The Department of Justice held its first task force meeting on murdered and missing American Indians and Alaska Natives with much fanfare Wednesday in Washington, D.C., but local leaders question whether the federal government’s efforts will be enough. President Donald Trump issued an executive order late last year establishing what he called “Operation Lady Justice,” an interagency group led by the U.S. Department of Justice, that would “aggressively” address the crisis of murdered and missing women and girls in Indigenous communities. Although no one knows for sure how many Indigenous women and children are murdered or go missing, the federal government estimates that 1.5 million Indigenous women and children experience violence, including sexual violence, in their lifetime. Just prior to Trump’s announcement, Secretary of the Interior William Barr told a group at the Flathead Reservation in Montana last year that the Department of Justice would commit $1.5 million to hire specialized coordinators to help improve law enforcement response to the problem. But Democratic U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland,an enrolled member of Laguna Pueblo, has previously said that the DOJ’s plan “falls short,” issued a critical statement to NM Political Report Thursday.
New Mexico’s Republican gubernatorial candidate wants the U.S. Department of Justice to hold 2016 presidential candidate and former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accountable for an email scandal that dates back to nearly a decade ago. Without offering many details, U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, who is giving up his congressional seat to run for New Mexico governor, said in a radio interview last week he does not think the DOJ—specifically U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions—is doing enough to take Clinton to task for the way she reportedly handled classified email messages while Secretary of State. The host of Mornings with Mike Winters in Roswell asked Pearce about “the status of ‘lock her up,’” which supporters of President Donald Trump chanted at rallies leading up to the 2016 election. The chant, which appeared at a Trump rally as recently as last week, refers to Clinton. “Yeah I don’t know exactly what happened to Jeff Sessions when he got appointed in as Attorney General but he has suddenly forgot the chorus there,” Pearce said.
The U.S. Department of Justice does not appear to be concerned with medical cannabis producers or patients, including those in New Mexico, despite a memo Thursday from U.S. Attorney General Jeff Session that signaled a federal crackdown on legal marijuana. Sessions’ memo officially rescinded guidance from the Justice Department under former President Barack Obama regarding cannabis. Instead, Sessions wrote, each U.S. Attorney has the discretion to determine which types of cannabis-related cases should be federally prosecuted. Acting U.S. Attorney for the District of New Mexico James Tierney did not respond to a request for comment. New Mexico law only allows for medical cannabis use, which was not specifically addressed in Session’s memo.
The Department of Justice says for the city of Albuquerque to qualify for a partnership to combat violent crime, the city will have to comply with efforts federal immigration enforcement for immigrants who are detained. To qualify for the cooperation and funding, the DOJ says Albuquerque, and three other cities, must answer questions on how the city cooperates with federal authorities on immigration
“By protecting criminals from immigration enforcement, cities and states with so-called ‘sanctuary’ policies make all of us less safe,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement. “We saw that just last week, when an illegal alien who had been deported twenty times and was wanted by immigration authorities allegedly sexually assaulted an elderly woman in Portland, a city that refuses to cooperate with immigration enforcement.”
The term “sanctuary-city” does not have a specific definition, but the term is usually used to refer to municipalities that don’t fully cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on enforcing federal immigration laws. The federal program in question is the Public Safety Partnership, announced in June by the DOJ. The City of Albuquerque currently does not use city resources to help federal authorities apprehend or identify undocumented immigrants unless otherwise required by law.
A state agency that helps compensate victims of crimes was called out by the U.S. Department of Justice for using federal grant money to reimburse victims for medical cannabis purchases. The U.S. Office of the Inspector General released its audit of the New Mexico’s Crime Victims Reparation Commission this week, and criticized the agency. Cannabis, the federal agency said, is still illegal on a federal level. “While medical marijuana is legal in the State of New Mexico, federal law does not recognize or protect the possession or use of medical marijuana,” the audit read. “As a result, medical marijuana is an unallowable expenditure and cannot be paid for with federal grant funds.”
The Office of the Inspector General recommended the state commission change its procedures to make sure federal money does not pay for cannabis.
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.
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.
The U.S. Supreme Court wants the Department of Justice to weigh in on a lawsuit the state of New Mexico filed against the state of Colorado over the Gold King Mine spill that occurred in 2015. The Call for the Views of the Solicitor General, as the order is known, was part of orders released Monday. The Supreme Court did not grant any new cases. The call asks for the Solicitor General to weigh in on the case, though the federal government is not involved in the lawsuit. According to The Hill, the request likely will not be fulfilled before Jan.
Albuquerque’s Police Oversight Board has told the office of the U.S. Attorney for New Mexico that the Albuquerque Police Department has stonewalled the agency “at every turn” in its attempt to help reform the troubled department. In a letter to Elizabeth Martinez of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Beth Mohr, chair of the oversight agency, laid out scathing criticisms of APD Chief Gorden Eden. She wrote that APD’s actions “directly thwart” efforts at civilian oversight and use-of-force reform. The the civilian board’s efforts have become a “waste of time” because of APD’s refusal to cooperate as required by city ordinance and the settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice’s lawsuit over APD’s unconstitutional use of force, she wrote. ABQ Free Press Weekly contacted an APD spokesperson seeking comment and did not immediately hear back.
When the U.S Department of Justice last week announced they would stop using private prisons, many New Mexicans questioned whether New Mexico might follow suit. The DOJ decision to close private prisons will have no effect on the five privately run prisons in the state, as those contracts are managed by the state. NM Political Report was unable to reach Corrections Secretary Gregg Marcantel or his staff about details on the state’s contract with private companies who run prisons. The only private prison in New Mexico with federal ties is set to close in October as the Federal Bureau of Prisons did not renew a contract. Sen. Cisco McSorley, D-Albuquerque, said the prison closure in Cibola County is an opportunity to expand public prisons in the state.