Cruel and Usual: Taos County jail accused of abuse and dysfunction

TAOS — It was the evening of Aug. 25, 2019, and William Berry, a 63-year-old former ski lift operator, had been arrested earlier that day for driving without a license. He struggled to breathe in his cell at the Taos County Adult Detention Center and repeatedly asked the guards for his asthma medication. His requests were ignored, until finally, at 9 p.m., seven hours after Berry was booked, Sgt. Leroy Vigil told him to step out of his cell if he wanted his medicine, according to Berry.

Shooting range and gun store shut down days after owner announced he would defy state order

A prominent gun store and indoor shooting range was shut down by state police earlier this week after the owner publicly announced he would remain open for business despite a state order temporarily banning commercial gun sales. 

In an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19 in the state, state officials have limited the types of businesses that can remain open under a public health emergency. 

Louie Sanchez, the owner of Calibers and a recent Republican U.S. Senate hopeful, posted on Facebook that on Thursday night the New Mexico State Police shut down his business. 

“It’s amazing how the Governor is picking ‘winners and losers’ as small businesses are closed all over the state and thousands of people are now unemployed,” Sanchez wrote. “Small businesses new and old which will never recover or reopen they’re (sic) doors again.”

Sanchez did not respond to an inquiry from NM Report, but in his social media post he expressed his frustration with Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham for allowing “big box stores” to stay open and sell some of the same products that smaller, local businesses are unable to sell because of the state order only allowing essential services to remain open to the public. 

During a state Republican Party press conference earlier in the week, Sanchez announced that he would reopen his business regardless of the state’s orders. After that meeting, a spokesperson for the governor’s office said that state restrictions allow shooting ranges to remain open for law enforcement and by appointment only.  

But on Friday night, after Sanchez announced his business was forced to shut down, another spokesperson said Calibers was apparently still selling guns. 

Spokeswoman Nora Meyers Sackett said she didn’t have any additional comments on the matter but that it was likely the gun sales and not the open shooting range that resulted in a cease and desist order from state police. 

“My understanding is that while Calibers was complying with the provision to only open the shooting range by appointment to law enforcement, they were continuing to do curbside sales, which is not allowed per the public health order, and which they had been told was not allowed –hence the cease and desist,” Meyers Sackett said. 

Meyers Sackett referred further questions about the cease and desist order to the state police

A New Mexico State Police spokesperson said the department received a complaint just after 4:30 p.m. on April 16 that Calibers was not complying with the state’s public health order. According to Sanchez’s social media post, his business was shut down by 5:00 p.m.

The New Mexico Department of Health and Lujan Grisham declared a public health emergency last month and issued an order restricting certain activities in the state. Since then, there have been a series of amendments to the state order.

Police watchdog raises concerns over State Police ‘Surge’ in ABQ

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.

Lawmakers budget $3.1M for New Mexico State Police body cameras

Body cameras have become standard issue at many law enforcement agencies. But not at the New Mexico State Police Department. That could soon change, though, as lawmakers consider a proposed budget that would include $3.1 million to provide state police with recording devices. The technology is coming, said Capt. Ted Collins. The question is whether the department issues cameras to officers now or later.

New Mexico readies for driverless vehicles

Autonomous vehicles are coming. Soon—and New Mexico needs to be ready. That was the message from a recent summit on autonomous, or driverless, vehicles organized by the state Department of Transportation. Local officials, technology experts and even industry representatives all agreed legislators need to understand the technology before changing laws or other policies. Earlier this year, Sen. James White, R-Albuquerque, introduced a memorial asking NMDOT to organize the summit and get New Mexico ready for autonomous vehicles.

Black community wants answers on ATF’s Albuquerque sting, says it was ‘punch in the face’

Black community leaders and citizens want to know who invited out-of-town federal agents and informants into Albuquerque and how the decision was made to focus an undercover sting operation on an impoverished, largely minority section of the city, netting a highly disproportionate number of black defendants. They plan to put those and other questions into a letter to the federal bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and the U.S. Attorney’s Office. “We want to know exactly what happened and why,” said Patrick Barrett, a member of the two organizations drafting the letter — the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Sankofa Men’s Leadership Exchange, a grassroots organization of black men. This story originally appeared at New Mexico In Depth and is reprinted with permission. Barrett and others interviewed for this story were reacting to a NMID investigation of the sting published last month.

NM State Police alleged racist policing in Baton Rouge

New Mexico State Police, aiding overwhelmed police forces in Louisiana following Hurricane Katrina, said in a 2005 memo that police in Baton Rouge were involved in racially-biased policing. Baton Rouge police recently killed Alton Sterling while he was held down by two officers. Video of the shooting, which showed an officer shooting Sterling in the chest, and another shooting in Minnesota prompted protests throughout the country, including Baton Rouge. Eleven police officers were shot, five fatally, after a protest in Dallas by a man who police said criticized Black Lives Matter as well as police. Police in Baton Rouge face increased scrutiny for the handling of the shooting of Sterling and the resulting protests.

State cops looking into APD time card fraud

The New Mexico State Police has launched an investigation into alleged time sheet fraud at one of the Albuquerque Police Department’s area commands. The State Police confirmed the investigation Thursday to ABQ Free Press, but said it couldn’t comment on the details. Sources told ABQ Free Press that the investigation and possible fraud centers around members of APD’s command structure. “State Police recently received information about alleged fraudulent activity within the department [APD] and the NMSP Investigations Bureau is investigating these allegations,” State Police Sgt. Elizabeth Armijo said in an email to the newspaper.

Audit: Former Española principal misused $12K in student candy money

A report from State Auditor Tim Keller released Thursday takes a former Española Public School District principal to task for allegedly misusing more than $12,000 from a candy fundraiser last year. Though the audit doesn’t list the former principal’s name, NM Political Report has learned it’s referring to Norma Lara, who used to head San Juan Elementary. “In addition, the same Principal was found to be pocketing money from game gate fund wherein she was responsible for maintaining certain gate receipts during the games,” the audit reads. “The receipts turned in to the athletic director were found to be off sequence.”

Lara, who is now a first grade teacher at Pablo Roybal Elementary in Pojoaque, did not return a handwritten message sent to her classroom this morning. Specifically, the audit states that it examined records from 10 teachers who participated in the fundraiser, which was meant to raise money for student activity funds, along with Lara’s records.

Supreme court: Helicopter search that led to pot conviction was illegal

The New Mexico Supreme Court ruled that surveillance from a helicopter that led to the conviction of a Northern New Mexico man for growing marijuana was illegal under the United States Constitution. The New Mexico Court of Appeals previously ruled in January of 2014 that the aerial search was illegal, but cited the state constitution. Norman Davis was convicted after a joint operation, called Operation Yerba Buena, between the New Mexico State Police and the New Mexico National Guard involved flying two Army National Guard OH 58 Jet Ranger helicopters over Taos County to find alleged marijuana growth sites. The journey between that search and this Supreme Court decision was long; the search was conducted back in 2006. The Supreme Court heard the arguments on the case in January of this year.