FRI: Supreme Court Wades Into Fight On Restaurant Restrictions, + More

Jul 31, 2020

Supreme Court Weighs New Mexico Restrictions On RestaurantsAssociated Press

The administration of New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is defending its decision to ban indoor restaurant service as a reasonable precaution against the coronavirus.

A challenge of the indoor dining prohibition by the restaurant industry reached the hands of the state Supreme Court on Friday after a flurry of written briefings were filed by the governor's office.

Lujan Grisham on Thursday announced the extension of a stay-at-home public health health order. New Mexico's 7-day rolling average of daily deaths, infections and the rate of positive tests for the coronavirus have all increased over the past two weeks.

There were 203 newly confirmed cases per 100,000 people in New Mexico over the past two weeks, which ranks 22nd among states for per capita new reported cases.

The governor has asked that state district court Judge Raymond Romero be ordered to remove himself from the case because of apparent bias if the matter is sent back to the lower court.

Romero previously suspended the ban on indoor restaurant service and has urged the Supreme Court to return the case to his court in southern New Mexico.

The state on Friday announced 216 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total to 20,600. There were also seven additional deaths, including a man in his 30s in San Juan County with underlying health conditions.

There are now 642 deaths of New Mexicans related to COVID-19.

Cowboys For Trump Leader: Trump Campaign Distancing From Us - By Russell Contreras, Associated Press

The leader of Cowboys for Trump says the reelection campaign for President Donald Trump is distancing itself from the group after the leader posted a video saying some Black athletes should "go back to Africa."

Cowboys for Trump founder Couy Griffin told The Associated Press on Friday that the Trump campaign contacted him and said it would distance itself from the group's activities.

Griffin faced criticism this week after he posted the Facebook live "go back to Africa" video. Griffin says he chose his words poorly.

Griffin also is facing a recall petition to remove him from his Otero County Commissioner's seat. 

Samantha Zager, Deputy National Press Secretary for Trump's campaign, did not immediately return an email. While it's unclear what distancing from the group might mean, Trump has in the past met with the leader and retweeted some of the group's tweets.

Lawsuit Argues Man Arrested Without Justification For Filming RaidAssociated Press

A Black man alleges in a lawsuit against New Mexico State Police that he was arrested without justification after shooting video of a police raid at a neighbor's home in Albuquerque and declining requests from officers to identify himself.

The lawsuit said D'Andre Ravenel was jailed for four days on a charge of resisting an officer, though it was dismissed days after his April 2019 arrest.

The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of Ravenel, said he was engaging in constitutionally protected conduct when he recorded the video from a safe distance on a public sidewalk and didn't inhibit officers from doing their jobs.

A State Police spokesman declined to comment on the lawsuit.

The lawsuit said Ravenel was approached by State Police Officer Tony Fetty, who became upset when Ravenel declined his request to provide his identification and arrested him.

The lawsuit alleges an FBI agent, whose name isn't provided in the filing, then harassed Ravenel by threatening to jail him if he didn't provide his name.

While the lawsuit makes allegations against the federal agent, the FBI wasn't sued by Ravenel. FBI spokesman Frank Fisher declined to comment on the allegations made against the federal agent.

The federal agent, who called the probation office on Ravenel after he declined to identify himself, took Ravenel's phone, turned off the camera and searched the device without Ravenel's consent or probable cause for a warrantless search, according to the lawsuit.

After he was released from jail, Ravenel's probation officer told him that an FBI agent offered to give back Ravenel his phone if he agreed to delete the footage from the day of his arrest, the lawsuit alleged.

Ravenel was desperate to get his phone back, so he agreed to delete the video, and the phone was returned to him 34 days after it was taken from him, according to the lawsuit.

Troubled Las Cruces Police Gets New Interim ChiefAssociated Press

The troubled Las Cruces Police Department is getting a new interim police chief. The Las Cruces Sun-News reports Deputy Chief of Administrative Support Services Miguel Dominguez was named interim chief on Thursday and will serve until the city permanently fills the position this fall.

He replaces outgoing Chief Patrick Gallagher, who announced his retirement in the wake of an officer facing charges related to choking a suspect to death.

Gallagher had been the city's police chief since 2018 and previously served as chief of police in Santa Fe and Truth or Consequences. Dominguez graduated from the city's police academy in 2003.

Deadline Extended  For Tribes To Seek Broadband Licenses - By Felicia Fonseca, Associated Press

Tribes have another month to apply for a band of wireless spectrum to establish or expand internet on their lands.

The Federal Communications Commission had opened a priority filing window for tribes to access a mid-band spectrum that largely is unassigned across the western United States.

The commission on Friday extended the deadline to Sept. 2. Tribes had sought more time because of the coronavirus pandemic.

They said tribes have struggled to gather the information needed to apply for the licenses once reserved for educational institutions.

The FCC says setting the deadline further out would delay the granting of licenses to those who already have applied.

The extra time is far less than what tribes and tribal organizations had sought as they struggle to respond to the pandemic.

Nearly 230 tribes or tribal entities have submitted applications for the 2.5 GHz spectrum. Some have been granted temporary authority, including the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe in South Dakota, the Navajo Nation in the Four Corners region and Zuni Pueblo in New Mexico.

GOP US Senate Hopeful Blasts New Mexico Virus Campaign RulesAssociated Press

A Republican U.S. Senate hopeful is blasting New Mexico's health orders, which ban public political fundraisers and door-to-door campaigning.

Mark Ronchetti said Friday that Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's restrictions are violating free speech and are "tilting the playing field" toward Democrats, including his opponent, U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján.

The Democratic governor said Thursday the health orders aimed at stopping the spread of COVID-19 allows for peaceful protests but not public "political organizing" by candidates.

Lujan Grisham spokeswoman Nora Sackett called Ronchetti's criticism "nonsense" and said candidates can find other creative ways to reach voters.

Police: Ex-New Mexico Deputy Hoarded Lost Evidence In HomeAssociated Press

A former sheriff’s deputy in southern New Mexico was arrested Thursday on tampering with evidence charges after detectives say a cleaning crew found boxes of guns and case files at his foreclosed home.

Former Doña Ana County sheriff’s deputy Vincent Lopez was taken into custody following an investigation that began in May when the crew stumbled upon bags of evidence, firearms, ammunition, and case files, the Las Cruces Sun-News reports.

On May 23, a crew went to clean a foreclosed home in Las Cruces to prepare the house for resale, police said. Authorities report that when the cleaners entered the house, they came upon boxes containing bags of police evidence and scattered pages of police case files.

The cleaning crew gathered some of the scattered paperwork into a box and called authorities.

Authorities said the piles of evidence to specific cases had never been entered into the Doña Ana County Sheriff’s Office evidence station.

When a Las Cruces officer arrived at the home, he found evidence — including a shotgun and black semi-automatic handgun with the bottom receiver, as well as boxes of case files in a bedroom.

Las Cruces Police Sgt. Pete Skowronski also reports that he found some evidence near a fireplace that was full of ash, which raised concern that some of the case files were being burned.

Lopez was charged with nine counts of tampering with public records and nine counts of tampering with evidence and booked into the Doña Ana County Detention Center on a no-bond hold.

2 American Oil Execs Jailed In Venezuela Put On Home ArrestAssociated Press

Two American oil executives jailed in Venezuela have been released and granted house arrest in the South American nation, former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson said late Thursday.

The two are among six Citgo executives detained more than two years ago while on a business trip to Caracas. The former governor recently visited Caracas on a humanitarian mission and met with President Nicolás Maduro to press for their release.

The six men were called to Caracas just before Thanksgiving in 2017 for a meeting at the headquarters of Citgo’s parent, Venezuela's state-run oil giant PDVSA. They were hauled away from a meeting by masked security agents.

Venezuelan authorities accuse the men of corruption stemming from an alleged plan to refinance some $4 billion in Citgo bonds by offering a 50% stake in the company as collateral. Prosecutors accuse the men of maneuvering to personally benefit from the proposed deal.

All of the six men had been released to house arrest late last year before being taken back into custody two months later.

Navajo Nation Reports 51 More COVID-19 Cases, 1 More Death Associated Press

Navajo Nation health officials have reported 51 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 and one additional death.

The total number of people infected on the reservation now stands at 9,019 with 454 known deaths as of Thursday night.

Tribal health officials said 80,280 people have undergone testing and 6,627 have recovered from the virus.

The Navajo Nation once had one of the highest per-capita rates of coronavirus infections in the U.S.

The daily number of reported cases has declined overall, but nighttime curfews, weekend lockdowns and a mask mandate remain because of recent surges in COVID-19 off the reservation, which covers parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks.

But for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness including pneumonia and death.

GOP US Senate Hopeful Ronchetti Rebuffs Election Delay IdeaAssociated Press

A GOP U.S. senatorial candidate in New Mexico is joining top Republicans in Congress in rebuffing President Donald Trump’s suggestions the 2020 elections be delayed.

Mark Ronchetti’s campaign manager Jeff Glassburner said Thursday the Albuquerque Republican does not support moving the election from November 3rd.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the election date is set in stone and House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy said the election “should go forward” as planned.

Trump suggested the delay as he pushed unsubstantiated allegations that increased mail-in voting due to the coronavirus pandemic would result in fraud. But shifting Election Day is virtually impossible.

Former television weatherman Ronchetti is facing Democratic U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján for an open Senate seat in New Mexico.

The Republican Party of New Mexico, however, is defending Trump and said the president was only raising questions.

GOP former state lawmaker Yvette Herrell, who is seeking to unseat Democratic U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small of the swing, southern New Mexico seat, said she shares Trump’s concern about “last-minute universal mail-in balloting.” She cited a July story from The Associated Press that showed increased mail-in balloting in the New York primaries led to delays in tallying votes.

New Mexico Extends Stay-At-Home Order As Coronavirus SurgesCedar Attanasio, Associated Press

New Mexico has extended its stay-at-home health order with minor revisions through the end of August in response to a surge in coronavirus cases, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced Thursday.

The governor credited the surge for scuttling plans to roll back restrictions on everything from visiting loved ones in special care facilities to reopening in-person classes in public schools.

The governor has delayed re-entry to school classrooms until at least Sept. 7 and rolled back plans to reopen the economy by restoring a ban on indoor restaurant service and requiring a 14-day self-quarantine as travelers enter or return to New Mexico.

Students with special needs and those in kindergarten through third grade who have the most learning needs could be allowed to meet one-on-one with teachers or in small groups prior to Sept. 7.

Republican elected officials and restaurants are waging a legal battle against the governor over recent health restrictions aimed at stopping the virus.

APS: Police Will Not Respond To Students With COVID Symptoms - Hannah Colton, KUNM

Albuquerque Public Schools has revised a detail in its lengthy reopening plan that caused alarm among some parents and educators. The document, released two weeks ago, outlines protocols for when the district opens school doors to begin a hybrid learning model, which could happen as soon as September 8th. 

One red flag in the plan, for some, is a line that says that if a child shows symptoms of COVID-19 upon entering a schoolbus, the bus driver should call APS police to contact the child’s parent or arrange transportation home. Advocates said that would contribute to the overcriminalization of youth and force families into unwanted interactions with police. 

This week, APS spokesperson Monica Armenta said in an email response to KUNM that police officers will NOT respond to sick students -- although that’s still in the official plan on the district website as of Friday morning. Instead, she wrote, “schools nurses will be the point of contact for students who exhibit signs of illness.”

Armenta said all the details of the 150-page re-entry plan are subject to change “based on the status of the virus.”