TUES: National Park Service Says Tasing By Ranger At National Monument Under Review, + More

Dec 29, 2020


US Park Service Says New Mexico Tasing Case Is Under ReviewKOB-TV, Associated Press, KUNM

The National Park Service says it's investigating an incident in which a man was tased by a ranger at Petroglyph National Monument in New Mexico.

Darrell House was stopped Sunday by the ranger for walking in a closed area off trail in violation of park regulations. Video taken by House shows the ranger asking for his identification. House declines, insisting he hadn't done anything wrong.

The ranger told House he was refusing a lawful order and that he would have to be detained until he could be identified.

Video posted by House on social media then shows the ranger tasing House while he screams for help and rolls on the ground. The ranger repeatedly asks for him to put his hands behind his back as House raises his hands and at times folds them in front of his chest while still calling for help.

House, who said he was unarmed, eventually sits down as another ranger arrives and places him in handcuffs.

House was cited for interfering with agency functions, concealing his identity and being off trail, KOB-TV reported. House did not return messages from The Associated Press.

In his social media posts, House identified himself as Navajo and Oneida and said he goes to the monument to pray.

Situated along the western edge of Albuquerque, the monument encompasses one of North America's largest petroglyph sites. The volcanic rocks that make up the monument's desert escarpment are covered with designs and symbols carved by early Indigenous inhabitants and later Spanish settlers.

House told the television station he didn’t harm anyone and was practicing his religious rights on his ancestral land.

U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich and U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján, both Democrats representing New Mexico, released a joint statement professing shock over the video and calling for an immediate investigation.

Regional officials with the National Park Service told The Associated Press in a statement Monday that the case has been referred to the agency's internal affairs unit for review.

House's video spurred criticism on social media and fueled ongoing nationwide concerns about excessive force by law enforcement. In Albuquerque, the city's police department has been the target of U.S. Justice Department oversight and court-ordered reforms for previous excessive force complaints.

The city's Office of Equity and Inclusion issued a statement Tuesday, calling the video disturbing. The office said it had reached out to the National Park Service and expected a thorough, transparent and speedy investigation.

2 Albuquerque Churches Fined $5K For Virus Safety ViolationsAssociated Press

New Mexico officials have fined two Albuquerque churches for violating the state's public health orders aimed at stopping the spread of COVID-19 after both venues held large gatherings for Christmas.

The state Department of Health fined Legacy Church and Calvary Church $5,000 each on Monday after photos and video showed both churches violated orders limiting occupancy, mandating masks and practicing social distancing.

A spokesman for the governor said the leaders and congregation at the two churches violated state regulations.

Legacy Church officials accused the state of trampling on their constitutional rights. Calvary Church's pastor said they urged people to follow guidelines and blocked every other row to practice social distancing.

More than 139,000 residents have tested positive for COVID-19 and 2,403 have died as of Tuesday.

Health officials on Tuesday reported an additional 1,221 confirmed infections, including 23 among inmates at the Lea County Correctional Facility and 9 cases at the Southern New Mexico Correctional Facility.

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.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

Audit Reveals Mishandled City Funds In Las Cruces – Associated Press

An audit released by the Office of the New Mexico State Auditor has revealed more than $1.8 million in mishandled or misused city funds related to the Las Cruces Convention and Visitors Bureau and various city-sponsored events.

The audit made public Tuesday also identified what officials described as serious conflicts of interest.

The investigation spanned nearly a year and included a review of millions of pages of documentation.

Las Cruces Mayor Ken Miyagishima said the findings already have resulted in changes.

The city has updated internal controls and policies, implemented an ordinance focused on accountability in government and restructured its internal audit office. Oversight committees also have been named.

The auditor's office said the report has been referred to the state attorney general's office for further review.

New Year Brings New Oversight Of Vaping, Student Debt - By Morgan Lee, Associated Press

With the start of the new year, New Mexico authorities will be increasing oversight of tobacco and e-cigarette businesses to prevent child access.

The state is taking a more assertive approach to the regulation of tobacco products by requiring licenses for the sale, distribution or manufacture of all tobacco products.

On July 1, New Mexico increased the minimum age limit to 21 for the purchase of all tobacco products including vaping products.

Repeated infractions can lead to fines of up to $10,000 and license revocation.

The changes come as a new statewide minimum wage also takes effect Friday. New Mexico's minimum wage is increasing to $10.50 a hour, up from $9.

And a new consumer protection law takes aim at the student debt crisis with financial disclosure requirements for private colleges and universities.

The legislation, co-sponsored by Democratic state Rep. Christine Chandler of Los Alamos and Democratic Sen. Liz Stefanics of Santa Fe, also require disclosures about the financial obligations for students who cancel their studies before graduation.

A 2019 study by the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty and partner organizations found that New Mexico had the second highest student loan default rate in the U.S. with more than 1 in 5 student loan borrowers listed in as severely delinquent on debts.

New Mexico Forecasters Warn Of Winter Storms, Slick RoadsAssociated Press

Forecasters with the National Weather Service in Albuquerque say two winter storms will be bearing down on New Mexico this week.

The first is expected to bring widespread precipitation through Tuesday evening. The Sacramento Mountains in southern New Mexico and the adjacent highlands will see gusts during the day before a backdoor cold front moves in and crosses the plains.

Well below normal temperatures are expected in the storm's wake.

The next round will hit Thursday night with some high elevation snow showers possible for northern New Mexico.



New Mexico Begins Accepting Abuse-Neglect Reports By Text Associated Press

New Mexico is launching a round-the-clock program to let youths reach state officials by text message to report abuse or neglect, find references or ask questions.

Reach NM uses the text number 505-591-9444 to let Children, Youth & Families Department intake workers offer answers and connect texters with appropriate community resources.

Department Secretary Brian Blalock says the program offers a “one-on-one” connection "to offer support and resources in a way that is natural to our kids.”

The department points to Arizona State University research finding the average child has a cell phone by age 11, and that texting is the most comfortable form of communication for youths. A statement calls New Mexico the first state with a completely text-based system.

If suspected abuse or neglect is disclosed, a report will be created and investigators can respond based on the severity of the situation. The aim is to provide the same level of support offered through the department’s #SAFE and 855-333-SAFE telephone numbers.

Reach NM texters can remain anonymous, but workers can track calls from the same person over time.

Engagement experts also can use the system to connect those in need with support and services including food banks, or assistance with transportation to and from medical appointments.

New Mexico Sees Decline In Daily Confirmed COVID-19 CasesAssociated Press

New Mexico is seeing its daily COVID-19 case totals decline, but health officials have been worried about whether the Christmas holiday could lead to another spike as it takes two to three weeks for infections to manifest.

On Monday, the state reported an additional 700 confirmed cases, bringing the total to more than 138,650 since the pandemic began.

The death toll stands at 2,380. Almost one-third of the 36 fatalities reported Monday involved people at nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. A male inmate at the Guadalupe County Correctional Facility also was among the deaths.

Vaccinations of health care workers as well as staff and residents at nursing homes and other long-term care facilities is ongoing.

Data collected by the state shows the virus has been most deadly for Hispanics and Native Americans. While those 65 years and older make up the largest group of people who have succumbed to the virus overall, deaths have been more evenly spread among younger groups of Hispanics and Native Americans.

The data also shows hypertension and diabetes are the leading underlying conditions among those who die from complications of a COVID-19 infection.

Police Ask For Help Solving State Trooper’s 1973 Killing Associated Press

Denver Police are asking for the public's help solving the 1973 shooting death of a Colorado State Patrol trooper.

Investigators are seeking information about the death of Trooper Thomas Carpenter, who was shot Dec. 27, 1973, after he was apparently kidnapped by two men who had been with a stopped car along a Colorado roadside, The Denver Post reports.

Thomas, 31, spotted the car and pulled up to it sometime before 10 a.m., but he did not make a radio report that he was pulling over. Investigators believe he either intended to help a stranded motorist or he saw something suspicious.

The car turned out to have been stolen, and witnesses later told investigators they saw the trooper driving his patrol car with two men in the back.

Carpenter was told to respond to a crash at 9:58 a.m., but he told the dispatcher he was several miles from the area he was supposed to be patrolling. Six minutes later, the dispatcher called again, and Carpenter tersely replied that he was on his way.

He was found dead in his car a short time later with a gunshot wound to the back of his head. Witnesses said they saw two people running from the vehicle.

Carpenter, whose gun was found two years later in a ditch in New Mexico, was a married father of three who had been a state trooper for about five years when he was killed.

AG: Records Related To Government Contract Work Are PublicAssociated Press

The New Mexico attorney general’s office says autopsy reports done by a state-run office for a tribal entity or the federal government are subject to open record laws because the work is carried out in part using state funds and resources.

The written opinion was issued earlier this month. It stemmed from a request from the Rio Grande Sun newspaper for autopsy reports done by the state Office of the Medical Investigator under contract for the Jicarilla Apache Nation, Bureau of Indian Affairs and other federal agencies over a two year period starting in January 2017.

The newspaper filed a complaint with the attorney general’s office in 2019 after being denied the records.

Assistant Attorney General John Kreienkamp wrote in the opinion that if such records were off limits, that would allow all other government agencies to perform contractual services either for other government entities or private ones and then decline to provide any information about those services to the public on the basis of a narrow interpretation of "public business."

While the opinion isn’t legally binding, the attorney general's office said the Office of the Medical Investigator has pledged to take remedial action, the Albuquerque Journal reported.

The Office of the Medical Investigator said in a statement that it appreciated the attorney general's clarification and that it was committed to transparency.

New Mexico Leans On Outdoor Recreation For Economic RecoveryAssociated Press

New Mexico officials are hoping an appetite for outdoor recreation during the coronavirus pandemic will help the state’s economy recover.

The Carlsbad Current-Argus reports that the New Mexico Outdoor Recreation Division requested more funding for outdoor programs and support initiatives to be considered during the next legislative session scheduled to begin in January.

The division requested more than $3 million to fund its Great New Mexico Trails Package, which would provide funding to groups with plans to develop and maintain hiking trails statewide.

The division also requested about $1 million for the Outdoor Equity Fund to give funding to youth programs that center on outdoor recreation.

Several environmental and conservation groups such as WildEarth Guardians and the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance argued the additional funding could stimulate rural communities and help educate children across the poverty-stricken state.