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.
If Gov. Susana Martinez’s call to reinstate the death penalty after the killing of an on-duty police officer looks familiar, that’s because something very similar happened last year. After the 2015 high-profile killings of Rio Rancho police officer Gregg Benne and Albuquerque police officer Daniel Webster, Martinez and Republican leaders in the state House of Representatives made tough-on-crime measures their signature effort during the ensuing legislative session. Now, another high-profile death of a cop—this time Hatch police officer Jose Chavez—presents a similar political opportunity. And this time, it comes ahead of a general election where Republicans are aiming to preserve their majority in the state House of Representatives and win control of the state Senate. In a prepared statement announcing her intentions, Martinez also evoked the recent Dallas massacre of five cops during a protest prompted by police shootings of two unarmed black men in Louisiana and Minnesota.
An Albuquerque City Council committee earlier this month voted unanimously to accept $50,000 in federal money to pay Albuquerque Police officers working overtime on a task force with the bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives (ATF), passing the final question on to the full council next Monday. The federal money — and another $5,725 in matching city dollars — would fund a working relationship between the two law enforcement agencies that dates to at least 2012. That’s when then-Police Chief Ray Schultz signed a memorandum of agreement with the ATF that allowed his officers to investigate violent crimes with federal agents. In the weeks before Webster’s death last October, undercover ATF agents allegedly purchased $6,500 worth of heroin and a firearm from Davon Lymon, the man who, according to police, fatally shot Webster during a traffic stop on Oct. 21.
Lawmakers favored adding a new group to rank alongside people of color, LGBT people, the physically and mentally impaired and others as protected under the state Human Rights Act—law enforcement officers. The bill, which the House Safety and Civil Affairs Committee passed Tuesday afternoon on a 5-4 party-line vote, would make crimes committed against law enforcement officers specifically because they are law enforcement officers hate crimes. House Majority Leader Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque, said penalties for people who commit crimes against an officer on the first offense would increase by one year and on the second offense by two years. “A couple of police officers were murdered in the line of duty last year,” Gentry said, referring to New Mexico officers Daniel Webster and Gregg “Nigel” Benner. Gentry cited an increasing number of officers killed by guns in the country, which he said grew by 56 percent from 2013 to 2014.
In a crowded conference room in the mayor’s office last November, reporters and police officers gathered to see Republican lawmakers and Mayor Richard Berry discuss their plans for combating repeat criminal behavior.A visibly emotional Rep. Paul Pacheco, R-Albuquerque, told the room of his intention to toughen New Mexico’s three strikes law. “This piece of legislation is very personal to me,” Pacheco said. Pacheco, a former law enforcement officer, told reporters that he was personally affected by a number of violent, high profile crimes committed earlier in the year. In May 2015, Rio Rancho Police officer Gregg Benner was shot and killed while on duty. In October, Albuquerque Police Officer Daniel Webster was shot and later died from his injuries.
The Second Judicial District Attorney and Albuquerque Police Department chief told members of the New Mexico Supreme Court Tuesday that a court order on time limits for trials needed to be changed. The comments came during a meeting on the case management order (CMO) from the Supreme Court to those in Bernalillo County. Among those giving feedback on the CMO were Bernalillo County District Attorney Kari Brandenburg, Albuquerque Police Chief Gorden Eden, Bernalillo County Sheriff Manuel Gonzales and Chief Public Defender Jorge Alvarado. The high court previously mandated the CMO amid concern that Bernalillo County wasn’t prosecuting felony cases fast enough as jails overcrowded. Among its changes are a mandate that arraignment comes 10 days after either an indictment, arrest or filing of criminal information of a case—whatever comes last.
Legislators wrestled Wednesday afternoon with the idea of adding cops and law enforcement to the list of protected classes under state hate crime laws. State House Majority Leader Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque, is carrying the bill as part of a “tough on crime” package endorsed by Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry and the House Republican leadership. One GOP lawmaker expressed his skepticism of the idea in a hearing of Gentry’s bill at the interim Courts, Corrections and Justice Committee. “I believe we’ve got laws already on the books that should take care of this,” state Rep. Rick Little, R-Chaparral, told Gentry at the hearing. “A lot of these things go on the judge’s discretion anyway.”
The committee didn’t vote on whether to endorse the bill or not.
Raúl Torrez is a former federal prosecutor running as a Democrat of District Attorney in the Second Judicial District (Bernalillo County). Innovation is the Key to Combating Violent Crime in Our Community
Our community is at a crossroads. The senseless killing of four-year-old Lilly Garcia and the tragic loss of Officer Daniel Webster – one of APD’s very best – are stark reminders of the crisis in our criminal justice system. And once again, we find ourselves united in grief, struggling to comprehend why our community has become so dangerous and asking what, if anything, can be done? As we search for answers, we must be careful not to allow our anger and disappointment in the system to overwhelm our larger objective or obscure the fact that together, we can solve this problem.
While he initially supported Florida Congressman Daniel Webster, Steve Pearce ultimately voted for Paul Ryan for Speaker of the House on Thursday. Ryan won the position, replacing John Boehner, who announced last month that he would be leaving Congress and relinquish the position as Speaker of the House. Pearce explained his vote in a statement on Thursday afternoon. “As I’ve said often, every American deserves a government that is effective, efficient and accountable,” Pearce said. “Today’s election marks a transition.