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.
The Albuquerque City Council killed a proposal Monday night that would have withheld raises and retention bonuses for the police department’s top brass if the city fails to comply with it settlement agreement on police reform. The proposal by Councilor Diane Gibson failed on a 6-3 vote, with opponents saying it could drive off APD’s senior commanders and that it would have been hard to implement. “What will we do if we lose the people who are a year into this process? They are working hard and they are doing a good job,” Councilor Trudy Jones said in opposing the measure. Councilor Ken Sanchez echoed that opinion, saying, “I’d hate to hold the upper command staff hostage.”
City Chief Administrative Officer Rob Perry told councilors that bit would be difficult to actually measure compliance under the proposal.
Two separate groups of residents and business owners filed lawsuits Monday–one in federal court, and one in state District Court–to stop Mayor Richard Berry’s $119 million Albuquerque Rapid Transit Project. Both lawsuits seek injunctions to stop the 10-mile-long ART project along Central Avenue, and both claim that Berry’s administration and the Federal Transit Administration violated federal laws in approving ART. The first lawsuit, filed Monday morning in state District Court in Albuquerque, alleges that in approving ART, Berry’s administration and the Federal Transportation Administration violated the National Historic Preservation Act and the federal Administrative Act. It also alleges that the ART project is a public nuisance and constitutes the taking of private property by the government. This piece originally appeared on the ABQ Free Press website.
A state grand jury has subpoenaed payroll records, documents related to legal interpretations, and correspondence between former Albuquerque Police Chief Ray Schultz and Taser International, Inc., in connection with an ongoing criminal investigation into allegations of contract rigging that Schultz has been unable to shake since they first arose in early 2014. Schultz is the focal point of three subpoenas obtained by New Mexico In Depth. They were served this summer on the Albuquerque Police Department, the city Inspector General’s Office and Taser, the nation’s largest manufacturer of electronic stun guns and body-worn cameras for police. Each recipient was ordered to turn records over to a grand jury convened at the Second Judicial District courthouse in Albuquerque on July 29. The documents offer a first glimpse into state Attorney General Hector Balderas’ criminal investigation of how the Albuquerque Police Department awarded a $2 million no-bid contract to Taser for more than 500 body-worn cameras and five years worth of online video storage.
First responders gathered with New Mexico and Albuquerque leaders in Albuquerque’s Civic Plaza on Friday to remember the lives that were lost 14 years ago on September 11, 2001. Gov. Susana Martinez spoke to the crowd of community members and first responders by thanking them for their service. “Thank you for what you do every single day,” Martinez said. She went on to remember her personal experience of the attacks on September 11, 2001. She said the news of planes crashing into the World Trade Center was devastating.
Another city audit of the controversial relationship between former Albuquerque Police Chief Ray Schultz and a Scottsdale, Arizona-based stun gun and police equipment company concludes that he acted improperly and violated city law. The report from the city’s Office of Inspector General accuses Schultz of improperly using his relationship with TASER International to score the company lucrative city contracts. It marks the third such report addressing the TASER and Albuquerque Police Department fallout, coming after a “risk review” from the New Mexico State Auditor and a separate internal city audit found similar probable violations. The reports were released in April and May, respectively. Each report puts Schultz under fire for becoming a paid consultant for the company while still on the city’s payroll for his last three months of employment.
State Auditor Tim Keller forwarded his office’s findings of Albuquerque Police Department’s potentially illegal relationship with an Arizona stun gun company to two legal offices for investigation. Keller’s office released a report, which New Mexico Political Report outlined early Thursday, finding probable violations of city and state law from the department’s nearly $2 million contract with TASER International for lapel cameras. His office also asked state Attorney General Hector Balderas and District Attorney Kari Brandenberg to conduct investigations into the matter. Specifically, Keller’s risk review found former Albuquerque Police Chief Raymond Schultz’ actions in “probable” violation of the state Governmental Conduct Act, city procurement rules and city conflict of interest rules. “We believe these are very substantial violations,” Keller told a crowd of reporters Thursday morning.
A former general counsel and deputy chief of staff to Gov. Susana Martinez will be Albuquerque’s new city attorney. Jessica Hernandez, a 34-year-old attorney who’s been practicing law since 2002, comes to the city after just over four years at the governor’s office. Prior to then, she practiced law at Rodey Law in Albuquerque and clerked for US District Judge James O. Browning. Before unanimously confirming her for the position, Albuquerque city councilors questioned Hernandez about the independence of the city attorney from both the mayor and the city council. “As the governor’s attorney you obviously were advocating for the governor’s position in all matters,” City Councilor Isaac Benton said.
New Mexico’s district attorneys walk a difficult tightrope, weighing their roles in criminal courts, where they represent the state and work closely with law enforcement to prosecute crimes, against their political roles in the court of public opinion. For Second Judicial District Attorney Kari Brandenburg, that precarious balance has reached a tipping point. Her approach to officer-involved shootings has shifted over the years, but never so drastically as last week, when she opted to level murder charges against Albuquerque Police Department SWAT member Dominique Perez and now-retired detective Keith Sandy for the March 2014 shooting death of James Boyd. Here’s a look at Brandenburg’s long tenure and some of the events, controversies and scandals that have surrounded her handling of officer-involved shootings. If the timeline does not load, click here for another version.