On Sunday, October 25, New Mexico Senator Jacob Candelaria received a series of profanity-laced telephone call voice messages left at his home in Albuquerque. The messages included homophobic slurs. Candelaria is an openly gay and married legislator and a practicing attorney. A male caller accused the Democratic State senator of not knowing what it means to be an “American”. The caller said that “we’re going to get you out one way or another.” Candelaria was born and raised in New Mexico. Candelaria took the messages as death threat.
The phone messages were left hours after Candelaria appeared in a TV newscast Saturday night to criticize as risky and irresponsible a rally in which a few hundred demonstrators gathered outside the Statehouse. The crowd were mostly without masks and were urging the governor to reopen the economy and they denounced pandemic restrictions. Campaign flags for President Donald Trump were on prominent display.
With the help from a private investigator, Candelaria traced one phone number to a man and it was discovered the caller had an outstanding arrest warrant. Candelaria and his husband become more alarmed and said in reaction to the phone messages:
“I have no idea how I can keep my family safe right now other than leave. They do not have the right to make death threats like this and have it go unaccountable.”
STATE POLICE LAPEL CAMERA RECORDING
After listening to the recorded messages, Senator Candelaria called the New Mexico State Police to report the calls and to seek help in leaving the city and to be escorted out of the city. A full 13 hours later, 4 New Mexico State Police arrived to the residence. Ostensibly, Senator Candelaria and his husband were not aware that the last arriving State Police Officers turned on his lapel video camera and recorded the interaction. The link to the 3 minute recording is here:
At the beginning of the video, Candelaria welcomed the officers into his home. Upon hearing from the officers that they were working on finding the man who made the threats, Candelaria became very angry and said he thought they were there to provide protection and an escort to him and his husband to a northern town for safety and that is why he had reported the threat.
During the three-minute video, Candelaria repeatedly told the state police that he was a State Senator and that he and his husband were going to leave town because they didn’t feel safe after the phone call.
When the officers first arrived, the lapel camera reveals he told the officers:
“I’m Senator Jacob Candeleria. I received a death threat last night at two o’clock in the morning. So I got a death threat. My husband and I are leaving the city of Albuquerque right now because we don’t feel safe. I don’t know what it’s going to take. It’s been thirteen hours, guys, thirteen hours.”
At one point an officer asked Candeleria to sit down and Candelaria responded tersely:
“No! I’m a senator. This senator is getting ready and leaving. I was told that you were coming to help us leave town. So, Senator Candelaria and his husband are leaving their home. If you want to watch us while we get in our car and go out and tell them to protect our lives.”
Candelaria also told the state police officers:
“You may not have respect for me, but I am a member of the Senate. I took an oath, to this day, and I don’t deserve to have my life threatened. … Please don’t talk down to me because I will get the governor, on the phone, or whoever, because I don’t understand why this is my problem.”
At one point towards the end of the lapel camera video, Candelaria played the voice message for the officers. The voice message said, in part:
“You don’t know what it means to be an American. You’re a stupid motherfucker, and we’re going to get you out one way or another. Fuck you.”
After playing the message for the officers, Senator Candelaria asked the officers:
“So is that a threat gentlemen?”
One officer replied:
“Sir, that’s how it can be interpreted”.
Upon hearing the one officer’s response, Senator Candelaria is heard telling the officers:
“Leave my house. You are asked to leave. You don’t have a warrant. You don’t have the authority to be here. Get out.”
A link to an ABQReport article is here:
SENATOR TO SEEK POLICE REFORMS
In the aftermath of the October 25 reporting to the New Mexico State Police of anonymous profanity laced threats and asking for help, Sen. Jacob Candelaria has announced that he plans on pursuing “police reforms” that will make law enforcement more responsive to threats against elected officials, including those who are vulnerable to discrimination. Senator Candelaria reported that he and his husband fled their home because of threatening phone messages after criticizing a protest against coronavirus restrictions.
Senator Candelaria now says that an adequate security plan is now in place to protect him and his husband, with support from members of the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) and the New Mexico State Police (NMSP) departments. Notwithstanding the security measures, Candelaria said he is still dissatisfied with the initial response from law enforcement agencies. State Police arrived more than 12 hours after the threat was called in. Candelaria says that his lifestyle and work as an openly gay, Latino legislator who advocates for racial justice and police reforms, he and his husband are vulnerable to being threatened and harassed.
Senator Candelaria had this to say:
“Who I am as a senator, who I am as a gay man, and the political positions I take are all part of that context. As is the increase in threats of violence against Democratic and progressive elected officials by white nationalist groups. … None of those factors was taken into consideration here.”
Links to related news coverage is here:
Given the amount of publicity generated by the story, and the fact that Senator Candelaria is running for another term and is on the November 3 ballot, it is not at all surprising that the New Mexico political establishment reacted more to the contents of the video as opposed to the threats. New Mexico Political Commentator put it this way in his blog:
This is one of those “wow, just wow” stories, similar to when Rio Arriba Dem State Senator Richard Martinez was arrested last year for DWI and the lapel camera video that emerged was devastating. As a result he lost his Senate seat in this June’s primary.
Candelaria may have dodged the immediate political consequences of a possible defeat or close race at the polls Tuesday, but his standing in the Senate is going to take a hit, according to Alligators weighing the impact. One of them comes with this:
This tape will take the heat off Senate Majority Leader Wirth who Candelaria has clashed with. Wirth can now ignore Candelaria whose chances to chair the Senate Finance Committee have gone up in smoke. Maybe if Candelaria apologized right away and explained his behavior it might help, but it’s always difficult to reverse such a damaging image.
MLG could be asked to weigh in on Candelaria’s comments threatening to call her and report the responding officers. That will be a quick Operation Separation, for sure. And Republican businessman Lardizabal will do all he can, one supposes, to push out Candelaria’s embarrassing behavior between now and Tuesday.
Candelaria, who has a reputation as one of the brightest state senators, often diving into complex legislation, is also the first openly gay Senator and has a following in the LGBQT community. An ABQ native, attorney and graduate of Princeton University, he was one of the youngest state senators when he was first elected in 2012. Today he is only 33 but unless he can somehow dig himself out of this hole his political career could be a goner. Ironically, Candelaria has been one of the leading legislative advocates for mandating video lapel cameras.
SENATOR JACOB CANDELARIA APOLOGIZES
On October 30, knowing the reaction of many people, Senator Jacob Candelaria issued the following explanation and apology for his conduct:
Between midnight and 1 a.m. on October 25, my family received three anonymous phone calls at our home in quick succession, threatening violence against my family and me because of my political views, my race, and my sexual orientation. I reported the calls to law enforcement immediately. We deemed one of the callers, who threatened to “take” me “out one way or another,” to be quite serious. As it turns out, at about 10:00 am, a cursory background check done by my law firm’s private investigator yielded strong evidence that the caller who made the most direct threat had a history of violence and an open warrant for his arrest.
My private investigator, who is a former member of the United States Secret Service, advised us at that time that the threat level was escalated and that the caller needed to be found, without delay. I immediately again called the police because I was terrified for the safety of my new husband and myself. If you’ve felt that visceral fear for your family, I am so sorry because I do not wish that upon anyone. In the hours that followed, I was not going to stop until my family was safe. I would and will always do anything to protect the man I love.
When the state police arrived later that afternoon, I simply did not treat the officers who came to our house with the necessary respect or decorum. Let me be clear, I was wrong to redirect the terror and frustration we were experiencing on those individual officers. I apologize fully and unequivocally to each of the officers who were carrying out their duties professionally and who put their safety on the line every day.
As I did later that same night, I thank them for their ongoing committed service to this state. Moving forward, we all need to hold those accountable who are quick to resort to violence toward those who have differing political views, or on the basis of their race, ethnicity or sexual orientation. Our state, nor our country, can progress without a commitment to civil discourse. I commit here and now to actively doing my part.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
Given the amount of publicity generated by the story that Senator Candelaria was threatened, it is not at all surprising that the New Mexico political establishment reacted to the news. The problem is the reaction to the contents of the lapel camera video revealed a side of Senator Jacob Candelaria the public has never seen. His apology was appropriate and should be accepted by his constituents and law enforcement, but the damage has been done to his reputation and it will take time to repair.
State Senator Jacob Candelaria has represented his constituents well and is up for election to another term on November 4. It is more likely than not he will be reelected because many believe he has done a good job, and besides, most of constituents have probably voted. No doubt Candelaria’s concern for the safety of himself and his husband was justified, but his expectations to be escorted to another city was not at all appropriate. Law enforcement is supposed to investigate crimes. (Editors Note: During my lengthy career as a prosecutor and public official I was threatened 4 times both in person and on the phone.)
The 13-hour delay for the State Police to respond after he called for help needs explaining, but the delay is probably easily explained. What also needs explaining is why did Senator Candelaria call the New Mexico State Police and not the Bernalillo County Sherriff’s Office (BCSO) nor the Albuquerque Police Department (APD), both which would have primary jurisdiction to investigate the threat. Candelaria should know this in that he is a licensed New Mexico Attorney.
Being a State Senator does not give the New Mexico State Police primary authority and does not give Candelaria the right to demand a full escort out of town. The State Police Officers acted appropriately telling the Senator that all they could do is investigate. Threatening to call the Governor clearly showed he was demanding preferential treatment because he is a State Senator.
Candelária did himself no favors and he should have shown far more restraint when talking to the New Mexico State Police. Expecting to be escorted to another city was in fact out of line as well as his implied threat to call the Governor. As a licensed New Mexico Attorney, Candelaria also knows full well that the State Police officers were on his property at his invitation and that they did not need any kind of a warrant as he said.
It is common knowledge that Senator Jacob Candelaria is running for Attorney General in 2022. It would be wise for Candelaria to realize that harassment calls and threats go with the territory of being an elected official, especially when your vocal about controversial issues. The lesson learned is not to ignore any threat, report it to law enforcement, let them do their jobs, but do not turn around and tell the media resulting in publicity proclaiming you have been victimized.
Senator Jacob Candelaria is politically smart enough to know that the content of the state police lapel camera video will wind up one day on an a pollical opponent’s hit ads, especially if in fact he runs for New Mexico Attorney General who is the Chief Law Enforcement Officer of the State. Law enforcement no doubt will take notice as to how he treated the State Police Officers.
Let’s hope a lesson has been learned, even though it was a lesson learned the hard way.