AG Sessions’ remarks leave questions about ABQ police reform

Comments from U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions last week that he intends to “pull back on” federal oversight of police departments drew mixed reactions from officers and civil rights advocates in Albuquerque, where a police reform agreement between the city and the Justice Department is nearing the midway point of its third year. Reform proponents told New Mexico In Depth they were troubled by Sessions’ remarks, and they are ready to step in to ensure that APD adheres to constitutional policing if the federal government steps away. The president of the Albuquerque police union, meanwhile, said officers were pleased with the tone of support from the attorney general. The rank and file hope his comments could signal a softening of what they see as the agreement’s more onerous requirements. So far, though, the agreement and its effect on APD personnel have continued unabated since Donald Trump took office on Jan.

Lujan Grisham calls for congressional hearing on fed sting against alleged ABQ cop shooter

After a year of “stonewalling” by federal law enforcement officials, U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham is calling for congressional hearings to get to the bottom of why a man who allegedly shot an Albuquerque police officer to death in 2015 was still on the streets at the time. The fourth-year congresswoman, an Albuquerque-based Democrat who is running for governor of New Mexico, also vowed to sponsor a bill that would require the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and other agencies to make regular reports to Congress on their policies for undercover operations and those operations’ outcomes once they’re closed. This piece originally appeared at New Mexico In Depth and appears on NM Political Report with permission. Lujan Grisham laid out her plans in an interview with New Mexico In Depth after a town hall meeting in Albuquerque on Feb. 25.

Senate OKs ban on openly carrying firearms in Capitol

The New Mexico Senate on Saturday approved a bill that would make it illegal for anyone but police officers and people with concealed-carry licenses to have a gun in the state Capitol. Senate Bill 337, sponsored by Sens. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, and Bill Sharer, R-Farmington, passed on a bipartisan vote of 29-12. Seven Senate Republicans joined 22 Democrats in supporting the bill. And three Democrats voted with nine Republicans in opposing it.

Emergency funding bill for New Mexico courts heads to governor

After weeks of wrangling over emergency funds for New Mexico courts, the Legislature is sending the governor a bill that would provide $1.6 million to cover expenses for the next few months. The House of Representatives on Tuesday concurred with the Senate’s version of House Bill 261, which, if signed by Gov. Susana Martinez, will pay for jury trials and other costs for courts around the state for the rest of the budget year, which ends on June 30. The House initially passed a bill appropriating only $800,000, which would cover the cost of jury trials. However, the Senate doubled that amount to cover the judicial branch’s entire shortfall. House Republican Leader Nate Gentry of Albuquerque, the bill’s sponsor, asked House members to accept the Senate’s changes.

Panel approves money for jury trials

A state Senate committee Monday night approved $1.6 million in funding for the courts, enough to pay for jury trials through June 30, the end of the fiscal year. Still, it was unclear whether the legislation represented a temporary or a permanent step back from the brink of a breakdown for the judicial system. The committee action was another pull in a political tug-of-war between the Democratic-controlled Legislature and Republican Gov. Susana Martinez over funding for the courts. The game is being played out against a backdrop of a state budget crunch across all of government. In recent weeks, Martinez has twice vetoed money to avoid a halt to jury trials and potential dismissal of criminal charges against defendants.

Bill would authorize panel to investigate child abuse deaths

State Sen. Michael Padilla, an Albuquerque Democrat who was raised in foster care and has largely focused his legislative efforts on reforming New Mexico’s child welfare system, has introduced a measure to create a task force on child homicides. The proposal also would give the state attorney general authority to order an independent investigation into a child abuse death. The team would include medical experts, law enforcement officers, prosecutors, child welfare workers, tribal members and others. It would be tasked with evaluating investigations of a child’s death, as well as examining how agencies and individuals responded to concerns about the child before the slaying. The task force also would make recommendations to the Legislature on needed reforms.

Senate Bill 294 comes as New Mexico experiences a steep rise in child abuse cases.

ABQ Jewish Community Center one of over a dozen targeted with bomb threat

Albuquerque’s Jewish Community Center is functioning back to normal Tuesday afternoon after a scare from a phoned bomb threat. The threat came in a phone call to the JCC earlier in the day, according to Albuquerque Police Department spokesman Simon Drobik. The JCC responded by quickly evacuating staff. “We then sent over the bomb squad and deemed the area safe,” Drobik said. The bomb scare came on the same day threats were made against at least 17 other JCCs in five other states, according to a report in Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Proposed return-to-work bill increases threats to community safety 

The Legislature plans to revisit the issue of allowing the rehiring of law enforcement retirees. This development could potentially agitate the current tension existing statewide between the community and law enforcement. In the reintroduction of this bill, the New Mexico public is being betrayed and threatened by the potential reinforcement of these agencies’ perpetuation of a “culture of war”—specifically an “Us vs. Them” (law enforcement vs. community) mentality.

ABQ police watchdog: Feds investigating more than just video tampering claims

The scope of an ongoing federal criminal investigation into events surrounding the fatal shooting of a 19-year-old woman by an Albuquerque police officer in 2014 stretches beyond what has been previously reported. That’s according to the lead investigator for the city’s independent police watchdog group. Department of Justice officials took the rare step last month of confirming an investigation into allegations made by a whistleblower that APD employees tampered with video from officers’ body cameras and other sources, including video from the early morning hours of April 21, 2014, when then-APD officer Jeremy Dear shot Mary Hawkes. But Ed Harness, executive director of the Civilian Police Oversight Agency (CPOA), said in an interview that federal authorities are “looking into the entire case,” including whether the shooting itself was unlawful. In a series of presentations to Justice Department officials in early November, Harness and one of his investigators turned over information they had gathered during an administrative review of the shooting.

We must properly fund New Mexico’s court system

New Mexico’s courts face a funding crisis that threatens to undermine the judiciary’s ability to protect our rights by delivering timely justice. We must act now to prevent further damage. As Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Daniels recently told a legislative committee, “We are now basically on life support through the end of this fiscal year.”
Pete Campos is a Democratic state senator who represents the Las Vegas area. In courthouses across the state, New Mexicans can see the corrosive effects of budget cuts and underfunding of the judiciary. Most magistrate courts are closed to the public for at least half a day each week because the courts are unable to fill vacant staff positions.