Accounts from inmates on COVID-19 response from officials’

Stanley Igram says he’s turned his life around in prison. Speaking with NM Political Report by phone last week from the Penitentiary of New Mexico in Santa Fe, Ingram talked about his plans after his release, scheduled for later this year. 

“I’m gonna have to be in Tucumcari for a little bit, but my plan is to follow my career, man,” Ingram said. “I mean I got a degree in wind energy and you know, there’s things I can do.”

Ingram, who’s from Tucumcari, has a long list of priors, but he said it was his drug addiction that led to his downfall. He said it was inside the detention center walls where he found religion, began leading a “black awareness” group and got his degree. But amid a COVID-19 pandemic, Ingram said he’s getting increasingly nervous about each day he stays in prison, awaiting his fall release date.

Staff member at youth detention center tests positive for COVID-19

The New Mexico Children Youth and Families Department saw its first positive case of COVID-19 in one of its youth detention centers Thursday, according to a spokesman. 

Charlie Moore-Pabst with CYFD confirmed with NM Political Report Friday that a staff member at the Youth Diagnostic and Development Center in Albuquerque tested positive for the disease. 

Related: DOH: 162 new cases of COVID-19, six additional deaths

Moore-Pabst said all youth in the facility and all but a handful of staff members were tested immediately after the staff member’s test results came back. 

“Within 24 hours, almost all staff  and all young people at the facility where the staff member worked have been tested for COVID,” Moore-Pabst said in a statement. “Additional state run juvenile justice facilities are also being tested as a precautionary measure.”

He also said that the state’s Department of Health has been working with CYFD to maintain plans to “prevent and mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in our juvenile justice state-run facilities.”

Moore-Pabst said staff at CYFD facilities are wearing masks and both youth and staff undergo  temperature checks. 

According to Moore-Pabst, Camino Nuevo is a smaller facility that houses youth who have committed violent offenses. Correction: After publication, CYFD informed NM Political Report the employee who tested positive is an employee at the Youth Diagnostic and Development Center.

What ‘qualified immunity’ means for New Mexico

It’s been two and a half weeks since George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis and protests and demonstrations calling for police accountability have continued to increase. Calls to action include a push to defund police forces, demilitarization of police and a reform of use of force standards. 

Now, many federal lawmakers are introducing and co-sponsoring bills aimed at changing standard practices and in some cases how police are held accountable in civil suits. Both of New Mexico’s U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich co-sponsored legislation, sponsored by Democratic Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, that would change how citizens can sue police for constitutional violations as well as police use of force standards. 

New Mexico has its own history of police reforms and calls for better practices — the Albuquerque Police Department is still in the middle of an attempt by the U.S. Department of Justice, to reform some unconstitutional policing practices. But attempts at holding officers accountable through civil suits in New Mexico often fall flat because of a federal judicial doctrine that ultimately protects officers from being sued: qualified immunity. Heinrich said qualified immunity makes it nearly impossible for plaintiffs to move forward with civil rights claims in federal court. 

“Through the lens of Albuquerque, I think setting the new standard of qualified immunity is a standard of reasonable action,” Heinrich said.

Chief Justice Nakamura to retire in August

New Mexico Supreme Court Chief Justice Judith Nakamura will retire in August, according to an announcement from the Administrative Office of the Courts. 

Nakamura became the first Republican woman elected to the high court in 2016 and became the court’s chief justice in 2017. She is currently the sole Republican on the bench. “In my years on the bench, I’ve always strived to not only make the best legal decisions possible but to improve people’s lives and advance the administration of justice,” Nakamura said in a statement. 

The announcement did not say why she was retiring, but said Nakamura’s last day as Chief Justice will be August 1. Nakamura was first appointed to the state Supreme Court by then-Gov. Susana Martinez in 2015. In an email to members of the State Bar of New Mexico, the Administrative Office of the Courts also announced that the Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission will meet next month to discuss nominations for Nakamura’s replacement.

State judge denies petition for medical cannabis use while on house arrest

A state district judge denied a petition asking the court to force Bernalillo County and its Metropolitan Detention Center to allow those on house arrest to use medical cannabis if they have a medical cannabis card.  

Second Judicial District Judge Erin O’Connell ruled from the bench during a telephone hearing on Tuesday. She said she denied the petition on the basis that it was out of her jurisdiction and that if she granted the petition it would conflict with the judges decision in a tangential criminal case. 

“The criminal court took the plea in this case and sentenced the petitioner and issued conditions of release based on that plea,” O’Connell said. “The court therefore has concern that granting relief would potentially result in conflicting orders with the criminal court. The criminal case O’Connell referred to was that of Joe Montaño. In 2019, Montaño was convicted of drunk driving and, due to a plea agreement, was sentenced to drug court and Bernalillo County’s Community Custody Program, also known as house arrest. 

Montaño previously spoke to NM Political Report about his past criminal convictions which ultimately resulted in him spending more than two decades in and out of prison. 

Montaño didn’t hide the fact from county CCP officers that he used medical cannabis and during a home visit they found cannabis and paraphernalia.

Cannabis consumption area future cloudy amid COVID-19

Amid a gradual relaxing of public health orders designed to slow the spread of COVID-19, consumers and business owners alike are navigating how to have a socially distanced meal, shopping trip and gym session. But after July, there will be a new type of business facing still unknown restrictions while at the same time allowing patrons to smoke inside. Pending a signature from the Department of Health Secretary, the state will allow medical cannabis consumption areas after July 1. But since it’s hard to predict how public health orders may change in the next 30 days, it’s also hard to say how those consumption areas will work in practice, according to Medical Cannabis Program Director Dominick Zurlo. 

“What I think is very safe to say is that, just like any other business or essential service, they will have to follow the COVID-19 guidlines that are set out in the public health orders and executive orders,” Zurlo said. Zurlo said he is not sure yet if DOH Secretary Kathyleen Kunkel will group consumption areas with restaurants in terms of restrictions, but stressed that how they operate will depend on how the number of COVID-19 cases increase or decrease. 

“If COVID 19 continues the way we are right now, then that’s going to make things a little easier.

Another 143 COVID-19 cases, four deaths in NM

The New Mexico Human Services Division and Department of Health announced Sunday an additional 143 positive cases of COVID-19 and four more deaths related to the disease. That brings the state’s totals to 8,940 positive cases and 396 deaths. The state also reported 3,307 people have recovered from COVID-19 and 177 people are currently hospitalized in New Mexico. Some of those who are hospitalized may have been transferred from out of state and there may be some who contracted COVID-19 in New Mexico, but taken to a hospital out of state. 

Here are the most recent cases:

17 new cases in Bernalillo County7 new cases in Cibola County15 new cases in Doña Ana County5 new case in Eddy County1 new case in Luna County37 new cases in McKinley County1 new case in Otero County11 new cases in Sandoval County44 new cases in San Juan County5 new case in Santa Fe County

Here is the information for the most recent deaths:

A male in her 70s from Bernalillo County. The individual was hospitalized and had underlying conditions.

Justice Bacon: there is legal help out there

Public health orders restricting some businesses and public gatherings are slowly being lifted, but the New Mexico Supreme Court’s restrictions on eviction proceedings and limitations on civil cases in general are still in place. State Supreme Court Justice Shannon Bacon said she expects an increase of civil cases once courts are fully functioning. 

“What we’re anticipating with the health pandemic and the downturn of the economy and a really high unemployment rate are issues that really raise their head in the same way they did in 2008 and 2009 with the recession,” Bacon said. “So we’re reaching back in time to our experience then and trying to anticipate better what’s going to happen now.”

Bacon, the Supreme Court liaison to the New Mexico Commission on Access to Justice, wants the public to know that even with limited financial resources, people can find legal help for civil cases. Unlike criminal cases, defendants in civil suits are not automatically afforded a lawyer. 

While she said she doesn’t know when the Supreme Court will lift the stay on eviction proceedings, she is encouraging tenants anticipating or worried about the future of their housing to be proactive. She said she hopes tenants and landlords can come up with a “creative” solution to work out rent payment problems. But, Bacon said, if tenants are taken to court over rent issues, they may want to consider legal help. 

“I think it is a reasonable thing for folks, that if they believe that they’re going to be in a position to fight to keep their residence, that talking to a lawyer is a good idea,” Bacon said.

Ronchetti wins Republican primary for U.S. Senate

Former television news meteorologist Mark Ronchetti won the state’s Republican primary election for U.S. Senate, taking more than half the votes in a three-way race through partial results on Tuesday night. The results reported from the Secretary of State’s office as of 2:00 a.m. on Wednesday showed Ronchetti won 55.57 percent of the votes. 

One of his opponents, anti-abortion activist Elisa Martinez got 26.62 percent of the votes and Ronchetti’s other opponent, former Trump official Gavin Clarkson got 17.8 percent of the votes. Ronchetti will now face Democratic U.S. Rep Ben Ray Luján and Libertarian Bob Walsh in the November general election. Neither had competition in their parties’ primaries. The seat is currently held by Sen. Tom Udall, who announced he would not run for another term.

DOH announces 149 new COVID-19 cases, nine new deaths

New Mexico health officials on Sunday announced 149 new positive cases of COVID-19 and an additional nine deaths related to the disease. The new numbers bring the state’s total to 6,943 positive cases and 317 deaths

Due to reporting delays on Sundays, the state also said the numbers are not necessarily a complete picture, but that Monday’s numbers will reflect any missed cases. 

The state reported 213 people are currently hospitalized for COVID-19, an increase of five over Saturday’s number, and 2,464 people have recovered from the disease, an increase of 107 over Saturday. Some of those who are currently hospitalized for the disease may have come from out of state. 

Below is the breakdown of new cases by county:

12 new cases in Bernalillo County3 new cases in Chaves County7 new cases in Cibola County17 new cases in Doña Ana County1 new case in Eddy County64 new cases in McKinley County2 new cases in Otero County1 new case in Rio Arriba County1 new case in Roosevelt County9 new cases in Sandoval County23 new cases in San Juan County3 new cases in Santa Fe County1 new case in Taos County1 new case in Torrance County3 new cases in Valencia County1 new case among New Mexico Corrections Department inmates at the Otero County Prison Facility

Below is the breakdown of the most recent deaths related to COVID-19:

A male in his 60s from McKinley County. The individual was hospitalized and had underlying conditions. The individual was a resident of the Red Rocks Care Center in Gallup.A male in his 70s from McKinley County.