TUES: State Supreme Court Puts Limits On Shielding Police Records, + More

Jul 14, 2020

New Mexico Supreme Court Limits Shielding Of Police RecordsAssociated Press

The state Supreme Court has ruled that New Mexico's open records law doesn't create a blanket exception for shielding law enforcement records related to an ongoing criminal investigation.

The court made the determination in a unanimous decision Tuesday. It says lawmakers were concerned only with specific content such as the identity of confidential sources and that the law requires records custodians to separate nonexempt law enforcement information and make it available for public inspection.

The case stemmed from a records request filed by the brother of James Boyd, who was shot and killed by Albuquerque police in 2014. The shooting sparked protests and was among the cases of excessive force that resulted in a series of court-ordered police reforms.

New Mexico Lawmakers Urge Caution Amid Deep Financial Hole - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

New Mexico is going to have to dig out of a deep financial hole as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, as gross receipts continue to crater and one in five workers has been forced to seek jobless benefits.

The chairman of the Legislature's top budget committee is urging caution as lawmakers plan to gather later this week to talk about shuttered businesses, the pace of economic recovery and federal relief funds.

Democratic Sen. John Arthur Smith of Deming says restraint should be the theme for state spending given the uncertainty related to the virus and the volatility of the oil and gas industry. 

Smith said the state has experience dealing with economic volatility due to the ups and downs of the oil and natural gas market but that's nothing compared to what is playing out now.

Legislative analysts are reporting that gross receipts are down across the state. That includes a 76% drop for receipts from the arts and recreation sector, a nearly 40% decrease for accommodations and food service, and more than 20% percent for other services like hair salons and auto repair.

New Mexico COVID-19 Death Toll Tops 550Associated Press

New Mexico health officials are reporting an additional 227 COVID-19 cases, bringing the statewide total to more than 15,500 since the coronavirus outbreak began.

The latest figures released Tuesday show Bernalillo County, which includes the state's most populous metro area, added another 65 confirmed cases.

Health officials also reported three additional deaths, bringing that total to 551. Those deaths include a McKinley County man and San Juan County woman, both in the their 30s, who had underlying conditions.

New Mexico has been added to New York, New Jersey and Connecticut's quarantine list because it's among states with growing infection rates.

New Mexico Judge Delays Trial Over Attorney's Virus ExposureAssociated Press

A New Mexico judge has postponed a murder trial after learning a defense attorney was in contact with people who contracted COVID-19.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reported District Judge Maria Sanchez-Gagne called a mistrial after learning of the contact. Defense attorney Sheri Raphaelson says she was in contact with patients while working as a midwife.

Mark Hice was charged with first-degree murder in connection with an October 2018 shooting that killed 18-year-old Cameron Martinez and wounded three others.

Hice's trial was to be the first case in the state's First Judicial District since the start of the pandemic.

Raphaelson said the judge found her in contempt of court and accused the defense attorney of endangering jurors and other participants.

Raphaelson disclosed her contact with patients at a quarantine site to a sheriff's deputy who screened her at the courthouse entrance and allowed her to enter.

World-Class Hoop Dancer Nakotah LaRance Dies Indian Country Today, Associated Press

Nakotah LaRance, a champion hoop dancer who traveled the world performing with Cirque du Soleil, has died at age 30. LaRance was Tewa, Hopi, Navajo and Assiniboine.

Indian Country Today reported his father, Steve LaRance, says he died Sunday after an accidental fall while climbing on a bridge in Rio Arriba County.

Native American hoop dancing involves doing intricate footwork while twirling and throwing hoops in the air and manipulating them into shapes such as wings or spheres.

LaRance began competing in the Heard Museum's annual World Championship Hoop Dance Contest in Phoenix as a youth and earned the title of World Champion there three times.

He traveled the world performing with Cirque du Soleil for more than three years and then returned to northern New Mexico, where he created a youth hoop dance group. 

Pilot Successfully Ejects When F-16 Crashes While LandingAssociated Press

The pilot of an F-16C jet fighter successfully ejected and suffered minor injuries when the single-engine aircraft crashed while landing at Holloman Air Force Base in southern New Mexico, base officials said.

A board of officers will investigate the crash that occurred Monday evening, officials said in a brief statement.

The pilot's identity was not released and the statement provided no additional details about the circumstances of the crash.

District Attorney Files New Charges Against Baca And Launches Suit Against Civil GuardKUNM, Albuquerque Journal, Associated Press

Bernalillo County District Attorney Raúl Torrez announced a new charge against Steven Baca Monday in the shooting of a protestor during a demonstration at the statue of conquistador Juan de Oñate in front of the Albuquerque Museum.

Torrez added aggravated battery with a deadly weapon to the charges stemming from the June 15 shooting. The victim was shot several times and critically wounded before being taken to the hospital. 

The Associated Press reports that Torrez said he's amending the charges because Baca repeatedly provoked protesters. Any individual who would otherwise be able to claim self-defense cannot claim self-defense if he or she initiates a violent confrontation," Torrez told the AP. "It's our belief Mr. Baca was the first aggressor in this context and the individual that he shot was acting in response to his violent provocation."

Jason Bowles, who is representing Baca, told the AP his client had a right to defend himself. "There are many complex issues which we will be litigating, but the bottom line is that Mr. Baca acted in lawful self-defense," Bowles said.

Baca was released in June pending trial.

The Albuquerque Journal reported Torrez had filed this charge against Baca, but then announced he was dropping it, citing flaws in the initial investigation by the Albuquerque Police Department.

The case was turned over to New Mexico State Police, and Torrez charged Baca instead with one count of aggravated battery, two counts of misdemeanor battery against other protestors and carrying a firearm without a proper permit.

Torrez also announced today a civil suit against a militia group present at the protest. The lawsuit seeks a declaration that the New Mexico Civil Guard’s actions are unlawful and also to prevent the group from continuing to act as an unauthorized military or police force.

In a news release, Torrez’s office states members of the Civil Guard include people associated with white supremacist organizations. It states New Mexico law prohibits unregulated private security forces and paramilitary organizations.

Members of the Civil Guard attended the protest wearing military-style clothing and carried weapons.

From the AP: The group on Monday posted on its Facebook page that elected leaders were trying to deflect criticism that police did not respond until after the shots were fired despite concerns by some in the crowd that the tension was mounting.

"By ordering police to let protesters tear down statues and destroy property they made that situation violent if one cruiser would have been there there would have been no blood on the streets that day," the group stated.

The Albuquerque Police Department has defended its actions that day.

Troubled New Mexico Hospital Near Navajo Nation Eyes Regroup - Gallup Independent, Associated Press

A New Mexico hospital on the edge of the Navajo Nation that became overwhelmed by the COVID-19 pandemic is trying to regroup with new leadership. 

The Gallup Independent reports the incoming leadership team at Rehoboth McKinley Christian Hospital in Gallup is promising transparency after years of alleged mismanagement and fiscal problems. 

Chief Financial Officer and acting CEO Mary Bevier says she is building trust with employees and working to stabilize the hospital's finances. 

The struggling hospital made national news in May after the coronavirus outbreak overwhelmed doctors and nurses and paralyzed the community in the state's hard-hit northwest.

New Mexico Reports 264 More COVID-19 Cases, 3 More Deaths - Associated Press, KUNM

Health officials in New Mexico are reporting an additional 264 additional COVID-19 cases and three more confirmed deaths. 

That increased the statewide death toll to 548 and the confirmed cases total to 15,291 as of Monday. 

The New Mexico Department of Health says Doña Ana County saw the most new cases at 82, followed by Bernalillo County with 59 and McKinley County with 24 new cases. 

As of Monday, there were 172 people hospitalized for COVID-19  in New Mexico. 6,363 people in the state have reportedly recovered from the coronavirus infection.  

New Mexico Restaurants Bristle At Rolling Back Indoor Dining - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's revamped public health order took effect Monday, and some restaurant owners aren't happy that they've been ordered to rollback indoor dining.

They say they've gone to great lengths to make their establishments safe and that the governor has offered no evidence that New Mexico's uptick in cases has anything to do with restaurant service.

The New Mexico Restaurant Association has helped to organize an online petition and a statewide protest was planned later Monday.

The state has reported nearly 15,300 coronavirus cases since the pandemic began, and hospitalizations saw a steep increase in the past week.

The association estimates that out of the 82,000 people employed by the industry in the state, more than 50,000 jobs have been lost due to the pandemic and the resulting public health orders.

Association CEO Carol Wight said only about 20,000 of those jobs have come back within the last month as restaurants were allowed to resume some limited indoor dining starting in June.

"Many restaurants cannot survive another shut down," she said.

Democrat Ben Ray Luján Unveils 1st US Senate TV Campaign Ad - Associated Press

Democrat Ben Ray Luján has released his first television campaign ad in his bid for the U.S. Senate. 

The ad scheduled to begin airing Tuesday highlights Luján's role as an "11th generation New Mexican" and his desire to represent rural values. 

The U.S. congressman doesn't mention his GOP opponent Mark Ronchetti nor President Donald Trump. 

Luján says his campaign will try to reach the state's 33 counties through a virtual road trip. 

The Santa Fe Democrat and former television weatherman Ronchetti are seeking to replace U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, who is retiring.

Ex-US Diplomat Richardson To Urge Maduro To Free Americans - By Joshua Goodman, Associated Press

Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson plans to travel this week to Venezuela to urge President Nicolás Maduro to free several jailed Americans as a goodwill gesture aimed at easing tensions with the U.S.

Among the U.S. citizens jailed in Venezuela are two former Green Berets arrested in May while participating in a botched raid organized from neighboring Colombia to oust Maduro.

Also being held are six oil executives from Houston-based Citgo who were lured to Caracas in 2017 for a meeting. Richardson and his center have negotiated the release of some 40 Americans held by hostile foreign governments and criminal organizations. 

No Additional Virus Deaths Reported Monday On Navajo Nation - Associated Press

The Navajo Nation on Monday is reporting 56 additional COVID-19 cases and no additional deaths related to the virus on the tribe's sprawling reservation. 

There have been more than 8,200 cases and 401 deaths reported on the reservation since the pandemic began. 

Tribal officials say nearly 65,000 people on the reservation have been tested for the coronavirus and more than 5,800 people had COVID-19 but recovered. 

The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested. Studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick. 

The reservation includes parts of New Mexico, Arizona and Utah.

Study Points To Smaller Effects Of Wildfire Smoke On Warming - Associated Press

Researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory say sunlight-absorbing particles in wildfire smoke may contribute less to warming temperatures than previously thought. 

They said in a recent paper that as the plume mixes with clean air, its absorbing power and warming effects are reduced. 

The researchers studied the properties of smoke from a large blaze in Arizona last summer. 

The chemical, physical and optical properties of ambient aerosol and trace gas concentrations in four large plumes were measured in real time.

The team observed intact and more-disperse plumes that aged more than half a day while traveling 300 miles across New Mexico.

This research was supported in part by the U.S. Energy Department and the National Science Foundation.