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.
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.
New Mexico’s senators, both Democrats, reacted to President Donald Trump’s nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court. U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich expressed concern over the refusal of Senate Republicans to hold hearings for Merrick Garland, the nominee of former President Barack Obama. Because of that, the U.S. Supreme Court has been one justice short for nearly a full year, after Justice Antonin Scalia died on Feb. 13, 2016. “After ignoring Judge Garland’s nomination for purely partisan reasons, Senate Republicans are already talking about changing the Senate rules to confirm Trump’s nominee if Democrats don’t simply defer,” Heinrich wrote in a statement.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Federal officials on Thursday said they are conducting a criminal investigation of allegations that Albuquerque Police Department employees altered and deleted body camera video. The Department of Justice has received “several requests” seeking a criminal probe, Elizabeth Martinez, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Albuquerque, said in an emailed response to questions from New Mexico In Depth. “The Justice Department will decline to comment further due to its ongoing investigation into this matter,” Martinez wrote in a rare public confirmation of a federal criminal investigation. APD referred a reporter to Mayor Richard Berry’s spokeswoman for comment. She did not immediately respond.
Attorney General Hector Balderas, who also chairs the New Mexico Law Enforcement Academy Board, appointed a group to look into the policies and procedures behind investigations into shootings by police officers and use of force incidents in the state. The announcement of the review by a new subcommittee of the board came hours before a mistrial in South Carolina, where police officer shot Michael Slager shot Walter Scott, a black man, in the back as Scott ran away. Scott died. The April 4, 2015 incident was caught on video and quickly made news around the country after it happened. “Officer-involved shootings can have devastating consequences for both the civilian and law enforcement communities,” Balderas said in a statement.
Special Prosecutor Randi McGinn on Monday dismissed the second-degree murder charge against former Albuquerque police officer Dominique Perez, who was accused of fatally shooting homeless camper James Boyd in March 2014. McGinn filed a one-page motion in state District Court in Albuquerque to dismiss the case “without prejudice,” which means that incoming District Attorney Raul Torrez could refile the charge if he chooses to after he takes office on Jan. 1. McGinn said she couldn’t comment on why she dismissed the charge against Perez, but she did add that the second-degree murder charge against former officer Keith Sandy remained in place and that Torrez will have to decide on whether to retry Sandy. McGinn said she spoke last week with Perez’s attorney, Luis Robles, about her intent to dismiss the charge against his client.