Commissioner Wants Review Of Sheriff's Policies, Judge Dismissed Challenge To NM Contracts

Feb 27, 2018

Commissioner Wants Review Of New Mexico Sheriff's PoliciesThe Associated Press

A Bernalillo County commissioner is calling for an independent and accelerated review of policies dictating how the state's largest sheriff's department uses force and handles pursuits.

Commissioner Maggie Hart Stebbins' proposal comes as the department contends with lawsuits and an increase in deadly use-of-force cases in recent years.

Last year, the department agreed to settle a lawsuit with the family of an 88-year-old Albuquerque man for nearly $1.5 million. Authorities say Fidencio Duran died from pneumonia as a result of injuries suffered during a September 2015 encounter with deputies.

The resolution would require Sheriff Manuel Gonzales and the county manager to hire a third-party evaluator to review the policies, recommend changes, and provide a report by March 27.

The proposal goes before the five-member county commission on Tuesday evening.

Judge Dismissed Challenge To New Mexico Medicaid ContractsThe Associated Press

A New Mexico judge has dismissed a lawsuit brought by an insurance provider against a state agency after it lost its contract with the state to provide Medicaid services.

Molina Healthcare filed an injunction and restraining order last month against the New Mexico Human Services Department and the agency's secretary, seeking a pause to the Medicaid procurement process.

The judge on Monday dismissed the suit, ruling the court lacked jurisdiction in the case because the company had not exhausted the administrative remedies to challenge the contracts.

The company claimed the consultant hired by the state to help evaluate Medicaid proposals had a conflict of interest.

The department says the selection process was fair.

The company says it would continue with its protest before the state department.

Xcel Reaches Agreement In Texas Over Proposed Wind FarmsThe Associated Press

Xcel Energy has reached an agreement with more stakeholders as it looks for regulatory approval to build two massive wind farms along the Texas-New Mexico border.

The utility announced Tuesday it reached a proposed agreement with parties in Texas that would guarantee customers see a positive net benefit from the wind farms for the first 10 years of operation.

The agreement also caps related construction costs that could be recovered through customer rates.

A similar agreement was reached recently with the New Mexico attorney general's office and consumer advocates in that state.

Texas and New Mexico regulators are expected to make final decisions on the $1.6 billion project next month.

Xcel says the wind farms would take advantage of the least expensive generating resource in the region and would ultimately save customers money.

Navajo Nation Cancels Plans For Wild Horse Hunt In ArizonaThe Associated Press & The Farmington Daily Times

Navajo Nation canceled a planned wild horse hunt aimed at thinning a herd in an Arizona area after a protest against the hunt was planned.

The Farmington Daily Times reports a notice on the Navajo Nation Department of Fish and Wildlife's website says the Navajo Nation Division of Natural Resources rescinded on Monday a proclamation declaring the 2018 feral horse management hunt, which was designed to remove 60 horses from the Carrizo Mountains near Teec Nos Pos in northeast Arizona.

Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye says the hunt will be postponed.

Horse advocates, including members of the Facebook group Indigenous Horse Nation Protector Alliance, organized a rally for Friday in Window Rock, Arizona, to protest the hunt.

A 2016 study conducted by the Navajo Fish and Wildlife Department says there are more than 38,000 feral horses on Navajo Nation land.

Water Districts Challenge Judge In Navajo SettlementThe Associated Press

Water districts in northern New Mexico are seeking to disqualify a judge and overturn a major water settlement award to the Navajo Nation.

A motion filed Monday with the New Mexico state Court of Appeals seeks to disqualify James Wechsler as the presiding judge in the San Juan Basin water rights adjudication for failing to disclose prior legal work on behalf of the Navajo Nation.

The court challenge from more than 20 community water districts highlights Wechsler's work in the 1970s for DNA Legal Services and describes DNA as an extension of the Navajo Nation. DNA Legal Services is an independent, nonprofit law firm that at times has been at odds with tribal government.

The motion filed by attorney Victor Marshall seeks to invalidate San Juan River water rights.

Judge Sides With Trump On Challenge To Mexico Border WallThe Associated Press

A judge who was taunted by Donald Trump during the presidential campaign sided with the president Tuesday on a challenge to building a border wall with Mexico, possibly removing a major obstacle to the signature campaign pledge.

U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel rejected arguments by the state of California and advocacy groups that the administration overreached by waiving laws requiring environmental and other reviews before construction could begin.

The challengers said a 2005 a law that gave the Homeland Security secretary authority to waive the reviews had expired. The law exempted Homeland Security from dozens of laws if it deemed a wall to be in national security interests.

Officials Install Well To Help Fuel Leak At Military BaseAlbuquerque Journal, Associated Press

Officials working to clean up groundwater contaminated by a jet fuel leak on a New Mexico military base hope a new extraction well will cut off the source of the contaminated plume.

The Albuquerque Journal reports the well is the closest of four extraction wells to the source of the spill on the northern edge of boundaries at Kirtland Air Force Base.

Kathryn Lynnes, the Air Force's senior adviser on the cleanup project, says the new extraction well will pump at a slower rate than the other three to avoid pulling other contaminants located near the source area.

The spill was the result of a leaking, underground pipe used to transport fuel that was discovered in 1999.

Since the beginning of the cleanup effort, more than 330 million gallons of contaminated groundwater have been pulled from the plume and purified.

Report Finds Inequality Remains 50 Years After Kerner Report - By Russell Contreras, Associated Press

A new study examining the nation 50 years after the release of the landmark 1968 Kerner Report says barriers to equality are posing threats to democracy in the U.S. as the country remains segregated along racial lines and child poverty worsens.

The report released Tuesday blames U.S. policymakers and elected officials. It says they're not doing enough to heed the warning on deepening poverty and inequality as highlighted by the Kerner Commission a half-century ago.

Former U.S. Sen. Fred Harris of Oklahoma, a co-editor of the new report who lives in New Mexico, says racial and ethnic inequality is growing as well as income inequality. He’s the last surviving member of the original Kerner Commission created by President Lyndon Johnson in 1967.

The new report says the percentage of people living in deep poverty — less than half of the federal poverty level — has increased since 1975. The report says the homeownership gap has widened for African-Americans and gains to end school segregation were reversed because of a lack of court oversight and housing discrimination.

Kevin Washburn, a law professor at the University of New Mexico, a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma and one of the people who shared his observations for the report, says there are still places where Native people don’t have access to electricity, plumbing or good drinking water.

Las Cruces Eyes Attracting More Film ProductionsAssociated Press

Officials in Las Cruces are hoping to attract more film productions to southern New Mexico.

KVIA-TV in El Paso, Texas, reports the Las Cruces City Council is set to vote on an incentive that would offer a 10 percent rebate to attract more experts in the film industry to the southern part of the state.

The city also is considering purchasing film sets from an unnamed "discontinued television production" for future use.

Las Cruces is getting a 74,000-square-foot studio to accommodate motion pictures and television series.

Troubled Albuquerque Motel Being Targeted For ClosureAssociated Press

A troubled Albuquerque motel that has drawn scorn for attracting drug trafficking and prostitution is being targeted by the city of Albuquerque.

Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller announced Monday that city officials have begun the process to declare the Sahara Motel as a public nuisance.

Keller says the Sahara Motel has been a crime hotspot for far too long.

Officials say since October 2017, the property has had 22 calls for service ranging from suspicious person calls, to shots fired to domestic disturbances.

The city is seeking a court order to close the property in southeastern Albuquerque amid a pending lawsuit.

The Sahara Motel did not immediately return a phone message.

Oklahoma-Based WPX Energy Sells Northwest New Mexico AssetsDaily Times, Associated Press

An Oklahoma independent oil and gas company has moved out of northwest New Mexico.

The Daily Times of Farmington reports the Tulsa, Oklahoma-based WPX Energy Inc. recently announced the sale of the last of its Four Corners assets to the tune of $700 million.

The company says WPX sold its holdings in the Gallup oil play to an undisclosed third party in a transaction that is expected to close by the end of March.

WPX spokesman Kelly Swan says the sale involves some 150 oil wells on about 100,000 acres.

Swan says WPX has been shifting its focus and funneling its resources to its operations in the Permian Basin of southeast New Mexico and west Texas and in the Williston Basin of North Dakota over the past few years.

New Mexico Auditor Says Small-Town Employee Misused Credit CardAssociated Press

The state auditor says a review of a New Mexico town's finances found a former employee fraudulently used a city-issued credit card.

State Auditor Wayne Johnson said in a statement Monday that he worked with Silver City officials and an independent accountant to launch the investigation into irregularities in the former employee's credit card purchases that were first noticed in 2016.

He says the special forensic audit found more than $12,000 in potentially fraudulent charges on the credit card. The audit also found the city did not have enough financial controls in place to prevent fraudulent spending.

He did not identify the employee.

Silver City, in western New Mexico, is home to about 10,000 people.

Judge Says Petition Signatures Invalid For CandidateAssociated Press

The Democratic primary for New Mexico's southern congressional district remains a two-way race after a judge upheld the disqualification of a signature petition for Angel Peña of Las Cruces.

Secretary of State's Office spokesman Joey Keefe said Monday that the agency's decision to strike 10 pages of signatures was upheld by a state district court judge, leaving Peña without enough signatures to run.

Keefe says signature page headers that contain the candidate's name apparently were altered in violation of state statute to correct a printing mistake.

Peña could not be contacted immediately. The decision can be appealed to state Supreme Court.

Attorney Xochitl Torres Small and Madeline Hildebrandt are seeking the Democratic nomination. Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce is not seeking re-election to Congress as he runs for governor.

Las Cruces Settles Brutality, Civil Rights Case For $1.4MLas Cruces Sun-News, Associated Press

A southern New Mexico city has settled a police brutality case for $1.4 million.

The Las Cruces Sun-News reports that a couple had sued the city, alleging police brutality and civil rights violations.

Jillian Beck said police slammed her face onto rocks, and injured her nose and wrist after responding to a dispute between neighbors. Andrew Beck alleged he illegally was detained in the January 2013 incident when he tried to help his wife.

A jury awarded the couple $1.6 million a year ago.

The city had been expected to appeal the decision. Instead, it settled months ago.

The Becks' attorney recently said the couple is healing from the trauma and she's hopeful the case brings positive change.

A city spokesman didn't immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.

Mystery Confines Estebanico, Black Explorer Of US SouthwestBy Russell Contreras, Associated Press

A black Moroccan slave who explored present-day Texas, New Mexico and Arizona with Spanish conquistadors is credited with being the first person of African descent to enter the American Southwest — but he's all but absent from the states' histories.

No parks, buildings or malls have been named in honor of Estebanico like they have for other Spanish conquistadors. Tourism agencies have informational webpages about his past, but there are no tourism sites around his historic journeys.

Historians say Estebanico also is known as Esteban and guided the last of three fellow survivors through Texas and northern Mexico. They say he later led an expedition into Arizona and New Mexico but disappeared at Zuni Pueblo.

University of New Mexico American literary studies professor Finnie Coleman says Estebanico is forgotten because the Southwest region often fails to include the history of black people.

Ex-State Treasurer To Help In Albuquerque Police ReformAssociated Press

A former state treasurer will lead police reform efforts in New Mexico's largest city.

Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller announced the appointment of James Lewis as senior adviser for public safety over the weekend.

Police spokesman Gilbert Gallegos says Lewis will ensure the Albuquerque Police Department is complying with federal court-ordered reforms.

A lengthy 2014 review by the U.S. Department of Justice identified a "culture of aggression" within Albuquerque police. The report also faulted the police department for using unreasonable force with the mentally ill.

The reforms became a focus of last year's mayoral race.

Keller says Lewis will work closely with the city's police department and the U.S. Justice Department. He'll also help develop a community policing plan.