Wednesday News Roundup: Panel Finds APD Officer Improperly Used Force

May 14, 2014

Panel: Albuquerque Officer Improperly Used Force The Associated Press and The Albuquerque Journal

A police oversight panel says an Albuquerque officer improperly used force when he fired at a driver who had escaped a SWAT lockdown.

The Albuquerque Journal reports the Police Oversight Commission on Tuesday upheld an independent review finding that officer Randal White used force improperly in the shooting. It was the first time in at least last four years that the civilian body has found an officer's use of deadly force was improper.

Authorities say in December 2012 White fired twice at 20-year-old suspect Christopher Sosa who had fled a SWAT situation. Sosa was not injured, but a bullet was embedded in the car, and another struck the wall of a nearby elementary school.

The findings in the White shooting will now be forwarded to Police Chief Gorden Eden, who has the final say in officer discipline.

Hearing Set On New Mexico Medical Marijuana RulesThe Associated Press and The Sante Fe New Mexican

New Mexico health officials plan a June 16 hearing in Santa Fe on proposed new rules for the state's medical marijuana program, including new limits on how many plants that producers and licensed patients could grow.

The Department of Health is proposing that producers could grow 150 mature plants and 300 seedlings. That'd be up from the current total of 150. Meanwhile, patients would be allowed six plants, down from 12.

A department study has found that there's more demand for legal medical marijuana than supply, and department spokesman Kenny Vigil says the changes are intended to increase the supply.

However, the Santa Fe New Mexican reports that critics contend the changes will undermine the program and ill-serve patients.

New Mexico Lawmakers Sue Over Water SettlementThe Associated PressThree legislators and a northwestern New Mexico farmer are asking the state's highest court to nullify an agreement between the state, the federal government and the Navajo Nation settling tribal rights to water from the San Juan River.

The lawsuit filed Wednesday in the state Supreme Court contends the settlement must be approved by the Legislature to take effect because it's the equivalent of a tribal-state compact.

Republican legislators Steve Neville and Paul Bandy and Democrat Carl Trujillo brought the lawsuit with irrigator Jim Rogers against state water agencies.

Former Gov. Bill Richardson signed the settlement in 2010, and a district court approved it in 2013.

A Navajo Nation Department of Justice lawyer said the tribe hadn't seen the lawsuit but would oppose any challenge to the water settlement's validity.


National Groups Gear Up For New Mexico Elections The Associated Press

National political groups, including the Republican Governors Association, are pumping campaign money into New Mexico to influence this year's elections.

The GOP governor's group has contributed $100,000 dollars to its New Mexico political action committee that can make expenditures to help Republican Gov. Susana Martinez's re-election bid.

According to reports filed with the secretary of state's office, the Association’s New Mexico PAC has spent about $29,000 so far on political research. The PAC received $100,000 from the GOP Governors Association late last year, and had cash-on-hand of about $70,000 as of last week.

The national Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee has a New Mexico committee that received $43,000 in the past month, including $10,000 from software maker Intuit Inc. No expenditures have been reported so far. The national group supports state legislative candidates.

Albuquerque Poet Wins 'Tillie Olsen Award' The Associated Press

Albuquerque poet Hakim Bellamy has won the Tillie Olsen Award for Creative Writing from the Working Class Studies Association.

The group announced last week it was honoring Bellamy for his debut poetry collection SWEAR.

Bellamy is coming off a two-year term as Albuquerque's inaugural city poet laureate.

He is also a national and regional Poetry Slam Champion, and holds three consecutive collegiate poetry slam titles at the University of New Mexico.

Researchers Wrapping Up Study Of Bear Abundance The Associated Press

Researchers at New Mexico State University are working to better estimate how many black bears there are in New Mexico.

University officials say researchers this summer will set bear rubs and hair traps to collect samples from bears in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in northern New Mexico and the Sacramento Mountains in south-central New Mexico. The traps are designed to catch bear hair from trees or structures the bears rub against.

The genetic data from the collected hair enables the researchers to estimate bear abundance across the state. That makes it easier for officials to set hunting quotas.

The data collection is in its third and final year.

Bernalillo County Imposes Watering Restrictions The Associated Press

Bernalillo County will be cracking down on water wasters now that its conservation ordinance is in effect.

Officials say the ordinance applies to all residents who live outside the city limits in the unincorporated areas of the county. The ordinance limits spray watering to the morning and evening hours. The restrictions will remain in place through October.

The county is also encouraging residents to participate in its high-efficiency toilet and rain harvesting programs.

New Mexico is in its fourth year of severe drought. More than one-third of the state is dealing with extreme to exceptional conditions, and that has prompted municipal and state leaders to urge residents to conserve.

In northeastern New Mexico, officials have voiced concerns about the potential for some communities to run out of water this summer.

Navajo Code Talker Tom Jones Dies At NM Hospital The Associated Press

Flags will be flying at half-staff across the Navajo Nation later this week in honor of Code Talker Tom Jones Jr.

The Navajo Nation said Jones died Monday at a Farmington hospital after a battle with pneumonia and other medical conditions. He was 89.

Jones served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1943 through 1945. He was a messenger for two platoons in the 3rd Division Navajo Code Talkers Unit 297 based at Camp Pendleton.

His family remembered him as a private, simple and caring man. He is survived by three children, eight grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

Funeral services are scheduled for Saturday morning at the Dine Christian Center in Shiprock.

Favorable Weather Helps Crews Battling NM Blaze The Associated Press

Hundreds of firefighters are taking advantage of cooler weather as they try to corral a wildfire burning in the mountains of southwestern New Mexico.

They were focusing Tuesday afternoon on the northern flank of the Signal Fire. They were getting help from more than a dozen air tankers and helicopters.

Fire information officer Punky Moore says the water and retardant being dropped by the aircraft help to slow down the flames and reduce some of the heat, allowing crews to get closer.

The Signal Fire has charred an estimated 4,700 acres since being sparked Sunday. There's no containment yet.

Thanks to the more favorable weather conditions, Moore says hardly any smoke is visible from Silver City, located just to the south of the fire.

Xcel To Invest $557M In New Mexico, West Texas - The Associated Press

Xcel Energy has plans to invest $557 million in new transmission lines and substations to feed the growing economies of eastern New Mexico and West Texas.

Officials say demand for electricity in the region is expected to grow significantly because of booms in the oilfield and the mining industry.

The plan calls for 400 miles of high-voltage lines and 12 new substations. Some of the projects were identified in a regional study and recently approved by the Southwest Power Pool, which oversees the reliability of the grid in an eight-state region that includes New Mexico and Texas.

In addition to the projects announced by Xcel this week, the electric provider already has plans for 240 miles of new distribution lines in Lea and Eddy counties in southeastern New Mexico.