TUES: State Awards First Vaccine Prizes, US To Investigate Indigenous Boarding Schools, + More

Jun 22, 2021

4 People Win $250K Apiece In New Mexico Vaccine SweepstakesAssociated Press

State health officials announced Tuesday that four people have each won $250,000 prizes as part of the New Mexico vaccine sweepstakes.

They were the first four winners of Vax 2 the Max Sweepstakes.

The $10 million cash sweepstakes is funded by federal stimulus and intended to incentivize COVID-19 vaccinations.

Four vaccinated New Mexicans — one from each public health region of the state — are each confirmed winners of $250,000 as drawn at random Friday by the New Mexico Lottery.

Non-winning entries will be carried over to each successive $1 million drawing.

New Mexicans who have opted in to the sweepstakes don't have to opt in again to remain eligible for future drawings.

Four more $1 million Friday drawings, with four regional $250,000 winners each, will occur throughout the summer.

A grand prize drawing of $5 million is scheduled for early August.

New Mexico School District To Discuss Transgender AthleticsAlamogordo Daily News, Associated Press

School board members in southern New Mexico plan to discuss a proposal that could restrict participation in sports by transgender athletes.

The Alamogordo school board scheduled a work session for Saturday that will include time for the public to comment on the proposed resolution.

Jerrett Perry, the school district superintendent, has said that allowing transgender girls to compete in girls' sports would impede the opportunities for biological female student athletes on the court and the field.

"I support this stance and will adamantly defend the integrity of biological female athletes," he told the Alamogordo Daily News.

The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico is taking issue with the proposal. The organization sent a letter Tuesday to the school board saying such a policy if adopted by the district would violate state and federal law.

Citing previous federal court rulings and New Mexico statutes, the ACLU wrote that the "proposal flies in the face of civil rights and liberties. This is about protecting our children from discrimination by the very professionals we trust to keep them safe."

The move comes as lawmakers in more than 20 states have considered bills that would restrict which teams transgender students can join. Supporters of the legislation say many transgender students of the biological male sex have an unfair advantage since they are physically stronger. Opponents, including the ACLU, argue such bans can exacerbate mental health issues that affect transgender students.

Trial Against Rio Arriba County Sheriff To Move To Santa FeSanta Fe New Mexican, Associated Press

A trial of Rio Arriba County Sheriff James Lujan will take place in Santa Fe.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports a judge granted prosecutors' motion Monday to move out of Rio Arriba County.

State District Judge Bryan Biedscheid cited the need for a bigger space and the limited number of residents who could be potential jurors.

Prosecutors had argued that jurors would be too intimidated by the sheriff.

The 60-year-old sheriff is awaiting trial on three misdemeanor counts of resisting, evading or obstructing an officer. He is accused of showing up drunk at the home of former Española City Councilor Phillip Chacon in March 2020. Police were executing a search warrant and Lujan allegedly tried to take over the operation from local officers and New Mexico State Police.

Prosecutors are also asking for a change of venue to re-try a separate case against Lujan which also involved Chacon.

Lujan was facing charges of harboring or aiding a felon and bribing a witness in connection with a 2017 incident. He was accused of helping Chacon evade police after a high-speed chase and telling a sheriff's deputy who witnessed some of his actions not to tell anyone.

Lujan's attorney had argued that the sheriff had no knowledge of the charges against Chacon at the time.

Jurors were unable to reach a unanimous verdict.

Energy Firm Owes New Mexico Explanation For Withholding InfoSanta Fe New Mexican, Associated Press

A U.S. subsidiary of global energy giant Iberdrola has been ordered by an official with the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission to explain why it withheld information in a merger case about penalties stemming from customer service complaints in other states where it operates.

The subsidiary, Avangrid, hopes to merge with Public Service Co. of New Mexico in what would be a multibillion-dollar deal that would give the Connecticut-based company more than a half-million customers and access to an extensive network of transmission lines and other infrastructure.

Critics have said the questions about customer service are relevant because the performance of Avangrid's utilities elsewhere gives an indication of how Avangrid would perform if the merger with the New Mexico utility is approved.

The Santa Fe-based nonprofit New Energy Economy wants the merger applicants to be held in contempt of the discovery process and to reimburse the organization for the expenses it has incurred trying to get answers, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported.

New Energy Economy and the Sierra Club also scored an incremental win Monday when commission hearing examiner Ashley Schannauer ruled questions concerning the role of the coal-fired Four Corners Power Plant in the merger proposal are relevant.

Avangrid and PNM had argued that PNM's abandonment of the Four Corners plant in northwestern New Mexico is a separate matter from the merger proposal.

As for whether Avangrid will face sanctions or penalties for withholding information about its track record in other states, Schannauer is expected to issue a recommendation in August. That will be followed by a decisions from the Public Regulation Commission.

Amid Clamor To Increase Prescribed Burns, Obstacles Await - By Andrew Selsky Associated Press

In the 1950s, when University of California forestry professor Harold Biswell experimented with prescribed burns in the state's pine forests, many people thought he was nuts.

"Harry the Torch," "Burn-Em-Up Biswell" and "Doctor Burnwell" were some of his nicknames from critics, who included federal and state foresters and timber groups.

Six decades after Biswell preached an unpopular message to those who advocated full-on fire suppression, he is seen not as crazy but someone whose ideas could save the U.S. West's forests and ease wildfire dangers.

Millions of acres have become overgrown, prone to wildfires that have devastated towns, triggered massive evacuations and blanketed the West Coast in thick smoke.

Today, officials want to sharply increase prescribed fires — those set intentionally and under carefully controlled conditions to clear underbrush, pine needle beds and other surface fuels.

Last month, four Democratic U.S. senators — Ron Wyden of Oregon, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Maria Cantwell of Washington and Dianne Feinstein of California — introduced legislation that requires federal land managers to significantly increase the number and size of prescribed fires on federal lands. Wyden said it would more than double funding for prescribed burns.

"We would have a technically skilled prescribed fire workforce," Wyden said in a phone interview. "We would streamline the smoke regulations in winter months."

Wyden and the Biden administration are also seeking creation of a 21st century Civilian Conservation Corps, to provide more boots on the ground to work on forest health.

In New Mexico, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed legislation on March 18 that will clear the way for more prescribed fires by establishing liability standards for landowners who conduct them and creating a certification program.

In Oregon, a bill from state Sen. Jeff Golden would enact rules for prescribed fires and a certified burn manager program. He envisions Oregon having as many as hundreds of trained managers to supervise prescribed fires.

"I don't see that we have any option other than to increase the prescribed burns," said Golden, who is from the Rogue Valley, where wildfires tore into two towns last year. "We've got, across the Western U.S., a buildup of decades of fuels, and it's going to burn.

"So do you want to burn in a planned, strategic way that has an element of control to it, or do you want it to burn in megafires, with all the costs — human, animal, environmental costs — that that entails?"

It took years for forest managers to come around to accept and then finally embrace prescribed burning. In the first half of the 20th century, fire was seen as the enemy, with federal and state forest managers believing prescribed burning damaged the environment, particularly timber, a commercial resource. But in the late 1960s and 1970s, federal forest managers began employing prescribed burns.

Yet scaling up the practice has been slow. From 1995 through 2000, an average of 1.4 million federal acres were treated with prescribed fire each year, far short of the 70 million acres that in 2001 were in critical need of fuel reduction to avoid high-severity wildfires, biologist David Carle said in his 2002 book "Burning Questions: America's Fight with Nature's Fire." Another 141 million acres also needed treatment.

Several cold realities are stacked against the latest plans: The periods between wildfire seasons when prescribed burning can happen safely are shrinking; some forests are too overgrown to ignite without thinning; and prescribed fires can shroud nearby towns.

"We have to be mindful of not pouring smoke into communities because that's a violation of the Clean Air Act," said Tim Holschbach, deputy chief of policy and planning with Oregon's Department of Forestry.

Furthermore, many landowners are reluctant to use prescribed fire because of fears of getting hit with steep costs.

Some states can hold burners liable for any property damage caused by an escaped prescribed fire. Others use so-called simple negligence standards, which require the burner to practice reasonable care. A plaintiff would need to prove negligence for the burner to be responsible for damages and firefighting suppression costs. Gross negligence standards make it harder to hold people accountable, requiring plaintiffs to show burners acted with reckless disregard if fires get out of control.

To encourage prescribed burning on private lands, Oregon will explore shifting from simple to gross negligence. Gov. Kate Brown signed legislation on June 11 that directs a state agency, in consultation with stakeholders, to study whether states with such standards experience more prescribed fires and more out-of-control fires. The review must also examine the accessibility of insurance coverage for prescribed fires.

One of the most destructive escaped fires occurred in 2012, when the Colorado State Forest Service conducted a 50-acre prescribed burn near the small town of Conifer, southwest of Denver. After the fire seemed to be out, high winds whipped it back to life.

Ann Appel, 51, was among worried residents who dialed 911.

"It's blowing smoke right over my house," she told an emergency dispatcher.

"Yeah, it's about 5 acres and growing, so they've got crews on the way," the dispatcher replied.

Appel thanked the operator and hung up. Her body was later found in the ashes of her home.

Two other people also died in the fire, which ultimately consumed 6 square miles and destroyed two dozen homes.

Colorado's immunity law capped liability at $600,000 per incident, but after the fire, the Legislature removed the cap for controlled burns in cases where victims claim the state acted negligently. The state paid a total of $18 million in compensation to two dozen parties. The largest settlement, $4.8 million, went to Appel's husband and estate.

Prescribed burning has prevented disasters, and high rebuilding costs. In 2017, a wildfire threatened the resort town of Sisters, Oregon, but firefighters were able to control it because months earlier, crews removed trees and brush with machines, then ignited prescribed burns.

"The fire came to a halt, both because it had less fuels and also because in the thinned, more natural forest, there was a lot more space for the firefighters," noted Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon, who is pushing for more funding for forest treatment.

Scott Stephens, a professor of wildland fire science at the University of California, Berkeley, wants a big increase in prescribed burns, along with mechanical forest thinning, but predicts it will be gradual due to both a lack of people trained in it and of political and societal support.

That prescribed burning is now widely seen as a remedy would have been welcome news to Biswell, who died in 1992 at age 86.

Harold Weaver, a forester for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, was also an early advocate. In 1955, Weaver published an article titled "Fire as an enemy, friend and tool in forest management." Like Biswell, he was cold-shouldered. The two supported each other.

The West, which is more susceptible to wildfires because of its vast wildlands and dry climate, has been stepping up prescribed burns.

In 2019, 3.7 million acres were treated by prescribed fire in the West, a 268% increase from 2011, the National Association of State Foresters and the Coalition of Prescribed Fire Councils said in a report.

Stephens said prescribed fire and restoration thinning should increase at least five-fold to turn things around and create healthy forests as Biswell, his predecessor at Berkeley, envisioned.

"Once you get areas treated, you have to come back in around 15 years for maintenance treatments. And this never ends," Stephens said. "This is a key point: The program has to last forever."

Western Wildfires Force Evacuations, Shut Down Recreation - By Felicia Fonseca, Associated Press

A wildfire in northern Arizona crept closer to the region's largest city Tuesday, threatening to force people from their homes.

The lightning-caused fire near Flagstaff was one of dozens that have scorched large swaths of the U.S. West and kept firefighters busy as they hold out hope that the monsoon season will deliver some significant rain.

It made a significant run Monday but slowed its growth overnight. Crews were busy Tuesday identifying features in the landscape that could help slow the blaze that has burned 38 square miles.

"There's a lot of vegetation out there that's very old, has not had fire in it in a very long time and now has either been stressed or killed because of the drought," fire information officer Noel Fletcher said. "It's a lot of standing, dead fuel."

Firefighters have yet to corral the perimeter. Crews were dropping fire retardant to keep it from moving into a canyon where it would be more difficult to tackle, and escaping where it could make a run on flatter land. They also were working to protect private property in the forest and lookout towers.

Evacuations were in place because of several other wildfires across Arizona, affecting mostly rural residents and campers.

More evacuations could go into effect if the large fire in northern Arizona continues toward Flagstaff, a mountain city with nearly 80,000 residents, a state university and an observatory where Pluto was discovered. The city is nestled among the largest contiguous ponderosa pine forest in the U.S. with an Army depot and veterans cemetery to the west and smaller communities on the outskirts.

A top-tier national management team will take over Thursday, said Matthew McGrath, a district ranger for the Coconino National Forest.

Two national forests in Arizona — the Coconino and the Kaibab — will close entirely to the public on Wednesday because of wildfire danger and limited resources.

The weather has been unrelenting lately, with hot and dry conditions combining with wind to fuel wildfires. The preparedness level for wildfire activity nationally was bumped up Tuesday to reflect more demand for firefighting resources.

More large wildfires were burning in Arizona than anywhere else in the country. Arizona had 14, followed by half as many in California. Utah and Colorado also had a handful of large wildfires.

Arizona already was at the highest preparedness level for wildfires. Nationally, the level rose to a 4 on a 1-5 scale Tuesday, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. It's only the fourth time in the last 20 years to reach level 4 in June.

In California where several large wildfires were burning, hikers were turned away from trekking to the summit of Mount Whitney, and flames were scorching tinder dry vegetation in the rugged central coast mountains.

Migrant Youth Describe Desperation To Leave Large Shelters - By Amy Taxin, Adriana Gomez Licon and Julie Watson, Associated Press

A 13-year-old Honduran girl who spent two months at the government's largest emergency shelter for migrant children said she was put on suicide watch and was eating only popsicles and juice because the food smelled so foul. At another site, a 17-year-old Salvadoran girl said she had to wear the same clothes and underwear for two weeks and spent most days in bed.

At a third facility in Texas, a 16-year-old Honduran boy said he had not met with a case manager for more than three weeks to see whether he could go live with his sister in New Orleans.

"I am desperate. I wouldn't mind being here for 20 or 30 days if I knew that I was going to be released soon. But because the process hasn't started and because I had no idea what's happening or when the process will start, that makes me feel very, very anxious. I don't know when this will end," he said.

More than a dozen immigrant children described similar conditions and desperation to get out of large-scale emergency care facilities set up by the Biden administration at places like convention centers and military bases to address a record rise in the number of children crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.

The children were interviewed by immigrant advocates from March to June, and their accounts were filed late Monday with a federal court in Los Angeles that oversees a longstanding settlement governing custody conditions for children who cross the border alone.

Advocates have said for weeks that President Joe Biden's administration is taking too long to release children to relatives in the United States and that conditions at some of the unlicensed emergency facilities are inadequate and distressing. The Obama and Trump administrations also faced challenges addressing the care of unaccompanied migrant children.

The Biden administration said significant improvements have been made, including redoubling efforts to swiftly reunify kids with their families or move them to licensed long-term care facilities. That has resulted in a drop in the number of children in emergency shelters, from a high of about 14,500 in April to fewer than 8,000 children now, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the agency in charge of their care.

At the Fort Bliss Army Base in El Paso, Texas, the administration's largest emergency shelter, the number of children has dropped from about 4,800 to 1,600. Activities like exercise classes and weekly meetings with case managers are now available, along with a library on site that children can visit anytime, the department said.

In their accounts, the children — who are not named in the court filings — describe waiting for weeks or more than a month in facilities with little to do, minimal education and no knowledge of when they will be allowed to leave.

At Fort Bliss, the Honduran girl on suicide watch said she could hardly sleep at night because the lights were always on and she found herself sleeping during the day. She said the food was horrible, including soggy salad and foul-smelling bread, so she resorted to eating only popsicles and juice.

She said that while on suicide watch, pens and pencils were taken from her and guards observed her every move — measures meant to protect her from harming herself.

She said she was told if she tried to escape, she would spend a longer time in detention. When she filed her account, she said she had been at the facility for nearly 60 days and didn't know when she could go live in New Mexico with her uncle, who told her that he had completed the paperwork for her release.

"I have been here for a really long time. I really want to leave," she said.

Record arrivals of unaccompanied migrant children have tested the Biden administration, which has picked up nearly 60,000 of them from February to May, many of them from Central America.

The government opened more than a dozen emergency intake sites this spring to respond quickly to overcrowding at Customs and Border Protection facilities, one of which was holding 4,000 people in a space intended for 250 and keeping many for weeks, far past a three-day limit.

At the emergency sites, children were expected to remain for a week or two until they could be reunited with relatives in the United States or sent to more stable locations, such as state-licensed long-term facilities or foster care.

More than 2,100 children were housed at emergency facilities for over 40 days and more than 2,600 for 21 to 40 days at the end of May, according to the government's June report to the court. About a third of transitional foster care beds remained empty, as did nearly 600 beds at licensed shelters, the report said.

In their court filing this week, advocates who say children are languishing in the massive, tent-like structures questioned why the government is keeping so many in those unlicensed shelters rather than placing them in licensed facilities or with foster families.

After this many months, that "remains a complete mystery to us," said Leecia Welch, senior director of legal advocacy and child welfare at the National Center for Youth Law and one of the lawyers for children in the federal case. "And it's not for lack of asking the question. We're simply not getting an answer."

A hearing is scheduled for next week with the federal judge overseeing the case.

All emergency shelters are required to provide clean, comfortable sleeping spaces, toiletries, laundry and access to medical and mental health services, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. Kids also can confidentially submit feedback in comment boxes.

The government contends it shut down any sites that did not meet those standards and are closing more as the need decreases.

But advocates fear more children could end up at the unlicensed emergency sites because Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has ordered the closure of federally funded shelters that house migrant kids in that state. The Biden administration has threatened to take legal action if the Republican governor carries out the order. More than half of migrant children sheltered by the U.S. government in licensed facilities are in Texas.

At a facility in Houston that has since closed, the 17-year-old from El Salvador she couldn't shower for eight days and was told to turn her underwear inside out because there was no laundry. She said children were limited on when they could use the bathroom and that she would cry at night.

"We spent most of the day in our beds at Houston because there was nothing else to do," she said. "I felt very desperate."

US To Review Dark History Of Indigenous Boarding Schools - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

The federal government will investigate its past oversight of Native American boarding schools and work to "uncover the truth about the loss of human life and the lasting consequences" of the institutions, which over the decades forced hundreds of thousands of children from their families and communities, U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland announced Tuesday.

The unprecedented work will include compiling and reviewing decades of records to identify past boarding schools, locate known and possible burial sites at or near those schools, and uncover the names and tribal affiliations of students, she said.

"To address the intergenerational impact of Indian boarding schools and to promote spiritual and emotional healing in our communities, we must shed light on the unspoken traumas of the past no matter how hard it will be," Haaland said.

A member of New Mexico's Laguna Pueblo and the first Native American to serve as a Cabinet secretary, Haaland outlined the initiative while addressing members of the National Congress of American Indians during the group's midyear conference.

She said the process will be long, difficult and painful and will not undo the heartbreak and loss endured by many families.

Starting with the Indian Civilization Act of 1819, the U.S. enacted laws and policies to establish and support Indian boarding schools across the nation. For over 150 years, Indigenous children were taken from their communities and forced into boarding schools that focused on assimilation.

Haaland talked about the federal government's attempt to wipe out tribal identity, language and culture and how that past has continued to manifest itself through long-standing trauma, cycles of violence and abuse, premature deaths, mental health issues and substance abuse.

The recent discovery of children's remains buried at the site of what was once Canada's largest Indigenous residential school has magnified interest in the troubling legacy both in Canada and the United States.

In Canada, more than 150,000 First Nations children were required to attend state-funded Christian schools as part of a program to assimilate them into society. They were forced to convert to Christianity and were not allowed to speak their languages. Many were beaten and verbally abused, and up to 6,000 are said to have died.

After reading about the unmarked graves in Canada, Haaland recounted her own family's story in a recent opinion piece published by the Washington Post.

Haaland cited statistics from the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition, which reported that by 1926, more than 80% of Indigenous school-age children were attending boarding schools that were run either by the federal government or religious organizations. Besides providing resources and raising awareness, the coalition has been working to compile additional research on U.S. boarding schools and deaths that many say is sorely lacking.

Officials with the Interior Department said aside from trying to shed more light on the loss of life at the boarding schools, they will be working to protect burial sites associated with the schools and will consult with tribes on how best to do that while respecting families and communities.

As part of the initiative, a final report from agency staff is due by April 1, 2022.

Chuck Hoskin Jr., principal chief of the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma, which had about 80 boarding schools, called the announcement encouraging and said anything that can be done to address those "troubling chapters of history" is a positive thing.

"I hope we don't discover gruesome incidents like were discovered in Canada. I just think it's good in this country to have conversations about what happened to Native American children," Hoskin said.

This is not the first time the federal government has attempted to acknowledge what Haaland referred to as a "dark history."

More than two decades ago, Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Kevin Grover issued an apology for the emotional, psychological, physical and spiritual violence committed against children at the off-reservation schools. Then in 2009, President Barack Obama quietly signed off on an apology of sorts that was buried deep in a multibillion-dollar defense spending bill; the language had been watered down from the original legislation introduced years earlier.

US Official To Address Legacy Of Indigenous Boarding Schools – Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and other federal officials are expected Tuesday to announce steps the federal government plans to take to reconcile the troubled legacy of boarding school policies on Indigenous families and communities.

A member of New Mexico's Laguna Pueblo and the first Native American to serve as a Cabinet secretary, Haaland is scheduled to outline a path forward while addressing members of the National Congress of American Indians during the group's midyear conference.

Starting with the Indian Civilization Act of 1819, the U.S. enacted laws and policies to establish and support Indian boarding schools across the nation. For over 150 years, hundreds of thousands of Indigenous children were taken from their communities and forced into boarding schools that focused on assimilation.

The recent discovery of children's remains buried at the site of what was once Canada’s largest Indigenous residential school has magnified interest in that legacy both in Canada and the United States.

After reading about the unmarked graves in Canada, Haaland recounted her own family's story in a recent opinion piece published by the Washington Post.

Past efforts by the federal government to “eradicate our culture and erase us as a people” is a history that needs to be acknowledged, she wrote.

Experts say removing children from their families and homes has had multigenerational effects on Indigenous communities, from the loss of Native languages and cultural resources to cycles of violence and abuse.

“It is a history that we must learn from if our country is to heal from this tragic era,” Haaland wrote.

Haaland said her grandmother told her about being loaded on a train with other children from her village and being shipped off to boarding school.

“She spoke of the loneliness she endured,” Haaland recalled. “We wept together. It was an exercise in healing for her and a profound lesson for me about the resilience of our people, and even more about how important it is to reclaim what those schools tried to take from our people.”

Many of the schools were maintained by the Interior Department, which Haaland now leads.

Netflix Finalizes Agreement For Albuquerque Expansion Plan – Associated Press

The New Mexico State Land Office has finalized a sublease agreement between Albuquerque and Netflix for the company’s planned expansion.

The plan includes about 130 acres of state trust land and 170 acres of private land at Mesa del Sol.

The city and land office entered into an economic development agreement in November 2020.

As part of the proposed expansion and Netflix’s commitment to job creation associated with an additional $1 billion in production and $150 million in capital expenditures, Netflix will add up to 10 new stages, post-production services, production offices, mills, backlots, and training facilities, wardrobe suites, a commissary to support meals and craft services, and other flex buildings to support productions.

Netflix announced the purchase of Albuquerque Studios in 2018, the first production hub purchased by the company in the U.S.

Since then, Netflix has spent more than $200 million in New Mexico, utilized more than 2,000 production vendors and hired over 1,600 cast and crew members.

Upon completion, Netflix’s Albuquerque location is expected to be one of the largest high-tech and sustainable film production facilities in North America.

Lawsuit Alleges Uncooled Prison Vehicle Endangered Lives – Associated Press

A watchdog group on prison conditions says a 61-year-old inmate in southern New Mexico was severely dehydrated and endangered when transported in a sweltering van without air conditioning in the summer.

The New Mexico Prison & Jail Project announced Monday a lawsuit against the New Mexico Corrections Department and two of its officers on behalf of an inmate who was confined for several hours to a van with no air conditioning on a summer day in 2019.

The suit says several inmates had been evacuated from a broken-down prison transport vehicle into another van with no functioning air conditioning.

Complaints by inmates of extreme heat in the back of the transport vehicle were ignored, the lawsuit states. It says inmate Lawrence Lamb became severely dehydrated during the ensuing journey and experienced emotional distress.

“Lawrence thought he was going to die,” said Adam Baker, an attorney partnering with New Mexico Prison & Jail Project. “You can’t put someone into an enclosed metal box in the middle of summer in New Mexico, for hours on end, without air-conditioning. Everyone knows that’s dangerous.”

“The well-being and safety of the inmate population continues to be" a department priority, Corrections Department spokesman Eric Harrison said in a statement.

In the aftermath of a similar 2012 incident, former New Mexico prison inmate Isaha Casias was awarded $2 million through a federal lawsuit after being left in a hot van outside the State Penitentiary in Santa Fe.

New Mexico City On Pace To Smash Homicide Record – Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

Albuquerque detectives on Monday were investigating the city’s latest string of deaths — three more cases that could push New Mexico’s largest city closer to smashing a previous homicide record.

Police Chief Harold Medina hosted a virtual town hall on social media Monday evening to discuss the city’s crime trends and answer questions submitted by residents.

Even though his officers are making arrests, Medina alluded to challenges within the criminal justice system, saying prosecutors and courts need more resources to keep up with the volume of cases. He also said the police force is balancing its fight against crime with identifying those offenders who can benefit from treatment for substance abuse or other issues that might be at the root cause of their behavior.

Medina said that line is drawn when an individual turns to violence and is affecting the community.

While some cities around the U.S. have seen an increase in homicides over the last year, Albuquerque has been grappling with high homicide rates even before the pandemic. It set a record in 2019, when it had 80 killings for the entire year.

If the latest cases are classified as homicides, that will push the city's total so far this year to more than 60.

Members of the police department's command staff said during the town hall that the nexus for homicides, particularly shootings, seems to involve drugs as well as parties where there's drinking involved.

The commanders and lieutenants also talked about their successes over recent months in bringing down property crimes in various parts of the city by more than 10% in some cases and their efforts to tackle speeding and street racing.

The city's reputation when it comes to crime is a big challenge for Democratic Mayor Tim Keller in his re-election bid. While some community groups are frustrated by the looming stigma, Keller's administration argues that it has been trying new tactics that include using acoustic surveillance to combat gun violence and the creation of a new community safety department.

The Albuquerque police officers' union earlier this year mounted a $70,000 campaign aimed at encouraging residents to pressure the city's elected leaders to focus more on fighting crime rather than spending millions of dollars on oversight related to a consent decree with the U.S. Justice Department.

New Mexico ranks 49th in child wellbeing, an improvement – Cedar Attanasio, Associated Press

New Mexico ranked 49th in a report released Monday measuring child wellbeing based on data gathered before the pandemic.

That's an improvement over last year when the state ranked 50th among U.S. states.

“It’s encouraging to see that child wellbeing in New Mexico was improving before the pandemic hit,” said James Jimenez, executive director for New Mexico Voices for Children, which partners with the foundation.

He's cautiously optimistic that state policies "helped offset some of the health and financial problems caused by the pandemic.”

The annual Kids Count report tracks 16 metrics of children’s access to education, health, economic and social stability at home. It was released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation Monday.

It ranks New Mexico at or near the bottom on education, economics, and “family and community," which tracks rates of single-parent homes, teen birth rates and whether or not the head of household has a high school degree.

One in five New Mexico children live in an area where 30% of the population is at or below the federal poverty line. Nationally, only one in 10 children live in high-poverty areas, according to the report.

The report ranks the state 37th in child health, with kids having average access to insurance (94%) and only slightly higher than average obesity (32%).