DWI Defense Attorney Had 88% DWI Dismissal Rate Involving Officers Under Federal Investigation; 40 More Cases Dismissed Bringing Total To 195; APD Investigation Team Announced; Case Dismissal Time Line; APD Had No System To Track Cops Failure To Appear; Medina “Pivots, Deflects, Lays Blame, Takes Credit” And He Should Be Removed As Chief

On Friday January 19, it was reported that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) executed search warrants and raided 3 homes of Albuquerque Police officers and the home and the law office of prominent DWI criminal defense attorney Thomas Clear, III.  All 6 are allegedly involved in a bribery and conspiracy scheme spanning a decade to dismiss DWI cases. DA Sam Bregman ordered the dismissed 159 DWI cases because of the scandal and the Albquerquerqu Police Department has opened its own criminal investigation with an Internal Affairs investigation of the 5 officers.

The 5 cops implicated have been identified as Officers Honorio Alba, Joshua Montaño, Nelson Ortiz, Harvey Johnson and Lt. Justin Hunt with all placed on paid administrative leave. The FBI searched the homes of Alba and Johnson and the law offices of Thomas Clear III and the home of Clear’s paralegal Ricardo “Rick” Mendez. The US Department of Justice and US Attorney’s office have confirmed the APD police officers and the criminal defense attorney are at the center of a federal investigation involving the dismissal of hundreds of pending DWI criminal cases by the APD Officers ostensibly for some sort of remuneration to have the cases dismissed.

NEWS UPDATE:  On February 9 it was reported that APD Lt. Justin Hunt  resigned from APD. He was one of five officers placed on leave about two weeks ago. The police department confirmed Hunt worked in the DWI unit from 2011 to 2014. Review of cases dismissed revealed Hunt’s name came up in 18 DWI cases since 2011 with 15 of those were tossed out.  Court records also  show Thomas Clear III, who advertises himself as a criminal defense lawyer, was Hunt’s attorney in a 2014 divorce.

https://www.kob.com/new-mexico/albuquerque-metro/albuquerque-police-lieutenant-resigns-amid-investigation-into-dwi-unit/

DWI DEFENSE ATTORNEY THOMAS CLEAR III HAD 88% DISMISSAL RATE  INVOLVING  OFFICERS UNDER INVESTIGATION

On January 3, the Albuquerque Journal published on its front page an extensive article with the banner headline “Attorney, five officers and a pattern” written by its staff reporters Matthew Reisen and Colleen Heild.  Following are pertinent, edited excerpts of the article:

“Defense attorney Thomas Clear III was better than most at getting DWI cases dismissed. He had become well-known for it among clients and peers, as well as for his higher fee to handle such cases. … [A] Journal analysis of cases dating back more than a decade reveals that Clear’s above-average dismissal rate in DWI cases nearly doubled when the cases were filed by a select group of DWI officers with the Albuquerque Police Department.

Both Clear and those officers saw plenty of other cases go to trial, end in plea agreements or be deferred, records show. When they were on the docket together — almost 9 out of 10 times [or 88%] — it appears as if Clear’s clients couldn’t lose. More than 100 DWI cases reviewed by the Journal appear to follow a pattern: five specific officers dropping the ball — in a variety of ways — almost exclusively when Clear was the defense attorney.

A look at [Clear’s] track record in Albuquerque’s Metro Court shows:

Clear was listed as the defense attorney in 86 DWI cases that were resolved or closed from Jan. 1, 2021, to Nov. 1, 2023, in which he won dismissals of the client’s charges 45% of the time, or 39 cases. A primary reason for dismissals involved the officers failing to appear in court or their unavailability to testify. Others were dismissed because of issues with the evidence or because the six-month rule had expired.

The dismissal rate, in general, for DWI cases filed in Bernalillo County hovered between 26% and 30% over that same time period, according to statistical reports gathered by the Administrative Office of the Courts.

When considering Clear’s cases with the five officers under federal scrutiny, the dismissal rate spiked to 88%.  Clear’s dismissal numbers don’t include the 152 misdemeanor cases dismissed by Bernalillo County District Attorney Sam Bregman’s office because they involved the four APD officers who have been recently flagged for potential credibility issues.

During their time with the DWI unit, officers Alba, Johnson, Montaño, Ortiz and Lt. Hunt had plenty of cases that weren’t dismissed when other defense attorneys were on the case. Those typically ended in guilty verdicts at trial, deferred sentences and plea agreements. Hunt no longer handles DWI cases.

However, of the 104 cases those arresting officers filed and Clear defended — dating back to 2009 — 92 were dismissed. Montaño had 42 of the cases, Alba had 27, Hunt had 25, Ortiz had six and Johnson had four.  Many of the cases were dismissed after the officers missed pretrial interviews. There also were dismissals for not providing discovery and not meeting court deadlines. …  . ”

The link to read the entire unedited Journal article is here:

https://www.abqjournal.com/news/attorney-had-high-dwi-dismissal-rate-with-officers-under-investigation/article_938b75a4-bc60-11ee-9134-4b51cfcb273c.html

40 MORE CASES DISMISSED

On February 6, it was reported that  40 more cases have been dismissed by the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office in connection to the FBI investigation into accusations that members of the Albuquerque Police Department’s DWI Unit were getting paid to get cases dismissed. The latest case dismissals include some repeat DWI offenders. The cases had nothing to do with drunk driving. One was for aggravated fleeing from an officer and the other was for drug possession. The cases are ones the DA’s Office said it can’t prosecute now due to the officer’s credibility being called into question.

All of the dismissed cases were filed by DWI-unit officers Honorio Alba Jr., Joshua Montaño, Harvey Johnson Jr. and Nelson Ortiz are being investigated by the FBI and APD in a corruption probe. All 5 police officers have been placed on paid administrative leave during the federal investigation. Criminal  defense attorney Thomas Clear III and his paralegal, Ricardo “Rick” Mendez are also  targets of the federal investigation. An analysis of the cases file by  the officers and where the case were  dismissed revealed that the cases were dismissed exclusively when Clear was the criminal defense attorney.

https://www.krqe.com/news/crime/more-cases-dismissed-in-connection-to-albuquerque-police-dwi-scandal/

https://www.abqjournal.com/news/bernalillo-district-attorney-has-now-dismissed-195-dwi-cases-related-to-apd-corruption-probe/article_f3e4df12-c54d-11ee-b075-bbc990fa9043.html

APD INVESTGATION TEAM ANNOUNCED

On Friday, February 2, APD Chief Harold Medina held a press conference to address the “ongoing administrative investigation” involving  159 DWI case dismissals and the 5 police officers implicated in the DWI dismissal scheme. Medina said  “We are looking at everyone in the department who may have had a role in the alleged scheme among DWI officers.”

Medina announced he chose Commander Kyle Hartsock, who oversees APD’s Criminal Investigation Bureau, to head up the investigation into the five officers.  Medina said Hartsock, who previously worked for the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office and the District Attorney’s Office, has an “outside perspective with no ties to current or former DWI officers.”  Medina also said he has “hand chosen” the group to investigate made up of Hartsock and Deputy Commanders Josh Hawkes and Ken Johnston and none have any history with the DWI unit.  Medina said Hartsock has daily calls with the FBI and  passes  along any criminal findings to the federal agency as the internal probe continues.

Medina said this:

“We wanted our best investigative team, and we know that so much of our great investigations have come out of our violent crime section, so I just want to announce that Commander Hartsock will be the commander who’s in charge of this investigation.”

Commander Kyle Hartsock for his part said this:

“We will ensure that any officer or any personnel belonging to the city of Albuquerque that was either involved in any part of this scheme, or knew about it and didn’t report it, will be held accountable.”

The link to the quoted news source is here:

https://www.abqjournal.com/news/albuquerque-police-outline-history-of-dwi-case-outcomes/article_31716d9c-c06b-11ee-84da-7fbcb7fceffb.html#tncms-source=home-featured-7-block

TIME LINE OF CASES DISMISSED

The federal investigation surrounds accusations of APD  officers being paid to get DWI cases dismissed. During the February 2 press conference, Chief Harold Medina spoke in general terms about the dismissal of cases. He said he  learned about the claims involving the DWI Unit  in December of 2022 but it wasn’t until over a year in October of 2023 that he  called  the FBI about the cases.

Chief Medina confirmed that the DWI Unit’s members are being investigated, but he would not confirm specifically what the officers are accused of actually doing. Notwithstanding, Chief Medina said one way a DWI case gets dismissed is by police officers simply not showing up to court hearings. The chief said every missed court notice received is looked into. Medina said the problem is an officer missing court hasn’t always triggered a notice or that notice hasn’t always gone to the right place.

During the February 2 press conference, Chief Medina presented the following  timeline of APD’s total DWI cases and the cases dismissed:

  • 2015: 21% of 1,753 DWI cases were dismissed or 375 cases.
  • 2016:20% of 1,339 DWI cases were dismissed or 268 cases.
  • 2017: 40% of 1,291 DWI cases were dismissed or 527 cases.
  • 2018:40% of 1,422 DWI cases were dismissed or 576 cases.
  • 2019:43% of 1,633 DWI cases were dismissed or 711 cases, but Internal Affairs started to track all missed court dates
  • 2020:33% of 1,133 DWI cases were dismissed or 378 cases.
  • 2021: 37% of 1,103 DWI cases were dismissed or 410 cases.
  • March 2022: Pretrial interview standards changed after APD requested help over shortage of officers/officers being stuck in court
  • 2022:19% of 1,020 DWI cases were dismissed or 196 cases.
  • 2023:3% of 1,027 DWI cases were dismissed or 35 cases.
  • 2024:There are 7 open Internal Affairs investigations

Between 2015 and 2018, an average of 436 DWI cases were dismissed annually. In 2019, APD’s Internal Affairs Unit (IA) began investigating all missed court hearings. This was as a result of changes in APD’s federally mandated reform efforts under the Court Approved Settlement Agreement (CASA). Since 2019, Internal Affairs has investigated 304 times when an officer missed a hearing and confirmed misconduct in 163, or 54%, of those instances.

In 2019, there were 103 Internal Affairs investigations, the highest yearly total, with 29 of them confirmed misconduct. In the years that followed and with the Bernalillo County the District Attorney’s Office briefly put in charge of pretrial interviews of police officers, the investigations into missed hearings ebbed and flowed.

2020 saw 78 investigations with 43 sustained, and 2021 saw 37 investigations with 24 sustained. In March 2022, the New Mexico Supreme Court suspended pretrial interviews. That year, there were 75 investigations into missed hearings, with 56 of them, or 75%, sustained.

Hartsock said some of the investigations into dismissals were not sustained because the officer had a good reason to miss the hearing. If an investigation into an officer’s missed hearing found misconduct, they would be subject to a letter of reprimand.

For every additional sustained misconduct, the discipline moved up to a more serious level. A Discipline Level 1 is a “termination” for cause.  In 2023, the investigations into dismissals plummeted to 4 cases, with each one being sustained.

Medina declined to say if any of the sustained cases involved the officers being investigated by APD and the FBI. He added that, so far, he has not seen “a great pattern” of sustained violations against the officers.

Albuquerque police spokesman Gilbert Gallegos  said APD received no notices of officers’ missing court dates in 2023. Gallegos said the notices stopped coming in “at some point” after September 2022.

Links to quoted news sources with statistics are here:

APD’s full press conference involving FBI Investigation, Feb. 2

https://www.krqe.com/news/albuquerque-metro/albuquerque-police-department-to-provide-timeline-of-dwi-dismissal-scandal/

https://www.abqjournal.com/news/albuquerque-police-outline-history-of-dwi-case-outcomes/article_31716d9c-c06b-11ee-84da-7fbcb7fceffb.html#tncms-source=home-featured-7-block

APD HAD NO SYSTEM TO TRACK OFFICERS FAILURE TO APPEAR IN COURT 

During the February 2 press conference, APD Chief Medina asserted  DWI cases have long involved a game for defense attorneys to get cases dismissed as defense attorneys  push for multiple continuances until an officer misses a hearing and the case is dismissed by the courts for the prosecution failure to appear with  a witness.  Medina also admitted APD  has not had reliable system or  records of whether APD officers were showing up to court hearings.

APD policy is clear and it dictates a “missed court notice” should be generated when there is a failure to appear by a police officer. According to APD’s standard operating procedure, a supervisor in the department’s court services unit is supposed to review and a “failure to appear email” is supposed to be generated and entered in the internal affairs database if there wasn’t a valid reason for not showing up to court.  Medina said this simply does not always happen and he said “This has been a constant struggle.”

While Medina admitted APD has not had its own reliable system of tracking when officers don’t show up to court, he pointed toward a failure, or a systems gap, of more than a year by  the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office system that notified APD  when officers missed court.  Medina said APD stopped getting emails from the DA’s office in September 2022, claiming the DA’s office told APD at the time their system “crashed” or “failed.” Medina said this:

“We’re not gonna get into details, but yes, we are working to figure out why we weren’t getting as many notifications or where our notifications are going. That look at it. Not pointing fingers anywhere. We just don’t know,”

Spokespersons for both current DA Sam Bregman and his predecessor former DA Raúl Torrez said all communication about officers failing to appear is a simply a courtesy.  Both said it’s not up to them to tell APD what their officers are doing or not doing.  A spokesperson DA Sam Bregman said the office has consistently contacted officers directly if they failed to appear. A spokesperson for former DA Raúl Torrez said they were letting the law enforcement agency itself know. The metro court does  have a check-in system  which is offered as a courtesy, but it does not track which officers are repeatedly not showing up for court.

Medina credited the changes made in 2022 for curbing the number of dismissed cases. Medina said this:

“I’m asking the community to bank on the trust that we’ve built over the past several years, and give us time. It gives us time to get to the bottom of exactly what is occurring, ,,, We are looking at everyone in the department who may have had a role in the alleged scheme among DWI officers. … If this misconduct occurred for a decade or longer, we are going to get to the bottom of it.”

Links to quoted news sources are here:

https://www.krqe.com/news/investigations/albuquerque-police-didnt-receive-notice-officers-missed-court-for-16-months/?ipid=promo-link-block1

https://www.krqe.com/news/albuquerque-metro/albuquerque-police-department-to-provide-timeline-of-dwi-dismissal-scandal/

https://www.kob.com/new-mexico/was-there-a-system-to-track-apd-officer-court-appearances/

MEDINA BLAMES DA OFFICE

On February 1, APD Chief Harold Medina sent an 8 page single space letter to the Albuquerque City Council attempting to answer questions they had raised.  Medina identified one particular problem that he believed contributed to the dismissal of DWI cases and wrote this:

“Another shortfall in the criminal justice system has traditionally been the lack of ‘accountability for tracking missed appearances in court. The District Attorney’s Office currently has the responsibility to notify APD of missed appearances. … “

DA BREGMAN SLAPS DOWN CHIEF  MEDINA

On February 6, Bernalillo County District Attorney Sam Bregman, after reviewing Medina’s February 1 letter to the City Council,  issued a  strongly worded statement that reads in part:

“In a letter dated February 1, 2024, to the City Council, the Chief of Police stated “the District Attorney’s Office currently has the responsibility to notify APD of missed appearances.” This is simply not true and has never been true. The Federal DWI investigation is about alleged misconduct by DWI police officers. Instead of focusing on that issue, the Chief is blaming the District Attorney’s Office, the Law Office of the Public Defender, and the Metropolitan Court for the dysfunction and mismanagement of his DWI unit. 

… .”

BERNALILLO COUNTY METROPOLITAN COURT ISSUES STATEMENT

On January 25, the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court issued the following statement regarding its “Officer Check-In System” on DWI cases:

“Being that it is not the Court’s responsibility to get witnesses to hearings, Metro Court does not currently have a system in place to notify law enforcement of officers’ attendance in court. However, just this week, the Metropolitan Court was asked by local law enforcement to develop such a system as a courtesy. It’s important to remember that most court records are public records in which specific dismissal information, if applicable, can be found through various resources such as through the court’s website or by visiting the courthouse.

… .

Realizing that officers are often scheduled in multiple courtrooms at once, the Metropolitan Court continues to utilize its “Officer Check-In System,” which the court developed in 2007. Through it, officers can “check-in” at one of the court’s kiosks as they enter the courthouse or check in online if appearing for a virtual hearing. Judges, staff, and attorneys are then able to use the system to see, in real time, if an officer has checked in and in which courtrooms an officer is scheduled to appear. Law enforcement court services liaisons are able to update the system from outside of the courthouse to notify judges and courtroom staff if, for example, an officer is running late or ill. Metro Court is one of only a handful of courts in the country with this technology.”

Link to quoted source material is here:

https://www.koat.com/article/albuquerque-police-update-fbi-investigation/46630667

FBI INVESTIGATION LIKELY IMPACT ON DOJ CONSENT DECREE

On November 16, 2023, it was a full 9 years that has expired since the city entered into the Court Approved Settlement Agreement (CASA) with the Department of Justice (DOJ) after the DOJ found a “culture of aggression” and a pattern of excessive force and deadly force.  Over the last 9 years, APD has devoted thousands of manhours, the city has spent millions of dollars on the reform process, creating and staffing entire divisions and roles and rewriting policies and procedures.

The Court appointed Federal Monitor has been paid millions and has performed extensive audits on APD’s performance measures and has  filed 18 audit reports on APD’s implementation of the reforms.  APD is now on the verge of being in full compliance of the reforms that will result in the case being dismissed.

Damon Martinez is the former U.S. Attorney for the District of New Mexico who negotiated the consent decree with the city of Albuquerque and APD. After he left office, he went to work for APD as a policy advisor, he no longer works for the city and is a candidate for Bernalillo County District Attorney. On February 2, Martinez said the FBI investigation of the 5 APD officers  could be a setback for consent decree compliance delaying the dismissal of the case.

Based upon the facts that are known publicly right now, Martinez believes that the court will want to go back and look at two specific areas of the consent decree reforms:

  1. The specialized unit section, which would involve the DWI Unit. Martinez said this “Does APD have information that their officers are not showing up to court? Is that information showing that there’s violations by certain officers of that standard operating procedure? And then what is APD doing about it,”
  2. Misconduct, specifically how internal affairs operated when they got news of possible wrongdoing by officers. Martinez said this: “I believe the court is going to look at what APD did with that information specifically. Was Internal Affairs advised and how did they conduct themselves?”

https://www.koat.com/article/federal-investigations-impact-on-albuquerque-police-doj-agreement/46601193

COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS

Great emphasis has been placed on the number of DWI cases  dismissed and the failed system of being able to track none appearances by the police. What seems to have been placed on the back burner is to what extent the corruption goes into APD and exactly how much or what remuneration was paid the get the cases dismissed.

QUESTIONS NEEDING ANSWERING

As the FBI criminal investigation continues, there are at least 3 unanswered questions that must be addressed by the investigation:

  1. Did APD Chief Harold Medina, the Deputy Chiefs or Commanders, Lieutenants or Sergeants withhold information about the DWI Unit from the Federal Court monitor believing they could contain the scandal and resolve it on their own? Full compliance and dismissal of the Department Consent will likely be affected by the scandal. What is downright pathetic is how hundreds of DWI cases were dismissed and went totally undetected by the Federal Monitor.   It’s hard to believe that no one reported the problem to the monitor and his auditing team.
  2. Exactly what remuneration was paid by the defense attorney to the cops to get the cases dismissed? Was it cash or some other benefit paid, such as airline tickets, high end tickets to sporting events or entertainment event tickets or lavish trips?
  3. The police union contract mandates the payment of a minimum of two hours overtime pay at “time and a half” for schedule court appearances. Did the accused police officers claim time and a half for court appearances that they never attended, or agreed not to attend, as they were paid by the defense attorney?

It is clear that he Albuquerque City Council should demand a full audit of APD by the Internal Audit Department or the Inspector General and of overtime paid to the police officers implicated.

MEDINA’S POLITICAL SPIN

Ever since this scandal broken on January 19 with the execution of the search warrants,  APD Chief Harold  Medina has been in full “politcal  spin cycle” mode of “pivot, deflect, take credit and lay blame” with his interviews.  His February 2 press conference was a continuation of it. Medina takes credit for the investigation and taking action to hold people accountable for the corruption when it was in fact the federal investigation that forced his hand after he allowed the problem to fester.

APD Chief Harold Medina has admitted that the APD bribery and conspiracy scheme has gone on the entire 6 years he has been in charge of APD both a Deputy Chief and now as Chief.  As the Deputy Chief assigned Field Services by Chief Geier, Medina was directly in charge of the APD DWI unit, but Medina  failed to detect what was going on. Medina is known to be a micro manager and it difficult to believe nor understand that at no time did he ever get information regarding the nefarious conduct of the DWI unit.

OPVERTIME PAY ABUSES

There have been no less than 7 audits documenting the corruption, waste, fraud and abuse in APD police overtime over the past 8 years with one audit done by none other than former State Auditor Tim Keller. Keller and Medina have done nothing to curb the overtime pay abuse and there have been no prosecutions for time card fraud or overtime pay abuse by police officers, especially those assigned to the DWI Unit, even when found by the audits. In fact, there have been many APD Officers in the DWI unit who have been listed over the years as being in the top paid 250 city hall paid employees earing anywhere from $100,000 to $200,000 or 2 or 3 times their annual salary. One of the 5 APD officer identified in the current scandal was assigned to the DWI and paid over $124,000 because of excessive overtime.

KELLER AND MEDINA MUST BE HELD ACCOUNTABLE FOR SCANDAL

APD’s reputation has been trashed to a major extent by the scandal. APD will be viewed by many as having another bastion of “dirty and corrupt cops” who have brought dishonor to their department and the department’s professed values of “Pride, Integrity, Fairness and Respect”The whole scandal places an ethical stain on the department that may never be removed. This is before any charges have been filed, before any one is fired from APD and before we ever know who is responsible. The public must demand that there be a thorough criminal investigation of the police officers involved in the crimes and the APD command staff who should have known what was going on

Mayor Tim Keller and APD Chief Harold Medina have made more than a few stunning admissions. They admit that the APD bribery and conspiracy scheme went on the entire 6 years they have been in charge of APD but they never detected what was going on.  Both admitted that only after they found out the FBI was investigating APD, the decision was made to initiate a city criminal and internal affairs investigation and to proclaim cooperation with the FBI.   Medina admitted that he knew about the corruption as far back as December 2022 when APD first got a complaint related to the department’s DWI unit, yet he waited and essentially did nothing for a full year. 

Mayor Tim Keller and APD Chief Medina must be held accountable and responsible for what has happened.  Until Mayor Tim Keller and his administration and for that matter the City Council take aggressive action to deal with this latest APD crisis, APD’s professed values of “Pride, Integrity, Fairness And Respect” are meaningless words on a wall. The first step to restore APD’s reputation is the immediate termination of Chief Harold Medina. The Albuquerque City Council needs to take any action to hold APD Chief Harold Medina and his command staff accountable for this latest scandal.

DA Sam Bregman Blasts APD Chief Medina Over “Dysfunction And Mismanagement Of DWI Unit”; Medina Appears Before City Council As “No Confidence Vote” Fails For Lack Of A Second; “Pivot, Deflect And Blame” Is Name Of Game For APD Chief Harold Medina; City Council Should Take Actions To Remove Harold Medina As APD Chief

On January 19 the FBI raided the homes of three APD officers and a DWI defense attorney allegedly involved in a bribery and conspiracy scheme spanning a decade to dismiss DWI cases. Five cops, including one lieutenant, have been implicated. District Attorney Sam Bregman ordered 159 DWI cases dismissed because of the scandal. No criminal charges have been filed, the FBI search warrants remain sealed and the  five APD officers who used to work in the DWI unit are on paid administrative leave during the federal criminal investigation.

EXCHANGE OF CORRESPONDENCE BETWEEN MEDINA AND CITY COUNCIL

On January 25, Albuquerque City Council President Dan Lewis and City Councilors Louie Sanchez and Dan Champine sent a letter to Chief Harold Medina asking him questions and demanding written answers on APD policies and procedures as they relate to the handling of DWI cases and what  contributed to the dismissal of the  DWI cases and which lead to the DWI  bribery and conspiracy scandal. The City councilors also demanded the Chief Medina show up at the February 5 City Council meeting.

On February 1, APD Chief Harold Medina sent an 8 page single space letter to the Albuquerque City Council attempting to answer all of their questions.  Medina identified one particular problem that he believed contributed to the dismissal of DWI cases and wrote this:

“Another shortfall in the criminal justice system has traditionally been the lack of ‘accountability for tracking missed appearances in court. The District Attorney’s Office currently has the responsibility to notify APD of missed appearances. This responsibility was recently confirmed, as Metro Court spokesperson Camille Baca was asked why Metro Court did not follow the recommendation of the National Center for State Courts to publish a list of cases dismissed for officers’ failing to appear. Ms. Baca stated, “[t]he justice partner group in Bernalillo County at the time, instead, decided that that recommended practice should be the responsibility of the District Attorney’s Office.”  We stopped receiving notices in September 2022 due to a system failure at the DA’s office. We only recently started receiving the notices again. In addition, APD has never had the ability to independently access court systems to check on officer appearances. We have gained access in the last few weeks. We are now in the process of working ‘with the court data to automate tracking of officer appearances.”

DA BREGMAN BLASTS CHIEF MEDINA

On February 6, Bernalillo County District Attorney Sam Bregman, after reviewing Medina’s February 1 letter to the City Council,  issued  the following strongly worded statement:

In a letter dated February 1, 2024, to the City Council, the Chief of Police stated “the District Attorney’s Office currently has the responsibility to notify APD of missed appearances.” This is simply not true and has never been true. The Federal DWI investigation is about alleged misconduct by DWI police officers. Instead of focusing on that issue, the Chief is blaming the District Attorney’s Office, the Law Office of the Public Defender, and the Metropolitan Court for the dysfunction and mismanagement of his DWI unit. 

[Chief Medina]  should refocus on putting things in place to prevent this type of disaster from happening again. Although the District Attorney’s office has never been under any obligation to ensure officers show up for scheduled court appearances, we have put in place an additional robust notification system so APD will be aware when their officers miss court. The bottom line is holding accountable those people who are drinking and driving and the safety of our community. 

APD RESPONDS TO DA BREGMAN

On February 6, APD spokesman Gilbert Gallegos responded to District Attorney Sam Bregman by attempting to clarify what happened in 2021.  Gallegos said that Medina, as the Deputy Chief of Field Services who  oversaw the DWI unit, spoke with then-Chief Deputy District Attorney Chuck Barth for then District Attorney Raul Torrez about high case dismissal rates. Gallegos claimed that Barth agreed the DA’s office would take responsibility for tracking no-shows in court and  responsibility for the notifications to APD. Chief Deputy District Attorney Chuck Barth died unexpectantly in 2021 from complications from surgery. According to APD spokesperson Gallegos the system broke down and APD wasn’t notified of officer no shows. Upon information and belief, there is no formal written policy written by Chief Deputy DA Barth and there is no formal memorandum of understanding (MOU) negotiated between the District Attorney Office and APD on no show notifications.

Current Chief Deputy District Attorney Josh Boone under DA Bregman told the Albquerquerqu Journal on Monday January 5 the DA’s  office has updated and improved its system for alerting law enforcement agencies when their officers fail to appear for court hearings. The DA’s office staff, including its assistant district attorneys, report the time, date and the reason, if known, that officers have missed court proceedings. Typically, misdemeanor cases, such as DWI, are dismissed without prejudice if important witnesses, such as the arresting officer, aren’t present to testify in court. Boone said the DA’s office decides whether to refile such charges on a case-by-case basis. The new system has been in use only since January but wasn’t put in place because of the current federal criminal investigation.

ATTORNEY GENERAL RAÚL TORREZ REACTS

Raul Torrez was elected Attorney General in 2022 and Bregman was appointed DA in January 2023 by Governor Michell Lujan Grisham. Lauren Rodriguez, spokeswoman for state Attorney General Raúl Torrez, Bregman’s predecessor, said this on February 5:

“Our office provided regular updates to all of our law enforcement partners whenever their officers failed to appear, but ultimately each agency was responsible for their officers’ attendance in court.”

The link to quoted news sources is here:

https://www.abqjournal.com/news/da-apd-point-fingers-over-dwi-officer-no-shows/article_4ba8cdd8-c474-11ee-a4c0-4744a05f984a.html#tncms-source=home-featured-7-block

MEDINA BLAMES PUBLIC DEFENDER’S OFFICE

Chief Medina in a letter dated January 6  accused the upper management of the Law Offices of the Public Defender of ignoring concerns of public defenders who work in Metro Court about attorney Thomas Clear III, whose law office was among those locations searched January  18 as part of the FBI investigation. Clear at the time was the chairman of the state Public Defender Commission, which oversees the independent LOPD operations. Clear has since resigned.

The January 26 letter sent by APD Chief Harold Medina to the  Law Office of the Public Defender Commission is as follows:

January 26,2024

Law Office of the Public Defender Commission via email to each Commissioner. individually

Re: Investigation into Thomas Clear Ill and APD DWI Officers Dear Commissioners,

Dear Commissioners,

I am writing to provide information regarding former LOPD Commission Chair, Thomas Clear II, and allegations regarding the LOPD management. The Albuquerque Police Department (APD) received information about alleged illegal conduct by officers on the APD DWI Unit and a local criminal defense attorney. The FBI is conducting a federal investigation, and I ordered an administrative investigation into the officers who. have been implicated in this alleged scheme. As you are likely aware, the attorney who has been implicated in this alleged scheme is Mr. Clear, then-Chair of the LOPD Commission.

During the investigation, I learned that multiple line attorneys in the Albuquerque office of the LOPD were concerned regarding the conduct of Mr. Clear and reported their concerns to the LOPD management. While I cannot speak to the exact nature of these concerns and the specific individuals involved, I understand that the Albuquerque upper management of the LOPD ignored such concerns and did nothing to investigate the activities of then-Chairman Clear.

The allegations about the allege scheme are extremely disturbing, and it ought to concern all criminal justice partners. APD continues to investigate this alleged scheme and will hold accountable all involved officers. I hope that the LOPD Commission will similarly take any action necessary to cab gov investigate and hold accountable anyone who was involved in turning a blind eye. For the sake of our criminal justice system, we must work together in thoroughly investigating and holding accountable anyone who took advantage of the system.

Respectfully,

Harold Medina, Chief of Police

Chief Public Defender Ben Bauer responded to  Medina’s letter by issuing the following statement:

I’ve seen the letter from APD Chief Medina.  This letter is a self-serving distraction from the ongoing investigation. Chief Medina is responsible for the conduct of his officers. We are responsible to our clients, and are guided by our ethical responsibilities to them, our office and our profession.

The link to the news source is here:

https://www.krqe.com/news/albuquerque-metro/albuquerque-police-release-name-of-defense-attorney-connected-to-federal-investigation/

In his January 26 letter to the Public Defenders Commission, Medina states that he “learned that multiple line attorneys in the Albuquerque office of the LOPD were concerned regarding the conduct of Mr. Clear.” Chief Medina makes the allegation known only after the scandal broke and after Defense Attorney Tom Clear resigned as the Chairman of the Public Defender Commission. Medina’s January 26 letter to the Public Defenders Commission amounts to nothing more than deflection and an attempt to lay as much blame elsewhere as he can.

NO APD SYSTEM TO TRACK FAILURE TO APPEAR IN COURT BY COPS

It was during a  February 2 press conference that  APD Chief Medina asserted  DWI cases have long involved a game for defense attorneys to get cases dismissed as defense attorneys  push for multiple continuances until an officer misses a hearing and the case is dismissed by the courts for the prosecution failure to appear with  a witness.  Medina also admitted APD has not had reliable system or  records of whether APD officers were showing up to court hearings.

APD policy is clear and it dictates a “missed court notice” should be generated when there is a failure to appear by a police officer. According to APD’s standard operating procedure, a supervisor in the department’s court services unit is supposed to review and a “failure to appear email” is supposed to be generated and entered in the internal affairs database if there wasn’t a valid reason for not showing up to court.  Medina said this simply does not always happen and he said  “This has been a constant struggle. ”

While Medina admitted APD has not had its own reliable system of tracking when officers don’t show up to court, he pointed toward a failure, or a systems gap,  of more than a year by  the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office system that notified APD  when officers missed court.  Medina said APD stopped getting emails from the DA’s office in September 2022, claiming the DA’s office told APD at the time their system “crashed” or “failed.” Medina said this:

“We’re not gonna get into details, but yes, we are working to figure out why we weren’t getting as many notifications or where our notifications are going. That look at it. Not pointing fingers anywhere. We just don’t know,”

Spokespersons for both current DA Sam Bregman and his predecessor former DA Raúl Torrez said all communication about officers failing to appear is a simply a courtesy. Both said it’s not up to them to tell APD what their officers are doing or not doing.  A spokesperson DA Sam Bregman said the office has consistently contacted officers directly if they failed to appear. A spokesperson for former DA Raúl Torrez said they were letting the law enforcement agency itself know. The metro court does  have a check-in system  which is offered as a courtesy, but it does not track which officers are repeatedly not showing up for court.

Medina credited the changes made in 2022 for curbing the number of dismissed cases. He noted he could not place the blame on the DA’s Office for the notification process about missed court dates, and it’s a part of the investigation. Medina said this:

“I’m asking the community to bank on the trust that we’ve built over the past several years, and give us time. It gives us time to get to the bottom of exactly what is occurring, ,,, We are looking at everyone in the department who may have had a role in the alleged scheme among DWI officers. … If this misconduct occurred for a decade or longer, we are going to get to the bottom of it.”

Links to quoted news sources are here:

https://www.krqe.com/news/investigations/albuquerque-police-didnt-receive-notice-officers-missed-court-for-16-months/?ipid=promo-link-block1

https://www.krqe.com/news/albuquerque-metro/albuquerque-police-department-to-provide-timeline-of-dwi-dismissal-scandal/

https://www.kob.com/new-mexico/was-there-a-system-to-track-apd-officer-court-appearances/

BERNALILLO COUNTY METROPOLITAN COURT ISSUES STATEMENTS

On January 25, the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court issued the following statement regarding its “Officer Check-In System” on DWI cases:

“Being that it is not the Court’s responsibility to get witnesses to hearings, Metro Court does not currently have a system in place to notify law enforcement of officers’ attendance in court. However, just this week, the Metropolitan Court was asked by local law enforcement to develop such a system as a courtesy. It’s important to remember that most court records are public records in which specific dismissal information, if applicable, can be found through various resources such as through the court’s website or by visiting the courthouse.

… .

Realizing that officers are often scheduled in multiple courtrooms at once, the Metropolitan Court continues to utilize its “Officer Check-In System,” which the court developed in 2007. Through it, officers can “check-in” at one of the court’s kiosks as they enter the courthouse or check in online if appearing for a virtual hearing. Judges, staff, and attorneys are then able to use the system to see, in real time, if an officer has checked in and in which courtrooms an officer is scheduled to appear. Law enforcement court services liaisons are able to update the system from outside of the courthouse to notify judges and courtroom staff if, for example, an officer is running late or ill. Metro Court is one of only a handful of courts in the country with this technology.”

The Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court also issued a statement in response to Chief Medina’s letter to the city council as to why the court did not adopt a recommended practice in a 2006 report:

“While the court respects the work of the project consultants for the 2006 “Examination of Scheduling Practices for Driving-While-Intoxicated cases in the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court” report, it’s important to note the disclaimer on the second page of the report from seventeen years ago, which states “The points of view and opinions offered in this report are those of the project consultants and do not necessarily represent the official policies or position of the New Mexico Administrative Office of the Courts or the National Center for State Courts.” In order to maintain its role as the Court, and remain neutral and fair, the Metropolitan Court rejected the recommendation from the report that it “should maintain and regularly publish a list of those DWI cases that are dismissed because a law enforcement officer has failed to appear for an interview or for a trial,” because that is not the court’s responsibility. The justice partner group in Bernalillo County at the time, instead, decided that that recommended practice should be the responsibility of the District Attorney’s Office.”

https://www.koat.com/article/albuquerque-police-update-fbi-investigation/46630667

CHIEF MEDINA APPEARS BEFORE CITY COUNCIL AS REQUESTED, NO CONFIDENCE MOTION NOT CONSISDERED FOR LACK OF A SECOND

On January 5, APD Harold Medina appeared before the Albuquerque City Council as he was requested by the City Council President and he answered questions. Initially, Chief Medina resisted appearing before the City Council to answer questions and suggested under advice of the City Attorney that he brief the City Council and answer questions in private and during an executive session of the City Council.

During the city council meeting, APD Chief Harold Medina made it clear he would not answer questions about the ongoing investigation.  As a result, city councilors were relegated to  questions about the department’s procedures and discipline surrounding officers missing court appearances which is at the center of the FBI investigation.

Bernalillo County District Attorney Sam Bregman has dismissed 159 DWI cases connected to 5  APD officers and  local defense attorney Tom Clear.  The alleged scheme is that officers were purposely not showing up for court, leading to many DWI cases getting thrown out.

On Monday night, City Councilor Nichole Rogers asked how many missed court hearings is too many.  Medina said it’s a case-by-case basis, including the reason why the officer didn’t show up. He also said the department currently does not have a database to track how many times an officer misses court appearance.

City Councilor Louie Sanchez took issue with Medina’s explanation. He said as a former APD officer, he knows hearing schedules are public record, and anyone can look up when cases are dismissed because an officer was a no-show. City Councilor Louie  Sanchez  said he did not  understand how the police department did not  catch what was going on sooner. Sanchez told Medina this:

“Know who’s missing court and who isn’t missing court, it’s not the responsibility of the DA’s office; it’s not the responsibility of the individual. It’s not the responsibility of the citizens out here, it’s your responsibility.”

Medina responded saying APD does no have the manpower to check those appearances.  Medina said this:

“We have never had the staffing to look up every case in newmexicocourts.com. Today for example, there are 547 cases in the system for the Albuquerque Police Department. Historically, we have relied on other entities to relay information to us that an officer has missed court. Given the fact that individuals are not going to be able to do that, we can do it, but it would be very time intense”. 

Medina said APD  would need about 20 full time staff to track and manage a database on Court appearance by APD cops. Medina said this :

“As of this moment …  we don’t have agreements with any of the entities [to share the data] that we are working with. We never have had one, this is the way the system has always worked and that is what we are working on right now.”

Those entities include the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office. Medina said prosecutors were supposed to send them notifications when an officer missed court.  Medina’s response about the DAs office prompted Councilor Sanchez to read the  letter from District Attorney Sam Bregman’s office saying it was never the DA’s job to report officer no-shows. Instead, it was a courtesy.

Other councilors said while it’s obvious something needs to change, but they said they are not sure they had  enough information to move forward yet. City Councilor Brook Bassan said this:

“Until the FBI comes back and giving us some solid answers and solid evidence, I am going to refrain from comment or judgment beyond this moment in time.”

City Councilor Dan Champine, who is a former APD officer asked about the status of the DWI unit since this investigation started. Medina said  there’s no longer a DWI unit, but APD is still handling DWI cases.

At the conclusion of Medina’s questioning, City Councilor Louie Sanchez moved for  a vote of “No Confidence”  in Medina but failed to get a second and therefor was not discussed or debated.

https://www.kob.com/new-mexico/city-council-set-to-talk-about-investigation-into-apd-dwi-officers/

https://www.koat.com/article/police-harold-medina-albuquerque-city-council-meeting/46654024

COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS

Ever since this scandal broken on January 19 with the execution of the FBI search warrants,  APD Chief Harold  Medina has been in full “politcal  spin cycle” mode of “pivot, deflect, take credit and lay blame”Medina’s press conferences, correspondence to the city council and his appearance before the city council on February 5 are all  pathic attempts on his part to hold on to his job. Medina has been a complete failure in the management of APD and this most recent scandal is evidence of that. Medina attempts to take credit for the investigation and taking action to hold people accountable for the corruption when it was in fact the federal investigation that forced his hand after he allowed the problem to fester.

APD Chief Harold Medina has admitted that the APD bribery and conspiracy scheme has gone on the entire 6 years he has been in charge of APD both a Deputy Chief and now as Chief.  As the Deputy Chief assigned Field Services by Chief Geier, Medina was directly in charge of the APD DWI unit, but he failed to detect what was going on. Medina is known to be a micro manager and it difficult to believe nor understand that at no time did he ever get information regarding the nefarious conduct of the DWI unit.

APD’s reputation has been trashed to a major extent by this  scandal. APD will be viewed by many as having another bastion of “dirty and corrupt cops” who have brought dishonor to their department and which Medina failed to detect. The whole scandal places an ethical stain on the department that may never be removed. This is before any charges have been filed, before anyone is fired from APD and before we ever know who is responsible.

The public must demand that there be a thorough criminal investigation of the police officers involved in the crimes.  APD Chief Harold Medina must be held accountable and responsible for what has happened as well as the APD command staff who should have known what was going on.

The Albuquerque City Council plays and extremely critical role of overseeing the Albuquerque Police Department. That role includes review and approval of APD’s annual budget and holding public hearings and giving “advise and consent” to the appointment of the Chief.  Only the Mayor can terminate the Chief of Police and so long as a Chief of Police has the confidence and support of the mayor, the Chief remains in office.

It downright disappointing, and perhaps a dereliction of oversight duty, that the City Council failed to even consider the Motion For No Confidence in Chief Medina at its February 5 meeting. APD Chief Harold Medina needs to be removed immediately as chief, something Mayor Keller is refusing to do, at least for now. Much of this scandal is still unfolding and it will likely get worse before it gets better.

The options the City Council has to try and remove Chief Medina is with a “Motion to Rescind An  Appointment” or with the introduction of a “Resolution of No Confidence” or by refusing to confirm his appointment.  APD Chief Medina was never confirmed as Chief of Police by the City Council as were the Chief Administrative Officer, City Attorney and City Clerk after Mayor Keller was elected in 2021 to a second term.  President Dan Lewis should call for an immediate confirmation vote on Medina as Chief or another city councilor should introduce “Resolution of No Confidence” with hearings held on the removal of APD Chief Harold Medina.

 

ABQ Journal Guest Opinion Columns: “Mayor Keller and Chief Medina Must Be Held Accountable For DWI Scandal”; “Lack Of Leadership Has Ruined Moral Within APD”; Will City Council Vote No Confidence In Medina?; Keller Should Terminate And Replace APD Chief Harold Medina

On Sunday, February 4, the Albuquerque Journal published two guest opinion columns, one authored by Pete Dinelli and the other authored by west side District 1 City Councilor Louie Sanchez.  Both opinion columns come to the same conclusion: APD Chief Harold Medina needs to go, either by resignation or termination.

Below are the guest opinion columns followed by the Albuquerque Journal links:

DINELLI GUEST COLUMN

Dinelli Column Headline: “Mayor Keller and Chief Medina Must Be Held Accountable For DWI Scandal”

BY PETE DINELLI, ALBUQUERQUE RESIDENT

“A bombshell blew up that rocked APD and the legal community when the FBI raided the homes of three APD officers and a DWI defense attorney allegedly involved in a bribery and conspiracy scheme spanning a decade to dismiss DWI cases. Five cops, including one lieutenant, have been implicated.

District Attorney Sam Bregman ordered 159 DWI cases dismissed because of the scandal.

The City Council has accused Mayor Tim Keller and Chief Harold Medina of failed leadership. Keller and Medina have pivoted, deflected and blamed others, denying responsibility. They take credit for holding officers accountable and have accused city councilors of unethical conduct and interference by demanding information. Medina said city councilors were “out of line” demanding information.

It was appalling when Mayor Keller accused the City Council of “unethical conduct” by saying “it’s marginally unethical for them to air these concerns” that may jeopardize the investigation by simply asking for information they are entitled to have in order to carry out their oversight duties and responsibilities over APD.

Keller and Medina have made more than a few stunning admissions. They admit that the APD bribery and conspiracy scheme went on the entire six years they have been in charge of APD, but they never detected what was going on.

Both admitted that only after they found out the FBI was investigating APD, the decision was made to initiate a city criminal and internal affairs investigation and to proclaim cooperation with the FBI. Medina admitted that he knew about the corruption as far back as December 2022 when APD first got a complaint related to the department’s DWI unit in December 2022, yet he waited and essentially did nothing for a full year.

Keller’s admissions come from a person who was first elected as the white knight state auditor who stopped “waste, fraud and abuse” and held people accountable for government corruption. Medina’s admissions come from a chief who claims he has never looked the other way at police corruption. Both have looked the other way on documented corruption involving overtime pay abuses by police officers. There have been seven audits in eight years documenting the corruption, waste, fraud and abuse in police overtime.

APD’s reputation has been trashed to a major extent by the scandal. APD will be viewed by many as having another bastion of “dirty and corrupt cops” who have brought dishonor to their department and the department’s professed values of “Pride, Integrity, Fairness and Respect.” The whole scandal places an ethical stain on the department that may never be removed. This is before any charges have been filed, before anyone is fired from APD and before we ever know who is responsible.

The public must demand that there be a thorough criminal investigation of the police officers involved in the crimes and the APD command staff who should have known what was going on. Mayor Tim Keller and Chief Medina must be held accountable and responsible for what has happened.

Until the mayor and his administration, and for that matter the City Council, take aggressive action to deal with this latest APD crisis, APD’s professed values of “Pride, Integrity, Fairness And Respect” are meaningless words on a wall. The first step to restore APD’s reputation is the immediate termination of Chief Harold Medina.”

Bio Box

Pete Dinelli is a former Albuquerque City Councilor, former Chief Public Safety Officer and former Chief Deputy District Attorney and a 45 year licensed attorney. He publishes a News and Commentary blog at www.PeteDinelli.com

https://www.abqjournal.com/opinion/opinion-mayor-keller-and-chief-medina-must-be-held-accountable-for-dwi-scandal/article_f167fc46-c139-11ee-b974-e39aa84f9d2e.html

SANCHEZ GUEST OPINION COLUMN

Sanchez Column Headline: Lack Of Leadership Has Ruined Moral Within APD

BY LOUIE SANCHEZ, Albuquerque City Councilor

“Recent incidents involving the Albuquerque Police Department since last fall concern not just myself, but all citizens and residents of Albuquerque.

APD’s mismanagement is evidenced by a spectrum of tragedies and scandals. This past fall, a police cadet was killed in a murder-suicide following reports of an affair taking place during her training at the police academy that APD leadership was aware of: An academy class where seasoned instructors were moved because the son of a deputy chief attending the academy faced termination for untruthfulness. Instead, he weaponized the EEOC process at the advice of his father and was reinstated to the academy.

Under current leadership, APD’s Gang Unit was all but dissolved along with such critical units as the Narcotics and Vice units. Record numbers of officers have resigned or retired, leaving the department dangerously shorthanded.

It gets worse. More officer terminations followed with more officer involved shootings — the highest number in decades, if not in APD’s history. Response time for 911 calls increase with some citizens holding for hours while hundreds more sit unanswered.

The city saw the highest number of homicides in two recent years under this mayor and under his current police chief — at least 328 people were murdered on the streets of the city. At least two multi-million-dollar lawsuits are pending against the city and APD, each claiming wrongful death of family members who suffered from mental illness. Such shootings were among the very reason the DOJ came to Albuquerque.

These low-points, now a part of APD’s history, are, as Dr. James Ginger puts it, the result of poor leadership. Now a public corruption investigation by the FBI of APD officers threatens the integrity of entire department.

An immediate consequence of Chief Medina’s failures is the dismissal of over 150 DWI cases. All those offenders now skate on being held accountable for their alleged offenses.

Medina says he knew about their alleged misconduct but if that’s true, why had the DWI unit been praised by him throughout last year? Why did Chief Medina permit this to happen? Why was APD leadership caught off guard? Is it because cronyism thrives under Mayor Keller’s chief of police, or merit and performance are not valued but loyalty is?

I served 26 years with APD and never have I witnessed such failed leadership and integrity issues by any of APD chief of police. Now all APD is being painted with a broad brush of corruption and Mayor Keller and his appointed police chief are the prime examples of what you are not supposed to do as a leader.

Could it be that they are so occupied with patting themselves on the back that they were indifferent to such egregious misconduct in their own ranks? Could it be they are so consumed with spiking the football on their fictional belief that DOJ’s oversight is almost over?

Chief Medina seems to have missed the class on integrity. Lack of leadership and hypocrisy ruins morale. Now we have a city reeling from scandals and tragedies from its police department. These leadership failures are why Dr. James Ginger says he will not release APD from its mandates under the 2014 Court Approved Settlement Agreement.

These failures and tragedies reflect an institution in dire need of intervention. It’s time to recognize that failings of leadership have dire consequences for our city. We must work together to address these concerns and improve our quality of life.

We need to prevent the “Fall of Albuquerque.” We need change. It is time for Medina to resign or be replaced. Our honest, hardworking officers deserve better.”

Louie Sanchez represents District 1, Albuquerque’s Central West Side, on the Albuquerque City Council.

https://www.abqjournal.com/opinion/opinion-lack-of-leadership-has-ruined-morale-within-apd/article_6fcc9978-c13c-11ee-beba-273bf33285e0.html

COMMENTARY AND ANALYIS

The Albuquerque City Council plays and extremely critical role of overseeing the Albuquerque Police Department. That role includes review and approval of APD’s annual budget and holding public hearings and giving “advise and consent” to the appointment of the APD Chief of Police. Once approved by the city council with a majority vote, the Chief of Police serves at the pleasure of the mayor and can be terminated without cause.

Only the Mayor can terminate the Chief of Police and so long as a Chief of Police has the confidence and support of the mayor, the Chief remains in office.  The only option the City Council has to try and remove a Chief of Police is with a motion to rescind his appointment  or with a “Resolution of No confidence”.  Even if a “Resolution of No Confidence” were to pass by unanimous vote, only the Mayor can fire the Chief.

It comes as absolutely no surprise that Albuquerque City Counselor Loui Sanchez is calling for the resignation of Chief Harold Medina given the fact that ever since he took office two years ago, Sanchez has established himself as one of Mayor Keller’s and Chief Medina’s main critics on the city council. The real question is how many more city councilors will do the same, and will they vote no confidence in Chief Medina to pressure Mayor Keller to fire Chief Medina?

On January 25, Albuquerque City Council President Dan Lewis and City Councilors Louie Sanchez and Dan Champine sent a letter to Chief Harold Medina asking questions, demanding written answers and demanding that he appear before them on February 5 at the next regularly scheduled meeting of the 9-member city council. Sources have confirmed that on February 1, Chief Medina sent an 8-page, single space letter to the City Councilors answering their questions. Medina had the letter distributed to all APD sworn personnel.

Sources have confirmed that Chief Medina is resisting appearing before the City Council in public on February 5 to answer questions and is suggesting that he brief the City Council and answer questions in private and during an executive session of the City Council. Should Medina in fact fail to appear before them on February 5, the council should proceed with an introduction of a Resolution of No Confidence, conduct hearings and vote to demand Mayor Keller fire Medina.

2024 NEW MEXICO LEGISLATIVE UPDATE:  NM House Passes $10.18 Billion Budget On Bi-Partisan Vote; 6.5% Increase Approved; Goes To Senate For Final Approval

On January 16 the 2024 New Mexico legislative session began at noon and it ends on February 15 at noon.  The 2024 legislative session is a 30-day short session dedicated to financial matters where much of the session is devoted to exclusively approving the state’s annual budget.

On January 31, halfway through the session, the New Mexico House of Representatives voted 53-16 to send its nearly $10.2 billion 2024-2025 budget spending plan to the New Mexico Senate for approval and perhaps further amendments. House Bill 2 and House Bill 3 were combined for final approval by the House. The $10.18 billion budget has a 6.5% recurring increase from last years budget. On January 29, the bill passed the House Appropriations and Finance Committee on a 13-3 vote.

The overall $10.18 billion budget is very similar to the Legislative Finance Committee’s own recommended budget  than the $10.5 billion proposed  budget submitted by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.  It’s a 6.5% recurring increase from last year, which is slightly more than the Legislative Finance Committee recommended and less than what the Governor’s Office wanted.

PRESS CONFERENCE HELD

Prior to the House floor session, Democrats from the House Appropriations and Finance Committee held a press conference to discuss the contents of the budget. House Appropriations and Finance Committee Chairman State Representative Nathan Small (D-Las Cruces) said this:

“We have worked hard through the interim hearing from state agencies and talking with New Mexicans from all across the state on how to build the most dynamic, durable budget that we’ve yet had. … [the budget process was] the most open and transparent process we’ve had [to date]. … We had lots and lots of public comments, over 60 public comments.  This is only the second year where the public has rightfully been able to [comment] on agency budgets … . This is a $10.18 billion budget which is a 6.5% recurring increase from last year. We’re investing heavily in areas like community safety, education, infrastructure, health care, housing, and much more.” 

OIL PRDUCTION LEVELING OFF REDUCING REVENUES

The proposed budget 6.5% increase is smaller than double-digit expansions enacted by lawmakers last year and the year before as New Mexico’s unprecedented surge in oil production begins to level off. Lawmakers are preparing for an eventual decline amid major U.S. government investments and incentives toward a transition away from fossil fuels. Members of the House Appropriations and Finance Committee, which assembles the proposed budget, acknowledged the increase in spending over the past few years was largely due to the oil and gas industry.

Recent Legislative Finance Committee projection suggest that the cash revenues from oil and gas production will begin drying up in the coming years. That’s why Democrat leaders say this year’s budget invests more than a billion dollars in trust funds and other endowments to be used in the future.

Notwithstanding, the budget still includes multi-million-dollar funding boosts for almost every state department, including a 4% pay raise for public school employees and state workers. Lawmakers highlighted major investments in career technical education programs, pre-K expansion, road maintenance projects, Medicaid reimbursement rate increases, and statewide conservation funds – all while keeping roughly a third of the budget in reserves.

HOUSE BUDGET PASSES

On January 31, after one hour of introduction and two hours of debate by the House, the bill passed will fund state government for the next fiscal year which commences on July 1, 2023 and ends on June 31, 2024. The budget passed on a 53-16  vote with a handful of Republicans joining the heavily Democrat majority.

Democratic leadership and sponsors are touted the budget as a historic investment in state programs.  It is also a budget that reflects the end of record revenues the state has enjoyed in recent years. According to State Representative Nathan Small, the budget enacted by the house represents an effort to spend the projected $3.4 billion budget surplus while also limiting spending growth to prevent sharper cuts in the future.  He touted the House budget as the product of hundreds of hours of work and the most transparent budget process in history, giving credit  to the amount of public comments the committee solicited in recent months.

Representative Small told lawmakers when asking for their votes at the end of debate:

“We are continuing to make new investments in the places that matter most for New Mexicans from economic diversification and new jobs, to health care professionals, our education system, public safety, infrastructure and housing. … This budget reflects all of those priorities in a considered and collaborative way.”

 REPUBLICAN BUDGET SUBSTITUTE  REJECTED

Members of the House Republican minority introduced an amended budget that they said would better reflect their priorities, seeking the consideration of a 238-page budget that would replace the majority’s 255-page budget. House Minority Leader T. Ryan Lane, R-Aztec, said that although he understands that the legislature is on a deadline, he had a floor substitute due to a worry that the proposed budget is “growing government, instead of growing the economy.”  Lane’s substitute kept the recurring funds intact while removing non-recurrent spending deemed unnecessary by Lane while adding more funding for roads. Small considered the substitute unfriendly due to it leaving out funding for Water Trust Board projects. The House quickly voted to table the substitute on a 43-to-25 vote.

Rep. Larry Scott, R-Hobbs, introduced an amendment that would have prevented the New Mexico Environment Department from implementing or enforcing any rule establishing a new vehicle emission standard including an electric vehicle mandate. Small asked Scott if this was the appropriate place for a policy discussion, to which Scott answered in the affirmative. The House tabled Scott’s amendment on a 43-25 vote.

TRUST FUNDS

As in recent years, it is the oil and gas industry that has contributed historic revenues to the state’s general fund.  The fossil fuel field works on a boom-and-bust cycle.  State officials are now  preparing to see a sharp decline in  oil and gas revenues.  According to a December report of the Legislative Finance Committee (LFC), state economists project general fund revenue growth will shrink 2.2% in fiscal year 2025, then return to a growth of over 3% in fiscal years 2027 and beyond

During the January 31 press conference,   House Appropriations and Finance Committee Chairman State Representative Nathan Small touted trust funds included in the  budget. He said these efforts will help protect the state when oil and gas revenues aren’t booming as they are now. Small said this:

“We’re at a unique moment in our state’s history, where we can be less fearful and more focused — less fearful on that roller coaster up and down; more focused on getting the very best bang for each buck and improving the lives of New Mexicans.”

There’s $1.2 billion in transfers from the general fund to trusts and other funds under the House approved budget bill, including $512 million for the government accountability trust fund. Small described the expendable fund as a reserve for the state should anything unforeseen happen. Of that, $216 million would be set aside and appropriated over a three-year period for evidence-based programs and approaches. Small said that would address things like an aging population, workforce and education. All of the appropriations are dependent on the passage of House Bill 196, or similar legislation, creating the government accountability and improvement trust and program fund, according to the bill.

Minority Floor Leader Rep. Ryan Lane, R-Aztec, said this expendable trust fund actually feels like recurring requests and would boost the budget’s recurring expenses to 8.35%. He said in an interview he supports project funding that impacts local communities but wants to be transparent about what it is.  Lane said this on the House floor

“I don’t even know that I have an issue with the concept of the fund itself. … I just think that we should call it what I think it is, which is recurring funding.”

In contrast, Small said it would amount to less than 1% annually, at less than $100 million each year. In addition to the trusts, Small noted the $1.26 billion in nonrecurring special and supplemental appropriations.

MAJOR HIGHLIGHTS OF HOUSE APPROVED BUDGET

Major highlights of the House approved budget include the following:

  • $1.2 billion for natural resources, housing and innovation
  • $24 million to judicial branch agencies
  • $7 million to support victim advocates, sexual assault victims and supplement federal grants for crime victims
  • $11.7 million for the New Mexico Department of Health
  • $1.96 billion to the Health Care Authority Department and $180 million for Medicaid
  • $3 million for tribal health councils
  • $19.6 million to expand Pre-K
  • $4.43 billion in recurring funds for public schools. Annual spending on K-12 education would increase by 6.1% to $4.43.
  • $50 million to the tribal Educational Trust Fund
  • $20 million to pilot and evaluate evidence-based strategies to improve the Children, Youth and Families Department
  • The Higher Education Department will receive $1.3 billion in recurring funds
  • $100 million to develop a strong workforce
  • $10 billion to establish a new Green Bank
  • $300 million in the Lands of  Enchantment Legacy Fund for water conservation, outdoor recreation, agriculture, and wildlife protection
  • $150 million to the Department of Transportation for major infrastructure, maintenance and road improvements

HIGHLIGHTS IN SPECIFIC AREAS

Below are more details about how the House Budget in specific areas:

HEALTH CARE

 

Under the House plan, the state will  spend about $13.2 billion in recurring money each year on health care, along with more than $206 million in one-time spending called “special appropriations.” That figure includes the budgets for the newly created Health Care Authority, the Department of Health, the Retiree Health Care Authority, the Office of the Superintendent of Insurance, the Vocational Rehabilitation Division of the Public Education Department, the Miners’ Hospital of New Mexico, the Workers’ Compensation Administration, the Medical Board, the Board of Nursing and the Governor’s Commission on Disability. The House’s budget for health agencies is about $17,000 larger than the LFC’s recommendation, but $250,000 smaller than Lujan Grisham’s.

THE PRISONS

 

Prisons will  get $372.8 million each year, along with $16.2 million in special appropriations.  That includes spending for the New Mexico Corrections Department, the juvenile justice facilities run by the Children Youth and Families Department, the Sentencing Commission and the Parole Board. The House budget for the Corrections Department is the same as LFC’s proposal but nearly $21 million smaller than Lujan Grisham’s.

THE COURTS

 

Overall, the House budget for the state’s judicial branch is $5.8 million larger than the proposal from the Legislative Finance Committee, but about $11,000 smaller than Lujan Grisham’s. The courts would receive $294.7 million annually, along with more than $26 million in special appropriations. That includes every district court in the state, the Bernalillo Metropolitan Court, the Court of Appeals, the Supreme Court, the New Mexico Compilation Commission and the Judicial Standards Commission.

POLICING

 

The House budget for public safety is $2 million larger than the LFC suggestion, and $25,000 smaller than Lujan Grisham’s. Police and military would get $240.3 million each year, and more than $29 million in special appropriations. That includes the Department of Public Safety, the Department of Military Affairs and the Office of Military Base Planning and Support.

PROSECUTION

 

Prosecutors will  receive $147.8 million every year, and about $14.4 million in special appropriations. That includes all 14 district attorneys’ offices across the state, the Administrative Office of the District Attorneys and the New Mexico Department of Justice.

LEGAL DEFENSE

 

Public defenders and family advocates will get $87.2 million each year, along with nearly $2.6 million in special appropriations. That includes the Law Offices of the Public Defender and the Office of Family Representation and Advocacy.

HOUSING TRUST FUND

 

The four parties who have so far recommended spending to address New Mexico’s housing crisis  offered four very different numbers for how much that will cost. Sen. Nancy Rodgriguez (D-Santa Fe) is asking lawmakers to deposit $500 million in the state’s Housing Affordability Trust Fund, overseen by the New Mexico Mortgage Finance Authority. She doesn’t expect the Legislature to ultimately fulfill that request, but she said the trust fund has proven itself effective with a little more than $60 million it’s received over the last 17 years.  The trust fund uses public money to support an array of government, nonprofit and private entities with developing affordable housing complexes, helping first-time buyers afford down payments and other programs. Officials claim the program has a 16-to-1 return on investment.

EDUCATION

 

The  House education budget largely reflects the Legislative Finance Committee’s recommendations, bucking some of Lujan Grisham’s proposals. Among notable absences is the governor’s proposed literacy institute, for which she requested $30 million to build. The Legislative Finance Committee recommended $3 million for planning and design.

The House budget adopts  the following investments in line with both House and Senate Education Committee priorities:

  • $49 million for literacy, career technical education and community school programs
  • $14 million in early literacy support
  • $55 million for culturally relevant and bilingual materials
  • $62.7 million for 2% salary increases, bringing all school personnel up to $15 per hour
  • $43 million to expand early childhood care
  • $750,000 to support adult literacy programs
  • $2 million for attendance programs

NATURAL RESOURES

The  $201 million total budget for the New Mexico Environment Department, smaller than the $215 million ask from the governor, was enacted. The 19% increase  go toward staff salaries and rental costs, and help “bolster “ the agency’s regulatory responsibilities, according to the budget summary.

In one-time appropriations, House lawmakers agreed to give the environment department $1 million for pollution accountability, $1 million to “develop and implement initiatives that protect the public” from per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances – also known as “forever chemicals.”

The surface water discharge permitting program is getting a boost. State officials raised concerns over the vulnerability of New Mexico’s waters after the U.S. Supreme Court last year changed what constitutes pollution-protected waters.

In addition to carrying over $680,000 from last year and accepting the executive’s ask for another $600,000, lawmakers added $7 million from the water quality management fund to develop and implement state surface water and groundwater permitting programs.

State lawmakers increased the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department budget by 12% to $188 million which is smaller than the governor’s $198 million request.

In one-time money, the House committee allocated $250,000 for legal counsel, $1.7 million to match federal funds, an additional $2.5 million to address inspection and compliance backlogs in the oil conservation division and $225,000 to create a Rio Grande trail commission office.

Lawmakers approved another $10 million for a contract to provide low-interest loans for low-income communities for wind, solar, weatherization and geothermal energy intended to reduce carbon emissions.

There’s another $5 million for geothermal projects – half for a loan fund, and the other $2.5 million for development – contingent on several pieces of legislation passing.

For the New Mexico Office of the State Engineer, the House Appropriations and Finance Committee followed the LFC recommendation of $49.5 million, just under the $50 million request from the executive request. The agency requested a flat budget for most of its programming, but asked for $3.4 million for 38 more staff to implement and negotiate water rights. The Legislative Finance Committee recommended a $2.2 million increase from the General Fund.

Some one-time funds include $20 million over the next two years to settle water rights disputes with Pueblos and tribes.

The quoted breakdown of the budget is here.

Rep. Nathan Small said he wants the House to get the budget back from the Senate by the 21st day of the session, which is February 6.

WHAT’S NOT IN THE BUDGET

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham asked state lawmakers for much more in her proposed budget, including $30 million for a new literacy institute. That’s not in the budget, but lawmakers did include millions for literacy programs. The governor also asked for $500 million for affordable housing initiatives. House lawmakers only included about $120 million, but they say that’s still a monumental investment.

The House voted to approve a general fund budget of $10.18 billion, an increase of $621 million, or 6.5%, over last year. It’s less than the $10.5 billion Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham wanted to spend in the 2023-2024 fiscal year, but slightly more than what the nonpartisan Legislative Finance Committee recommended. The budget also maintains nearly one-third in reserves of the total recurring funding approved.

HOUSE REJECTS 180-DAY MINIMUM SCHOOL YEAR

A proposal from Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham would require schools across the state, including some in rural areas that historically have only met four days a week, to meet the 180-day minimum. The change drew major skepticism and opposition from rural Democrats and Republicans and many voted together add a clause to the budget bill that money appropriated to the New Mexico Public Education Department not be used to require school districts to meet for 180 days a year.

It was Gail Armstrong (R-Magdalena) who convinced lawmakers to adopt the one-sentence amendment to the budget to address how the state would fund public education. Armstrong told colleagues that putting the language in the budget was a way for the Legislature to assert its powers and show a unified voice against the governor’s policy. A bipartisan group of representatives voted to include the amendment in the House budget bill.

Links to quoted news sources are here:

https://sourcenm.com/2024/01/31/nm-house-passes-10-2-billion-budget/

Budget with 6.5% increase approved by House

https://www.kob.com/new-mexico/house-lawmakers-approve-10-1b-state-budget-proposal/

https://www.koat.com/article/new-mexico-state-budget-2024-passes-house/46614930

https://www.abqjournal.com/business/house-passes-the-budget-with-education-amendment/article_b36998ea-c095-11ee-9fce-13113d6dabc1.html#tncms-source=home-featured-7-block

COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS

Wednesday, January 31 was the halfway point of the 2024 Legislature. Lawmakers will likely be having longer days and nights and packed schedules getting bills through the House and Senate committees and ultimately voting on the chamber floors. Legislation that will likely consume a large percentage of the remaining  time is all the gun control legislation that is still pending and awaiting committee hearing. A related blog article on crime and gun control legislation can be found below.

There is very little doubt that the Senate will want to make changes, additions and deletions to the final budget. Notwithstanding, the House approved budget can be described as a very reasonable budget and it is likely to be approved quickly by the Senate.

Links to related blog articles are here:

https://www.petedinelli.com/2024/01/05/gov-mlg-proposes-10-5-billion-state-budget-for-2024-2025-fiscal-year-with-9-9-budget-increase-legislative-finance-committee-expected-to-release-its-own-budget/

https://www.petedinelli.com/2024/01/12/nm-legislative-finance-committee-introduces-2024-2025-proposed-budget-slimmer-5-9-budget-increase-from-governor-mlgs-9-9-budget-increase/

2024 NM LEGISLATIVE UPDATE ON GUN CONTROL: 14 Waiting Day Period For Gun Sales Passes 2 Committees; Rebuttable Presumption Killed In Committee; No Guns At Polling Places Passes Senate

The Real Blood Is On The Hands Of Republican US Senators And Gun Manufacturers

On January 31, a US Senate Judiciary Committee hearing took place that gave Republican US Senator Lindsey Graham and other Republican Senators a chance to grandstand on an issue and  the problem of social media and kids.  The title of the hearing was  “Big Tech and the Online Child Sexual Exploitation Crisis” but the topics touched on  were wide-ranging.  In addition to discussing the harms to children and teens via social media platforms that have been well documented, senators repeatedly raised the issue of Section 230,  the part of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 that has historically shielded social media  platforms from legal liability for the content posted by their users.  Being grilled at the hearing were  Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg, X CEO Linda Yaccarino, TikTok CEO Shou Chew, Snap CEO Evan Spiegel, and Discord CEO Jason Citron. Hours of remarks by senators and questions to the CEOs were made.

Internal emails from Meta, which have been previously reported on and which were brought up by the senators, show that Zuckerberg appeared to rebuff calls to bolster the safeguards for children and teens. And in one 2022 exchange with Nick Clegg, Meta’s president of global affairs, Zuckerberg appeared to ignore a suggestion to hire 45 new employees dedicated to safety issues and well-being of users across Meta’s apps. Clegg followed up months later with Zuckerberg with a trimmed-down proposal for 25 new hires, saying this was “the bare minimum needed to meet basic policymaker inquiries” on child welfare issues.

Republican Tennessee Senator Marsha Blackburn  had a dramatic exchange with Zuckerberg in which she raised a dollar figure that was found in internal Meta documents which put a “lifetime” valuation on each teen user of Meta’s apps at $270. Senator  Blackburn said this:

“How could you possibly even have that thought? It is astounding to me. … Children are not your priority. Children are your product.”

Republican Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana said that social media platforms had become “a killing field of information” with algorithms that have been developed “to punch people’s hot buttons.” After being berated by Missouri Republican  Senator Josh Hawley, Zuckerberg stood up in the hearing room to face families of kids who have died in connection with their social media use. Zuckerberg said this:

“I’m sorry for everything you have all been through. No one should go through the things that your families have suffered and this is why we invest so much and we are going to continue doing industry wide efforts to make sure no one has to go through the things your families have had to suffer.”

Senator Lindsey Graham, the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, was the most pointed and dramatic in his remarks. Graham said this discussing the harms to children and teens via social media platforms to Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg and X CEO Linda Yaccarino, TikTok CEO Shou Chew, Snap CEO Evan Spiegel, and Discord CEO Jason Citron:

“I am tired of talking. I’m tired of having discussions. Open up the courthouse door. Until you do that, nothing will change. Until these people can be sued for the damage they’re doing, it is all talk. … Mr. Zuckerberg, you and the companies before us, I know you don’t mean it to be so, but you have blood on your hands. You have a product that’s killing people.”

COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS

You would hope Republicans like Lindsay Graham, Marsha Blackburn, John Kennedy and Josh Hawley would feel just as strong about the “blood on the hands of gun manufactures” who are actually manufacturing products that are killing people. You would think they would demand apologies from gun manufactures to the families and the parents of all the children killed in mass school shootings.  Instead, they are in the pockets of the National Rifle Association (NRA) as they accept millions and millions  in campaign donations each year and oppose any and all reasonable gun control measures. What a pack of immoral tools these Republicans clowns are.

https://sfist.com/2024/01/31/lindsey-graham-tells-social-media-companies-you-have-blood-on-your-hands-and-more-drama-from-todays-senate-hearing/?fbclid=IwAR3VxR_-etS0MhEKot6S08O_0llLdZQwMh2girmuDyV-25ECQqAK24XkY_g

https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2024/01/31/senate-hearing-child-safety-tech-ceos-zuckerberg/

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/mark-zuckerberg-instagram-child-safety-congress-z9j90trwp

https://www.the-sun.com/news/10249813/zuckerberg-blood-hands-hearing-kids-worth-more-social-media

2024 NM LEGISLATIVE UPDATE ON GUN CONTROL: 14 Waiting Day Period For Gun Sales Passes 2 Committees; Rebuttable Presumption Killed In Committee; No Guns At Polling Places Passes Senate

Notwithstanding that the 2024 legislative session being a 30 short budgetary session, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham has announced her support of 21 measures she wants lawmakers to consider during the session to address public safety. The bills include raising the age to purchase a gun, regulating assault weapons, and increasing penalties for a range of crimes.  The governor is also asking lawmakers to discuss a handful of crime-related bills backed by both Democratic lawmakers as well as Republicans.

There are a number of gun control measures and crime measures that are now making their way towards passage by the 2024 New Mexico Legislature while others are being killed in committee. This blog article reports on 6 specific measures.

SENATE BILL  5  (BANNING FIREARMS NEAR POLLING PLACES)

On January 30, the New Mexico State Senate passed Senate Bill 5 on a 26-16 vote that will ban most firearms near polling places. It prohibits firearms within 100 feet of polling stations. An exception was created to allow voters to leave their guns in the car while casting a ballot. Postal boxes were removed from the 100-foot radius. People walking past, but not voting at, a polling place in the mall won’t be included. Off-duty law enforcement officers would still be allowed to carry their firearms. Violators would be charged with a petty misdemeanor and could face up to 6 months in jail and/or a maximum $500 fine.

Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, said he sponsored the bill after several poll workers in his district shared accounts of intimidation when people brought guns to their polling places. Wirth said this in a statement:

“Schools that act as polling places already have protections in place. … This bill simply levels the playing field and ensures that voters and our valued poll workers can feel safe and free from the threat of gun violence or intimidation at any polling location. Guns and voting simply don’t mix.”

https://www.abqjournal.com/news/local/senate-endorses-firearms-ban-at-new-mexico-polling-places/article_3afb692a-357a-569c-b50d-2f0dc254bbab.html

https://www.kob.com/new-mexico/bill-to-ban-guns-at-polling-places-in-new-mexico-passes-senate-committee/

Senate approves bill banning firearms near polling places

SENATE BILL 69 (14 DAY WAITING PERIOD TO PURCHASE GUNS)

On January 28, Senate Bill 69, which is the 14 day waiting period before a gun sale becomes final, passed the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee on a 4 to 2 vote as well as the Senate Health and Public Affairs Committee on a 5 to 4 vote. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Joe Cervantes is sponsoring the measure along with Democratic  state Rep. Andrea Romero carrying the House version.  In the House,  conservative Democrat Rep. Patty Lundstrom was unable to stop the bill.  Supporters of the bill argue the longer waiting period will  save lives taken by impulsive acts of suicide and domestic and other violence.  Opponents argued  it will  simply thwart legal gun owners while the illegal purchase of guns continue.

The Senate Bill 69 version carves out an exception to the 14-day waiting period for people who already have their concealed-carry license, which some commenters speaking in opposition still applauded. Bill sponsor Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, and a gun owner, said the 14-day period is based on other states that have adopted waiting periods that have not been challenged in court. Hawaii also has enacted a 14-day waiting period.

Cervantes said the measure would close a federal loophole that, regardless if a background check has been returned, allows someone to receive a gun after three days by “default.” Cervantes said this:

“We think that there’s a background check being run. … But the default is that if they’re behind, or they’re slow … the presumption is, you get a gun.”

Senate Republican Gregg Schmedes, R-Tijeras,  questioned whether the measure is constitutional because of a 2022 Supreme Court opinion from Justice Clarence Thomas asking that firearm regulations follow the “historical tradition” of restrictions in the United States. Schmedes ask:

“Naturally, my question … is, is a 14-day waiting period consistent with our historical tradition of firearm regulation?”

Cervantes responded by saying he anticipated the court would reverse that decision.

Supporters of Senate Bill 69 argued it could save lives by providing a “cool-off” period for people experiencing suicide ideation. Sen. Martin Hickey, D-Albuquerque, said people struggling with addiction or mental illness sometimes experience “flares” of instability or high emotion. Hickey said this:

“I am very afraid that without a law like this we are going to continue to see the deaths of people who really don’t mean it.”

HOUSE BILL 114 (FIREARMS INDUSTRY ACCOUNTABILITY ACT)

On Friday, January 26, House Bill 114, called the Firearms Industry Accountability Act would make members of the firearms industry subject to civil penalties in certain cases received a do-pass recommendation in the House Judicial Committee by a 7-4 vote.  The bill would allow the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office and district attorneys to bring civil actions against people involved in the sale, manufacturing and marketing of firearms.

The bill also would allow private individuals to file civil lawsuits “to recover actual or punitive damages against a firearm industry member” who fails “to exercise reasonable controls” over the sale and manufacture of firearms.

Bill sponsor Christine Chandler, D-Los Alamos, told committee members  that one intent of the bill is to provide civil remedies for people harmed by straw-buyers — purchases by a person on behalf of someone prohibited from legally owning a firearm.

The practice of straw-purchases already is illegal under criminal law in New Mexico.

https://www.abqjournal.com/news/senate-version-of-14-day-waiting-period-advances/article_51bd6a54-bcad-11ee-b248-7f84be11c896.html

HOUSE BILL 129 (PENALTIES FOR FAILURE TO ADHERE TO 14 DAY WAITING PERIOD)

On January 29, the House Judiciary Committee approved a House Bill 129  that sets penalties for those who fail to adhere to a 14-calendar-day waiting period to purchase a firearm with a party-line vote. The committee approved HB 129 on a 6-to-4 vote with Democrats voting in favor and Republicans voting NO.

The bill was updated to state that the waiting period is 14 calendar days instead of business days.

Many representatives as well as public commenters criticized the waiting period as “not a cooling off period.” Rep. Andrea Reeb, R-Clovis  said this: .

“I guess I’m trying to see how that correlates with what you think it will do for somebody who wants to commit a shooting, for example, as you all know, I prosecuted the library shooter and he got the guns from his parents saying that were locked up and he knew the combination and he went and just do, so you know, not really see how that would have prevented that situation from a mass shooting that occurred, you know, in New Mexico, so I’m trying to see why leaving the cooling off period would affect that. ”

The bill’s supporters presented data showing that some of the most recent mass shootings were with new firearms purchased within 14 days of the event including a shooting in Farmington in which the shooter bought one of the guns used on the shooting shortly after his 18th birthday in October 2022 along with  guns legally owned by a relative before the shooting last May.

Three other issues opponents argued was that the bill “discriminates against rural communities” due to gun purchases having to drive long distances to get the gun purchasing process started.  They claim the waiting period endangers domestic violence survivors who might want a firearm to protect themselves from their abuser and claimed the bill contained some Second Amendment constitutional issues.

House Bill 129 now goes to the full House floor for a vote.

https://nmpoliticalreport.com/nmleg/house-judiciary-advances-14-day-firearm-waiting-period/#:~:text=The%20House%20Judiciary%20Committee%20approved,in%20favor%20and%20Republicans%20opposed.

HOUSE BILL 137  (ASSAULT WEAPONS BAN BIILL)

House Bill 137 is the Assault Weapons ban bill. It would ban gas-operated semi-automatic guns. It would also prohibit detachable magazines that hold more than 10 bullets, bump stocks, and other “machine gun” attachments which are designed to increase the rate of fire. It mimics a bill U.S. Sen. Martin Hein introduced in the Senate known as the GOSAFE Act. There are exceptions in the bill for government agencies, as well as Native American tribes and pueblos.  

The New Mexico Department of Justice and the Administrative Office of the Courts warned the bill may result in lawsuits against the State of New Mexico. The estimated cost of defending against legal challenges is $450,000 and an additional $5,500 per event to provide security to court personnel. Analysts also noted the bill is expected to result in more people ending up in prison, raising the costs of housing inmates.  

On January 25 the bill passed the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee on a party-line vote. It was sent to the House Judiciary Committee.  

https://www.kob.com/tracker4/

SENATE BILL 122  (REBUTABLE PRESUMPTION)

On Monday, January 29, the Senate Health and Public Affairs Committee voted on a 5-4 vote to  table Senate Bill 122 know as the Reputable Presumption Bill.  The Reputable Presumption Bill provides that a criminal defendant who is charged with specified serious violent crimes, such as murder, is presumed to be a danger to the community and upon arrest must remain in jail until trial with no exceptions.

The aim of rebuttable presumption” is to make it easier for more defendants to be held in custody before they’ve been convicted and to keep them from committing new crimes. Proponents of rebuttable presumption say it will reduce violent crime.  Opponents of rebuttable presumption say courts can already keep a defendant behind bars and that reputable presumption shifts the burden of proof to defendants and violates the basic constitutional right of presumption of innocence until proven guilty.

Under the United State Constitution and the New Mexico Constitution, a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty and has the right to post bond  to be released until trial. Under existing New Mexico law, whenever prosecutors ask a judge to hold someone accused of a crime in jail until trial, they must prove that no release conditions will reasonably protect the safety of another person or the community.  The prosecution is required to prove “by clear and convincing evidence that (1) the defendant poses a future threat to others or the community, and (2) no conditions of release will reasonably protect the safety of another person or the community.”  Rebuttable presumption shifts the burden of proof from the state to the accused to show they are not a danger and should be released pending trial

The defeat of Senate Bill 122 came as no surprise. This is the third time that Rebuttable Presumption has failed to make it out of committee. Simply put, rebuttable presumption is unconstitutional.  The New Mexico Constitution is very clear that the prosecution bears the  burden of proof. The use of a rebuttable presumption and relying on different burden of proof and evidence by the prosecution to meet that burden is directly contrary to that constitutional provision. The New Mexico Supreme Court has also repeatedly made it clear the prosecutors burden of proof has two requirements: the accused person is dangerous, and no conditions of release will reasonably protect the community from them.

https://sourcenm.com/2023/01/31/some-lawmakers-unconvinced-rebuttable-presumptions-bill-would-make-it-through-the-courts/

Governor Lujan Grisham took strong exception to Reputable Presumption once again failing to pass and she  took note of the failure which was made possible by opposition from her own party. The Governor said this:

 I am dismayed that our Legislature has once again refused to undertake an honest, robust debate on the state of our pretrial release system. Crime is out of control and something needs to change. We have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in behavioral health services, education, economic opportunity – critical components that ensure every New Mexican gets a fair shake. However, I will not stand by as repeat violent offenders walk in and out of our courthouses without consequence. A rebuttable presumption is not an extreme policy, and ours is modeled after federal law that has been in place for decades. It is time for the Legislature and the public to stand up and give this proposal the robust debate that New Mexicans agree it deserves.

COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS

Simply put, when it comes to  all the gun control legislation Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham is supporting in the 30-day legislative session not much if any will actually be enacted. Much of it is either dead on arrival or will not make it through committee mainly because it’s a 30-day session and there is simply not enough time to give all 21 measures a fair hearing.  That is why the Governor should again consider calling a special session to deal with gun control measures immediately after the 2024 session to address all the proposed gun control legislation.

Until the New Mexico legislature get serious about New Mexico’s gun violence crisis and enacts reasonable gun control measures in conjunction with crime and punishment measures, we can expect our violent crime rates to continue to increase, and God forbid, yet another killing of a child which is what prompted the Governor to issue her executive orders in the first place.

If Governor Lujan Grisham is really serious about the State’s crime crisis and wants  to do something about it, she should be calling for the New Mexico Legislature to  enact an “Omnibus Gun Control And Violent Crime Sentencing Act” and do so during a special session of the legislature immediately following the 2024 session.  The message that must be sent out loud and clear to violent criminals by our elected officials is that New Mexico has a zero tolerance of violent crimes committed with firearms.  The only way to do that is with responsible gun control measures to reduce the availability of guns and to enhance criminal sentencings.