in 2017 and recording the act. Pope is an activist described as having assisted elders and others during 2016 pipeline protests at the Standing Rock reservation in North Dakota.

Pope could have received 18 years for kidnapping, a first degree felony. The other two charges carry a combined maximum of four years.

Coronavirus Pandemic Shrinks Europe's Monitoring Of US Vote - By William J. Kole, Associated Press

The coronavirus pandemic has led Europe's largest security organization to drastically scale back plans to send as many as 500 observers to the U.S. to monitor the Nov. 3 presidential election.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe told The Associated Press on Friday that it now will deploy just 30 observers. The Vienna-based organization is better known for monitoring elections in countries such as Belarus or Kyrgyzstan.

But it has spent months trying to figure out how to safely keep tabs on the U.S. election.

The organization says it's worried the election will be "the most challenging in recent decades" as Americans pick a president during a pandemic.

Even if observers were granted access, many U.S. states don't allow them, and others leave it to the discretion of local elections officials. Only California, Missouri, New Mexico and Washington, D.C., expressly allow international monitors.

New Mexico Governor Eases Some COVID-19 Restrictions Associated Press

New Mexico children can practice sports and develop skills while in small groups and residents will soon be able to camp at state parks under changes being made to the state's public health order.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said Thursday the updated order also permits visits to pumpkin patches and that her administration plans to issue guidance for corn mazes, haunted houses and the operators of other autumn activities as fall approaches.

The governor said the state is trending in the right direction but that more can be done to move the state to a level where schools can resume in-person learning and more businesses can reopen.

"We are not there yet, but that has to be the goal," she said. "So the more we do as individuals, the more opportunity it is for all New Mexicans to have access to the critical required services and the businesses that they desire. New Mexico businesses deserve our effort and attention here and so do our kids."

The updated health order will remain in effect through mid-October. It still mandates that people wear masks or face coverings in all public spaces and competitive contact sports remain off-limits.

Health officials have reported an additional 159 COVID-19 cases, bringing the total since the pandemic began to 27,199. The death toll is now 836, with four additional deaths reported Thursday.

More Call For Pause As US Weighs New Mexico Drilling Plan - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

Environmentalists want federal land managers to suspend efforts to amend a plan that would guide oil and gas development and other activities near Chaco Culture National Historical Park. 

They sent a letter Thursday to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, saying the coronavirus pandemic has prevented meaningful in-person consultation with Native American tribes and others who would be affected by the decision. 

Officials held five virtual public meetings earlier this year and extended the public comment period to Sept. 25. Four more meetings were held in August, but critics say those too were inadequate. 

Legislation that would make federal land within a 10-mile radius of the park off-limits is pending in Congress.

New Mexico's High Court GOP Justice Reschedules Retirement - Associated Press

The lone Republican justice on the state Supreme Court is retiring on Dec. 1, triggering the nomination process for one of five seats on the high court. 

The University of New Mexico School of Law that oversees judicial vacancies made the announcement Thursday about the retirement of Justice Judith Nakamura, who initially planned to retire Aug. 1 but postponed.

She was appointed by Gov. Susana Martinez in November 2015 and won election to an eight-year term in 2016. 

The court has taken a prominent role in leading the state through the COVID-19 pandemic by freezing evictions while moderating conflicts over mail-in voting procedures and the governor's authority to limit business operations.

A bipartisan Supreme Court nominating commission is taking applications through mid-October on candidates it can recommend to Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.

Two justices previously appointed by the governor are up for election to eight year terms in the Nov. 3 general election. 

Incumbent Justice Shannon Bacon, a former state district judge from Albuquerque, is running against Republican challenger Ned Fuller, a Farmington-based county prosecutor and former Cabinet-level state official. 

Justice David Thomson is running against Republican attorney Kerry Morris of Albuquerque, a former Bernalillo County prosecutor.

New Mexico Racinos Ask Governor To Reconsider Closure - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

New Mexico's racetrack and casino operators are asking Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to consider allowing them to reopen.

In a letter sent this week to the Democratic governor, they pointed out that commercial casinos outside of New Mexico have opened — from Nevada to New Jersey and New York.

Track and casino managers in New Mexico say they have a plan to do it safely.

While tribal casinos in the state have reopened, the governor's office said Thursday that doesn't necessarily make opening a safe decision at this time and that public health conditions will determine when the time is right for easing restrictions on non-tribal operations.

New Mexico's Utility Regulation Committee Ousts Chairwoman – Associated Press

New Mexico's utility regulation committee ousted its Navajo chairwoman for what she claims is retribution for pushing for more broadband access in rural communities.

The state's Public Regulation Commission voted 3-2 on Wednesday to replace Chairwoman Theresa Becenti-Aguilar with Commissioner Stephen Fischmann.

Becenti-Aguilar says the recall occurred because her fellow commissioners gave the issue of rural broadband availability far less priority than she had.

Commissioner Cynthia Hall disputed Becenti-Aguilar's claim but did not provide a reason as to why she was ousted.

Fischmann declined to answer any questions about Becenti-Aguilar's removal.

Becenti-Aguilar had been the chairwoman of the commission since 2018 and represents the northwest region of the state.

US Judge Blocks Postal Service Changes That Slowed Mail - By Gene Johnson, Associated Press

A U.S. judge on Thursday blocked controversial Postal Service changes that have slowed mail nationwide.

The judge called them "a politically motivated attack on the efficiency of the Postal Service" before the November election.

Judge Stanley Bastian in Yakima, Washington, said he was issuing a nationwide preliminary injunction sought by 14 states including New Mexico that sued the Trump administration and the U.S. Postal Service.

The states challenged the Postal Service's so-called "leave mail behind" policy, where trucks have been leaving postal facilities on time regardless of whether there is more mail to load.

They also sought to force the Postal Service to treat election mail as First Class mail.

Tribes' Ancestral Remains Return Home To American Southwest Associated Press

Tribal leaders have reburied the remains of their ancestors that were taken more than a century ago from what's now a national park in Colorado.

The remains of about 20 people along with funerary objects were unearthed during excavations by a Swedish researcher in 1891. They eventually became part of the collection of the National Museum of Finland.

The Hopi Tribe in northeastern Arizona, and Zuni, Acoma and Zia pueblos in New Mexico led the repatriation efforts. They began working with the Finnish museum in 2016 to catalog the collection.

The remains and funerary objects were reburied over the weekend within Mesa Verde National Park, best known for the hundreds of stone dwellings built along the cliffs.

Acoma Pueblo Gov. Brian Vallo said he's hopeful others who have similar collections will be motivated to work with tribes to return any remains and items of cultural significance.