FRI: Gun Rights Advocates Rally Against Red-Flag Bill + More

Jan 31, 2020

Opponents Of Red-Flag Gun Bill Rally At New Mexico Capitol Associated Press

Hundreds of advocates for gun rights rallied at the New Mexico Statehouse on Friday in a show of force against a proposed red-flag gun law that has the support of Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.

A bill from Democratic state lawmakers would allow law enforcement officials or family members to seek court orders to seize firearms temporarily from people deemed a threat to themselves or others.

Several county sheriffs and at least one district attorney denounced the bill as an infringement on constitutional rights against unreasonable searches and seizures and other constitutional rights. Proponents say new legislation is needed to respond to warning signs that may appear before firearm suicides and mass shootings.

At an outdoor rally, Republican state lawmakers including Rep. Candy Ezzell of Roswell urged opponents of the bill to directly lobby their state senators and representatives. The entire Legislature is up for election this year.

Lujan Grisham spokesman Tripp Stelnicki says gun owners who do not threaten themselves or others have nothing to fear from the legislation.

Report Finds Albuquerque Police Hired Convicted FelonKOAT-TV, Associated Press

Records show Albuquerque police hired a convicted felon and allowed him to continue working after officials learned he gave a wrong birth date and Social Security number.

Documents obtained by KOAT-TV through an open records request show that Amir Chapel was hired in April as the department's policy and compliance manager. 

A department memo and court records show Chapel had been convicted of forgery in Texas, misuse of a credit card in Illinois, and robbery in California. Chapel told KOAT he didn't do anything wrong. City officials say they couldn't comment on personnel matters.

The position, which paid $72,000 a year, was created to make sure police followed the city's settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice involving use of excessive force.

A department memo and court records show Chapel had been convicted of forgery in Texas, misuse of a credit card in Illinois, and robbery in California.

Under Albuquerque personnel rules, applicants are ineligible for city employment if they make a false statement on applications or if they have a prior felony conviction involving "moral turpitude."

Chapel checked a box on a city form indicating he had never been convicted of a felony and gave a wrong birth date, documents showed.

Chapel resigned from the position on Dec. 9 — the day the city released records to the TV station related to his hiring.

New Mexico Ranchers Say Hungry Elk Are Damaging Property - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

Some northern New Mexico ranchers are asking state wildlife managers to do something about the herds of elk they say are damaging property and eating the hay they had stockpiled for cattle over the winter.

Members of the Northern New Mexico Stockman's Association reported the damage to the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish earlier this week and notified the agency that they would have to start shooting the animals. State law allows for landowners to remove animals that are causing damage.

Biologists say heavy snowpack is likely causing the elk to move into lower elevations that include private property.

Members of the Northern New Mexico Stockman's Association reported the damage to the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish earlier this week and notified the agency that they would have to start shooting the elk.

State law allows landowners to lethally remove animals that are causing damage on private property.

Ranchers from the small community of Canjilon north to Chama and elsewhere on the fringes of Carson National Forest have reported similar problems over the years, accusing wildlife managers of not doing enough to keep the elk population in check.

They have asked for more hunting permits to be issued and say they should be compensated for the loss of hay and for damage caused by trespassing elk that try to jump fences and access pens.

The Game and Fish Department has no compensation program, but spokeswoman Tristanna Bickford said Friday the agency tries to work with ranchers ahead of time in hopes of preventing damage by providing fencing to protect crops and hay stacks.

She also said that since 2018, the agency has increased the number of hunting permits by 67% for an area that includes a large swath of land from Taos Junction west to the Rio Chama and beyond.

Navajo Code Talker Dies At 96; Less Than A Handful Remain - Associated Press

One of the few remaining Navajo Code Talkers who used their native language to confound the Japanese in World War II has died.

Joe Vandever Sr. died of health complications Friday in Haystack, New Mexico, according to his family. He was 96.

Tribal leaders called Vandever a "great warrior" and a "compassionate family man" and asked Navajos to keep his spirit and his family in their prayers.

Vandever was among hundreds of Navajos who served in the U.S. Marine Corps, transmitting messages using a code based on the Navajo language. The code developed by an original group of 29 Navajos was never broken.

Vandever's death leaves less than a handful of Navajo Code Talkers still alive.

Vandever enlisted in the Marines in Santa Fe in March 1943 and was honorably discharged in January 1946. He worked multiple jobs after the war, including for an oil company and as a mining prospector, and stressed the importance of the Navajo language. He also was a medicine man.

Vandever is survived by a sister, several children and dozens of grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He had one great-great-grandchild.

Vandever's wife of 73 years, Bessie, died last September.

He will be buried at the Santa Fe National Cemetery. Arrangements are pending.

Rape Trial Against Former Catholic Priest Starts In Santa FeAlbuquerque Journal, Associated Press

A trial has started for a former priest accused of raping a first-grade student from Holy Cross Catholic School in Santa Fe more than 30 years ago.

The Albuquerque Journal reported that key in the trial that began Thursday will be whether Marvin Archuleta, now 82, was in New Mexico during the 1986-87 school year, when the boy said he was abused.

Archuleta has been charged with one count of criminal sexual penetration of a child under 13 and one count of attempting to commit kidnapping, prosecutors said.

Archuleta was not assigned to Holy Cross Catholic Church in 1986 or 1987 but prosecutors said he would still be at the church occasionally.

Defense attorney Ryan Villa said Archuleta was assigned in Maryland when the boy was in first grade, and jurors would not see a single record putting Archuleta at the school at that time.

Public Pension Reforms Advance In New Mexico Legislature - Morgan Lee Associated Press

Legislators advanced a proposal to reform New Mexico's public pension plan for state and local government workers with some dissent among Democrats in the legislative majority.

Public workers and retirees packed the Senate committee hearing on Thursday for deliberations on a bill aimed at reigning in $6.6 billion in unfunded liabilities at the pension fund overseen by the Public Employees Retirement Association.

Major provisions of the bill would tie future annual cost of living adjustments to investment returns instead of providing automatic 3% increases. It also increases pension contributions by employees and employers, with the exception of low-paid workers and state police and corrections officers.

Pension members over the age of 75 would be exempt from the changes.

Participants in the pension plan are divided over whether the solvency measures are necessary right now.

Three Republicans, including Senate minority leader Stuart Ingle of Portales, joined with two Democrats to advance the bill on a 5-2 vote. 

The bill moves on to the Senate finance committee before a floor vote can take place. The initiative is supported by Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.

New Mexico Nuclear Waste Facility To Pause OperationsCarlsbad Current-Argus, Associated Press

A nuclear waste plant in New Mexico has announced plans to temporarily stop its waste acceptance and other operations to complete multiple maintenance projects at the facility.

The Carlsbad Current-Argus reported Wednesday the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant is expected to cease its primary operations of receiving and disposing transuranic nuclear waste from Feb. 14 to March 15.

Waste shipments would also be put on hold until the projects are completed, officials said.

Facility officials said maintenance work is expected to take multiple days and be conducted in critical areas of the facility located 26 miles southeast of Carlsbad.

The facility is also expecting a new access road so the plant could direct unrelated traffic away from the facility, officials said. The $8.9 million construction project on the northern access road into the plant was ongoing for months and will be cut down to a single lane until March 24, facility officials said.

State Bill Aims To Discourage Trafficking Of Wildlife PartsAssociated Press

State legislators in New Mexico are considering criminal penalties including jail time and civil fines for people who knowingly buy or sell endangered wildlife parts and products.

A Senate committee on Thursday endorsed the bill from Democratic Sen. Mimi Stewart of Albuquerque on a 6-3 party-line vote with Republicans in opposition. Stewart said 10 other states have adopted their own enforcement provisions on wildlife trafficking to support federal and international restrictions.

The New Mexico ban on wildlife trafficking would be linked to surviving species that are threatened with extinction such as elephants, lions, rhinoceros and others listed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

New Mexico district courts would be able to enforce fines of up to $25,000 per object, with potentially higher fines for highly valuable animal products. Local enforcement would involve the State Parks Division and the Department of Game and Fish.

Stewart's bill includes exemptions for some antiques that are at least a century old, certain musical instruments and objects that are lawfully possessed by enrolled members of a federally recognized Native American tribe or nation.

New Mexico conservation officers already can help U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agents under a cooperative law enforcement agreement. But criminal charges only are brought forward by the federal agents in cooperation with the U.S Attorney's Office.

The New Mexico Administrative Office of the Courts says criminal convictions could result in sentences of up to a year in jail.

Elephants, rhinos, giraffes, lions and other animals are the targets of poachers who sell carcasses and body parts for up to tens of thousands of dollars apiece.

New Mexico Sawmill Struggling Under Revised Owl Ruling – Santa Fe New Mexican, Associated Press

A sawmill is struggling to keep afloat amid a monthslong court injunction that barred logging anywhere near Mexican spotted owl habitat in New Mexico's five national forests. 

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports Mt. Taylor Manufacturing in Milan, New Mexico, was silenced in mid-December because of the court battle. 

A federal judge imposed the ban on timber activities in September based on a 2013 lawsuit by the Santa Fe-based environmental group WildEarth Guardians that claimed the U.S. Forest Service failed to monitor the spotted owl adequately. 

The bird has been listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act since 1993. 

The business uses ponderosa pine — the trees on which the owls nest.

Navajo Police Seeking Information On Deadly Hit-And-Run - Associated Press

Authorities on the Navajo Nation are looking to the public for any information on a deadly hit-and-run on the New Mexico side of the reservation.

A motorist found an injured, 71-year-old man sitting along BIA Route 11 in Pinedale, about 20 miles west of Crownpoint, on Jan. 23. The man told the motorist he was hit by a vehicle before dawn, but the man couldn't provide any more information, the Navajo Division of Public Safety said.

The man was transported to a local hospital where he died from his injuries, police said.

Navajo police spokesperson Christina Tsosie said Thursday the man has been identified, but his name wouldn't be released.

Tribal authorities are asking anyone who might have information on the incident to call the Navajo Police Department or criminal investigators.