THURS: State Police Officer Fatally Shot, Teachers Union Balks At Extending School Year,+ More

Feb 4, 2021


New Mexico State Police Say Officer Shot, Killed On HighwayAssociated Press

Authorities say a New Mexico State Police officer was killed in a shooting along a highway Thursday before a chase ended 30 miles away with a suspect dead and a Las Cruces police officer wounded.

State Police said one of its officers was shot in Luna County between Las Cruces and Deming in a confrontation along Interstate 10 in southern New Mexico.

They said multiple agencies then pursued the suspect's vehicle to the Las Cruces area before there was an exchange of gunfire.

The suspect was killed and a Las Cruces police officer was shot.

The officer was taken to a hospital in El Paso with injuries that were not life-threatening, according to Las Cruces police spokesman Danny Trujillo.

The names of the dead and wounded weren't immediately released as State Police said they had limited information and two separate shooting scenes to investigate.

The Las Cruces Police Department closed the interstate near the shooting scene and told drivers to use a different route until the investigation has been completed.

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has ordered all flags at state buildings lowered to half-staff from Friday to Tuesday to honor the State Police officer killed in the line of duty.

New Mexico Teachers Union Opposes Extending School Year - By Cedar Attanasio, Associated Press/Report For America

New Mexico's largest teachers union is opposing legislation that would extend the school year to make up for learning that was lost during the coronavirus pandemic.

Children are facing unprecedented setbacks amid online instruction, and court rulings are pressuring state leaders to improve student outcomes, which were some of the worst in the nation even before the virus hit.

Two programs offer state funding to extend elementary school calendars by 25 days and upper grades by 10 days. Teachers, who are normally unpaid during summer months, effectively get a 6% to 14% raise when they participate.

Union leaders and lawmakers agree that extended learning is good for students. But only a third of school districts participated in the programs in the 2019-2020 school year.

During the pandemic, participation fell even further among elementary school programs, leaving over $100 million allocated by the Legislature unused.

School officials say teachers often don't want to work the extra days and cite staffing as the primary challenge to offering the extended learning.

Union leaders say their members need a break after a stressful year and don't want districts cutting into vacation time.

Other union officials say the extended learning requirements could hurt teacher retention, especially among those who aren't tied to New Mexico.

Teachers are prioritized for vaccines, and some received them in January, including the entire staff of a small private school in Santa Fe.

But clinics for teacher vaccines at large public schools were canceled later in the month due to supply constraints and miscommunications with health officials.

Legislative research reports indicate that learning loss during the pandemic could range from five to 12 months depending on students' vulnerability. Those without secure housing and rural children lacking solid internet access are some of the most at risk.

Airman Sentenced To 5 Years In Prison In Albuquerque CrashAssociated Press

A U.S. Air Force court-martial panel sentenced a 22-year-old Kirtland Air Force Base airman to five years in a military prison on convictions stemming from a 2019 crash in Albuquerque that killed a pedestrian.

Airman 1st Class Calvin Cooper was sentenced Wednesday after being convicted Tuesday of involuntary manslaughter, negligent homicide and reckless driving in the death of Angelica Baca.

The 39-year-old woman was standing in a median and waiting to finish crossing a street when she was killed instantly when struck by Cooper's speeding car.  

Baca's mother, Rhonda Henson, said the conviction and sentencing would provide some closure.

Cooper apologized in court and asked to be allowed to remain in the Air Force, but his sentence includes a discharge from the service for bad conduct.

However, the military court panel denied the prosecution's request for a dishonorable discharge for Cooper, who could have been sentenced to up to 11 years in prison.

Albuquerque School District Delays Vote On School Reopenings Associated Press

The largest school district in New Mexico has delayed the vote on how to move forward with schools reopening, and it has planned to revisit the discussion at a coming meeting.

The Albuquerque Public Schools Board of Education met Wednesday to discuss a plan presented by Interim Superintendent Scott Elder that would have allowed kids to return in phases starting Feb. 22.

Elder is now expected to present a different plan that would likely focus on small groups of students. The district's next meeting is scheduled for Feb. 17.

Meanwhile, New Mexico health officials reported 565 new confirmed COVID-19 cases and 17 more deaths Thursday, raising the state's totals to 176,211 cases and 3,355 deaths since the pandemic started.

The state Department of Health has said K-12 school employees are currently ineligible for the COVID-19 vaccine unless they are in another priority subgroup.

The Albuquerque Teachers Federation union, which represents about 6,000 employees, called for in-person learning to be voluntary for staff until vaccines are widely available.

A county will be considered "green" or at medium risk, if it has a COVID-19 test positivity rate of 5% or less and fewer than eight newly confirmed cases a day per 100,000 residents.

New Mexico Health Officials Cite Results From Vaccine - By Morgan Lee, Associated Press

State health officials sounded an optimistic note Wednesday about progress in containing the coronavirus pandemic amid a gradual increase in federal vaccine supplies to New Mexico and a downward statewide trend in infection rates, deaths and hospitalizations.

State Health Secretary Tracie Collins announced Wednesday that nearly 9,000 people are receiving immunization shots each day statewide. The state's federal allotment of vaccine doses is increasing from 56,000 this week to 59,500 next week.

State health officials say they are redoubling efforts to distribute vaccines in an equitable way to people at the greatest risk of severe health consequences.

New Mexico has expanded eligibility beyond initial categories such as medical personnel, nursing home residents and staff to include all people over the age of 75 and other adults at high risk of severe health complications from the virus.

That opens up a huge eligible population of roughly 900,000 people, within a state of 2.1 million, who will take several months to vaccinate even as the supply chain expands.

About 67,000 state residents have been fully vaccinated — or about 3.2% of the population. An estimated 225,000 people have received just the first shot out of two.

Geographic disparities are emerging in vaccination rates, as the state publicly tracks doses in each of the state's 33 counties.

Republican state Sen. Craig Brandt of Rio Rancho raised concerns with the Department of Health that his constituents may be falling behind in Sandoval County, where 6 vaccine shots have been administered per 100,000 people — versus 24 in Santa Fe County, the seat of state government.

He wrote the Department of Health on Tuesday and received no immediate response.

In a news conference, Collins said those disparities largely are based on a combination of vaccine eligibility, the local capacity at clinics and hospitals to administer shots, and attitudes toward taking the vaccine.

Collins said her agency has convened a policy group regarding equitable vaccine distribution.

Some health care specialists are urging the state to conduct door-to-door outreach.

At the same time, Collins acknowledged that residents of New Mexico have been crossing state lines in search of vaccines in Texas, where individual clinics immunize thousands of people a day on a first-come, first-served basis.

The vaccine registration system in New Mexico occasionally alerts people on short notice if excess doses are available at a nearby clinic, to limit waste from spoilage. Those invitations also may be quickly rescinded.

Human Service Secretary Secretary David Scrase delved into sports metaphors to convey his optimism at declining average rates of infection and hospitalizations from the virus.

"We believe now enough people have been vaccinated, even though it's 10 percent, we're starting to see the benefit there," he said. "This feels like the beginning of a fourth-quarter comeback."

State health officials Wednesday reported 670 new COVID cases and 29 additional deaths.

Scrase said that state is exploring the possibility of financial incentives that encourage people to take the vaccine. He said public demand is likely to keep pace with supplies until the summer months.

The goal set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of inoculating anywhere between 70% and 85% of the population is aimed at achieving herd immunity to conquer the outbreak.

Collins confirmed that teachers are receiving no special eligibility for vaccination, as local school districts have permission to restart in-person teaching for all ages on Feb. 8. Reopening decisions are being left to individual school districts under detailed state safety guidelines.

Navajo Nation Reports 110 New COVID-19 Cases, 9 More Deaths – Associated Press

Navajo Nation health officials on Thursday reported 110 new COVID-19 cases and nine more deaths.

The latest numbers raised the totals to 28,668 cases and 1,047 known deaths since the pandemic began. The tribe has tribe extended its stay-at-home order with a revised nightly curfew to limit the spread of COVID-19.  

The Navajo Department of Health has identified 56 communities with uncontrolled spread of the coronavirus, down from 75 communities in recent weeks.

The Navajo Nation also is lifting weekend lockdowns to allow more vaccination events. The actions in the latest public health emergency order will run through at least Feb. 15.

Navajo Nation Reports 70 New COVID-19 Cases, 6 More Deaths - Associated Press

Navajo Nation health officials on Wednesday reported 70 new COVID-19 cases and six more deaths. 

The latest numbers raised the totals to 28,544 cases and 1,038 known deaths since the pandemic began. 

On Tuesday, tribal officials said they received word that U.S. President Joe Biden had signed a long-awaited major disaster declaration for the Navajo Nation. It will provide more federal resources and prompts the release of federal funds for the reimbursement of emergency funds expended to address the COVID-19 pandemic on the Navajo Nation which covers parts of New Mexico, Arizona and Utah. 

The tribe has tribe extended its stay-at-home order with a revised nightly curfew to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Cowboys For Trump Leader Appeals For Pre-Trial Release - Associated Press

Jailed Cowboys for Trump founder Couy Griffin is seeking a second judge's opinion on whether he must remain incarcerated pending trial in connection with the siege of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

In court filings Wednesday, attorneys for Griffin say a magistrate judge denied pre-trial release for reasons not cited by prosecutors and in violation of due process rights. 

They also argue that incarceration without bail is heavy handed considering Griffin never entered the Capitol building. More than 150 people have been charged in federal court with crimes following the Jan. 6 riot.

Griffin's appeal for pretrial release was filed with U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell.

Griffin, a commissioner in Otero County, was arrested on Jan. 17 in Washington — days after announcing during a public meeting in Alamogordo that he would return to Washington in opposition to Biden's election and inauguration.

On Monday, Magistrate Judge Zia Faruqui has said Griffin represented a flight risk based in part on his denial of the legitimacy of the U.S. government.

Griffin is confronting charges of knowingly entering the Capitol grounds with the intent to disrupt the government as Congress considered Electoral College results.

An evidentiary hearing could take place as early as next week.

New Mexico Lawmakers Eye Curbing Governor's Power In Crisis - By Cedar Attanasio, Associated Press/Report For America

Some New Mexico lawmakers are fed up with Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's 11-month string of emergency health orders. They would like to put limits on health orders during the coronavirus pandemic and in future emergencies.

A Senate committee considered a measure Wednesday that would limit emergency health orders to two weeks unless legislative leaders agree to an extension.

A spokeswoman for Lujan Grisham says quick action using the emergency health orders has saved lives, that the pandemic is far from over.

In the House, a bill by Democratic and Republican lawmakers would limit emergency health orders to 90 days. After that, the governor would have to get legislative approval.

The proposals come amid Lujan Grisham's coronavirus-related emergency health order, which has been renewed multiple times over 11 months with no need for a vote by the House or Senate.

Several other states — including Arizona, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania — are seeking to curb executive power on health orders because of pandemic-related restrictions.

Lujan Grisham's spokeswoman argued that New Mexico is one of many states that have saved lives due the ability to take quick action.

Lujan Grisham called two special sessions of the Legislature last year to pass funding bills related to the pandemic, once in June for about a week and again in November for one day.

Air Force Likely To Expand F-16 Air Space In New MexicoAssociated Press, Las Cruces Sun-News

The U.S. Air Force signaled that it would likely expand existing airspace to train F-16 fighter pilots rather than create new flying areas over the Rio Grande Valley and Gila wilderness.

The Las Cruces Sun-News reported Tuesday that the Air Force would prefer to extend current operations over Eddy, Otero and Chaves counties for F-16 pilots taking off from Holloman Air Force Base.

The Air Force has said that more airspace is needed to adequately train pilots.

During public hearings in 2019, environmental and economic organizations said the Air Force had not provided data that supported claims that overflights and noise would have minimal impact on wildlife.

The local organizations also said that the Air Force did not properly address concerns about noise pollution and the risk of wildfires.

Kirtland Airman Convicted In 2019 Crash That Killed WomanAlbuquerque Journal, Associated Press

A 22-year-old Kirtland Air Force Base airman has been convicted of charges stemming from a 2019 car crash that killed an Albuquerque woman.

Calvin Cooper faced sentencing Wednesday after being convicted Tuesday of involuntary manslaughter and negligent homicide in the death of Angelica Baca, 39.

The Albuquerque Journal reported James Dallas Wicker, a brother of Baca, said Cooper's conviction doesn't bring his sister back but was "the start of a long healing process,"

A prosecutor, Capt. Andrew Trejo, said Baca was struck in a street median by Cooper's car as he drove 60 mph in a 35 mph zone.

Capt. Victoria Clark, one of Cooper's defense attorneys, said Baca was negligent by not using a crosswalk to cross a busy street.