It’s been nearly two months since Albuquerque police arrested Steven Baca and charged him with aggravated battery with a deadly weapon after a protest in Albuquerque. The protest began with a group of activists who called for the removal of a statue of 16th century conquistador Juan de Oñate, who is infamous for his brutal treatment of Indigenous people in what is now New Mexico. Baca, who was seemingly at the event as a counterprotestor, at one point got into a physical altercation with a number of protesters. Accounts of what happened on the evening of June 15 vary. Some videos shared on social media appear to show Baca grabbing and throwing protesters to the ground.
On Thursday, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham said racism is a “public health emergency” and that she would make examining government policies with institutionalized racism in mind “the center of my administration.”
She announced the formation of the Council for Racial Justice, which will be comprised of several African American community leaders, and she will appoint a racial justice czar. The council will include state Rep. Sheryl Williams Stapleton, a Democrat from Albuquerque, NM Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs Director Alexandria Taylor and the Reverend Donna Maria Davis of the Grant Chapel AME Church, along with others. Lujan Grisham said during the live press conference that the nation has to “own what slavery did.”
“Until we own that sin…that disgrace, we don’t have the opportunity to move forward,” Lujan Grishan said. The press conference came after recent events that have gripped the nation. Video showed a Minneapolis police officer kneeling on an African American man, George Floyd, for nearly nine minutes, killing him.
A group of anti-abortion protestors gathered Friday in front of University of New Mexico Center for Reproductive Health in defiance of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s stay-at-home orders.
Lujan Grisham has issued stay-at-home orders to protect residents during the COVID-19 pandemic. Officials have said that without a vaccine, the only way to protect lives is to stay at home and avoid potentially spreading the disease. The public health orders also state that groups of more than five cannot congregate and residents are encouraged to wear masks when they do venture out for groceries or other essentials.
In an emotional hearing before hundreds of supporters and detractors, a state Senate panel narrowly passed a high-profile gun bill on Tuesday that would allow law enforcement to obtain a court order to confiscate guns from people considered dangerous. The Senate Public Affairs committee voted 4-3 along party lines in favor of Senate Bill 5, known as the “Extreme Risk Firearm Protection Order Act.” The bill will now be sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee. The legislation is a marquee item on Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s agenda and likely to be one of the most contentious bills heard during the session. If it becomes law, New Mexico would join 17 other states and the District of Columbia that have similar measures, also known as “red-flag” laws. Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, who is co-sponsoring the legislation and is an attorney, invoked last year’s mass shooting at an El Paso Walmart as a reason why the bill should be passed.
A member of Albuquerque’s official police watchdog group is questioning the tactics and results of the recent “Metro Surge Operation,” in which 50 New Mexico State Police officers flooded the city ostensibly to help fight violent crime. “This is the perfect atmosphere, the perfect storm for civil rights violations, and it completely undermines the serious energy people have invested in police reform in Albuquerque,” Chelsea Van Deventer of the Albuquerque Police Oversight Board told New Mexico In Depth last week. This story originally appeared at New Mexico In Depth and is reprinted with permission. Homicides and non-fatal shootings have gone up in Albuquerque in recent months, including the high-profile murder of a University of New Mexico baseball player outside a Nob Hill bar last month. In response, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Mayor Tim Keller, both Democrats, agreed on the “surge,” with Keller’s office saying publicly the operation would focus on “targeting violent crime in Albuquerque.”
The results, according to a KOAT-TV story, have not matched the stated goal.
The children of a man shot and killed by an Albuquerque police officer will receive $375,000 in a legal settlement from the city, four years after they first sued the city of Albuquerque. On Tuesday morning, state court judge Denise Barela-Shepherd approved the settlement agreement between city attorneys and lawyers for the three children of Mickey Owings. Alicia Manzano, a spokeswoman for Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller, said her office had not recieved the official order from Barela-Shepherd. “The city is awaiting the court order that approves the settlement and dismisses the case,” Manzano wrote in a statement to NM Political Report. In a prior statement, Manzano noted this was one of the last few pending cases carried over from the previous administration.
The City of Albuquerque agreed to a still-undisclosed settlement in a four-year-old lawsuit filed by the minor children of a man who was shot and killed by police. The agreement came Friday, just two days before a jury trial for the lawsuit was set to start. Three children of Mickey Owings filed a lawsuit against the city in 2014 after the U.S. Department of Justice included Owings’ death in its scathing report of the Albuquerque Police Department and its use of excessive force. A spokeswoman for Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller confirmed the city and the children’s attorneys agreed to settle, but she declined to provide details before a state district court judge approves the agreement. “The parties reached an agreement on the Owings case, which is one of the last few remaining cases still pending from the previous administration listed in the DOJ report,” the mayor’s spokeswoman Alicia Manzano said.
Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller signed legislation on Tuesday that prevents federal immigration officers from using city facilities to detain or question people about their immigration status. The resolution, sponsored by city councilors Pat Davis and Klarissa Peña, also prevents city officials from investigating a person’s immigration status. In a statement, Keller announced the legislation will bring city residents together and promote trust in local law enforcement officers. “Everyone in our city should be able to report crime or take their kids to the neighborhood park or library without fear of having their family torn apart,” Keller said. The new city ordinance comes months after the Donald Trump administration and Attorney General Jeff Sessions threatened to withhold federal money from “sanctuary cities,” although there is no official legal definition for the term.
Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller this week told city police officers to stop the city’s DWI vehicle seizure program. Under existing ordinance, the police department can impound vehicles after DWI arrests, but before the driver has been convicted. Keller called on the city council to permanently change the policy, but there are still pending lawsuits by people who allege the city violated state law and the U.S. Constitution by taking vehicles and then charging owners to release them. Albuquerque’s Chief Administrative Officer Sarita Nair said city attorneys are evaluating each case individually before taking any further action. “Our legal department is doing a case-by-case review of every case, whether it’s in the initial stages, whether it was set for a hearing at the city administrative hearing level or whether it’s in the district or higher courts, to make sure that we handle all the cases consistently, fairly and transparently,” Nair told NM Political Report.
Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller and Albuquerque Interim Police Chief Michael Geier announced Thursday the elimination of half a dozen high-ranking police positions. Keller told reporters the reorganization is aimed at “eliminating a top-heavy structure.”
The APD rank of major will be eliminated, the two said, along with the assistant chief position. Under the new structure, Geier will oversee four bureaus, each run by a deputy chief, compared to six bureaus run by department majors. Keller told reporters he consulted with APD and decided to start from the top down to reorganize the department, which was also one of his campaign promises. “Like any reorganization, we are starting from the top,” Keller said.