TUES: Former Albuquerque Police Detectives File Whistleblower Suit, + More

Jun 9, 2020

Former Albuquerque Detectives File Whistleblower LawsuitAlbuquerque Journal, Associated Press

A whistleblower lawsuit filed by former New Mexico police detectives says they were retaliated against for repeatedly raising concerns about the operation of their department's sex crimes unit.

The Albuquerque Journal reported the lawsuit was filed in 2nd Judicial District Court by former Albuquerque Police Department detectives Mandi Abernathy, Sally Dyer and Teresa Romero.

Their lawsuit says the sex crimes unit leadership undermined the investigation and prosecution of serial rapists and failed to train newer detectives on how to investigate complex and sensitive cases.

The lawsuit also alleges mishandling of their work and assignments or mistreatment by a superior.

Albuquerque police spokesman Gilbert Gallegos did not respond to the specific allegations. The city had not been served with the lawsuit but plans to investigate, he said.

The department "has been working to improve investigations of sexual assault" including tests of the backlog of rape kits, Gallegos said in an email.

New Mexico AG Calls For Uniform Use Of Force Policies - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas is joining the call for police reforms amid the latest wave of protests.

Balderas on Tuesday said state lawmakers should create uniform use of force policies that would require body cameras and ban chokeholds, among other things.

Balderas in 2016 called for a review of how police departments handled shootings by officers. Recommendations were adopted by the state Law Enforcement Academy Board in 2017, but a year later they failed to gain traction as many departments said they hadn't even received the recommendations.

His office did not immediately respond when asked about the push for reforms in the wake of the report.

Legislature Closes Capitol To Public For Budget Rewrite - By Morgan Lee, Associated Press

The New Mexico Capitol will be off limits to the public as a health precaution against the coronavirus as the Legislature gathers next week to plug a hole in the state budget, leading lawmakers decided Tuesday.

A panel of lawmakers approved safety restrictions and procedures for a special session on June 18 and related financial arrangements.

The Legislature is meeting to rewrite the state's spending plan for the fiscal year that starts on July 1 as state government income falls sharply amid a U.S. recession and a downturn in the state's crucial oil and natural gas sector. 

Live and recorded webcasts will provide a view of legislative deliberations, and media can attend without access to the House and Senate floors or underground corridors.

Legislative staff must undergo coronavirus testing — an optional precaution for legislators. Senate Democratic majority leader Peter Wirth of Santa Fe encouraged his colleagues to set an example for the public by taking every available precaution including testing.

Endangered Mexican Wolves Welcome 7 Pups At Albuquerque ZooAssociated Press

Two endangered Mexican gray wolves housed at the Albuquerque zoo are the proud parents of seven pups.

Zoo officials announced Tuesday that the pups recently came out of their den for the first time. Zookeepers have only been able to view the pups by camera so far because the mother is being protective.

Whenever possible, the pups will undergo an exam and their sexes will be determined. The zoo is part of a nationwide captive-breeding network that supports the recovery of the endangered predators in the Southwest U.S.

The latest pups are the second litter for the wolf pair at the zoo. 

Albuquerque Measure Would End Military Surplus For Police - Associated Press

Two Albuquerque city councilors want to end the city's participation in a federal program in which surplus military equipment is transferred to municipal police departments. 

City Council President Pat Davis and Councilor Lan Sena announced the legislation Monday. 

They say they're against what they call the militarization of law enforcement. 

The Albuquerque Police Department hasn't received any equipment through the program since 2015. 

Mayor Tim Keller says the use of military equipment is out of step with the city's values and he supports the legislation. 

The measure will be formally introduced at the council's June 15 meeting. It could be voted on before the end of the month.

Financial Crisis Looms Over New Mexico Cities, Counties - By Morgan Lee Associated Press

A leading state legislator is warning that local governments from Roswell to Santa Fe are being swept away in the "economic tsunami" of the coronavirus pandemic and may fall back on the state for financial aid. 

Senate finance committee chairman John Arthur Smith said Monday that gross receipt taxes on sales and services that support municipal and county governments are drying up, as cities such as Santa Fe reel from the collapse of the state's tourism sector. 

At the same time, he says the U.S. government has limited the options for states to funnel federal recovery dollars toward local governments.

He suggests the state can address its own likely budget hole by sweeping funds from idle accounts, delaying construction projects, suspending pay raises and shifting the way it pays for some services.

The Legislature is gathering June 18 for a special session to rewrite the general fund budget and conserve spending during the fiscal year starting July 1. 

Smith lost the June 2 Democratic primary to run for reelection, but still will oversee state Senate budget negotiations during the special session.

State Unemployment Trust Fund Could Dry Up By October - Associated Press

Financial analysts are warning that the trust fund that underwrites New Mexico unemployment benefits could be depleted by October if spending continues at the current rate. 

Staff at the nonpartisan Legislative Finance Committee say the fund's balance fell from $458 million in mid-March to $322 in mid-May as the state's unemployment rate surged past 11%.

The unemployment insurance trust fund is sustained by contributions from employers. 

The federal government offers loans to depleted unemployment funds at zero interest to sustain benefit payments.

Medicaid Rolls Swell In New Mexico Amid Economic Turmoil - Associated Press

Enrollment is rising in Medicaid health care in New Mexico as the coronavirus pandemic reverberates through the economy. 

The New Mexico Office of the Superintendent of Insurance says enrollment in the federally subsidized health care program increased by nearly 10,000 people to 853,251 as of June 1. 

Agency Program Manager Colin Bailllio says enrollment stood at 830,165 in February. 

The statistics suggest a shift away from employer-based health insurance and toward Medicaid benefits for residents living in poverty or on the cusp, as unemployment swells in the state. 

Economists affiliated with the National Bureau of Economic Research confirmed Monday that the U.S. economy has entered a recession.

About 40% of New Mexico residents already relied on Medicaid for health care in a state of 2.1 million residents. 

Employment in April was down more than 10% from a year ago.

New Mexico State Government Income Faltered In MarchAssociated Press

A fiscal analysis from the Legislature shows that New Mexico state revenues faltered slightly in March.

Monday's report from the Legislative Finance Committee foreshadows severe economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

State government general fund income decreased to $690 million for the month of March, down 5% from $728 million in March 2019.

The Legislature is scheduled to gather on June 18 to rewrite the state's spending plan for the coming fiscal year that starts on July 1. Detailed budget proposals have not been released.

A national recession and reduced oil demands are expected to undermine state government income. New Mexico relies heavily on income from fossil fuel production to support school districts, public universities, health care and more.

The federal government has allocated at least $1.25 billion in recovery dollars to New Mexico.

That money and more than $1 billion in financial reserves may help the state avoid immediate cuts to staff and services.

Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham says the state may rein in some spending on infrastructure projects.

State Epidemiologist Departs As New Mexico Reopens Economy - Associated Press

New Mexico's lead specialist for tracking and combating infectious disease has resigned amid the coronavirus pandemic to take a job with the Virginia Department of Health.

A Health Department spokesperson on Monday confirmed the departure of epidemiologist Michael Landen from the agency. 

He was appointed state epidemiologist in 2012 under Republican Gov. Susana Martinez and was a leading figure in the state's response to the opioid epidemic. 

A nationwide search for a successor is planned.

Landen made only occasional public appearances during the COVID-19 outbreak, as Deputy Epidemiologist Chad Smelser accompanied Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham at news conferences in the early stages of the pandemic. Smelser continues to play a leadership role in efforts to track and respond to the virus.

A spike in statewide infections over the past week tied to an outbreak at prison facilities in Otero County has changed the outlook for New Mexico and efforts to safely reopen the economy.

New Mexico received an overall "trending poorly" grade Monday on a website frequently cited by state health officials that tracks progress on infection rates, capacity for testing, available hospital capacity and more against White House criteria.

Pandemic Disrupts New Mexico Cattle, Sheep Operations Santa Fe New Mexican, Associated Press

New Mexico's cattle and sheep industries are taking a hit as the coronavirus pandemic is causing the wholesale prices of meat and wool to drop sharply.

The effects are not lost on ranchers like Carla Gomez, the owner of Los Vallecitos Ranch in Mora County. The Santa Fe New Mexican reports that the cattle and sheep industries are affected in different ways.

Ranchers say their problems might drag on into the next year. They say demand for beef and lamb has plummeted partly because restaurants were shut down to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Cattle ranchers also are selling fewer calves because some large meat processing plants were idled by viral outbreaks among workers.

Young calves and lambs are now stuck at feedlots beyond their prescribed time, incurring more expenses while vendors wait for meat prices to rise so they can at least break even.