Video: Federal sting draws responses in ABQ mayor’s race

Criticism of a massive undercover drug- and gun-crime sting spilled into the Albuquerque mayoral race last week, when candidates were pressed about a 2016 federal law enforcement operation that netted a disproportionate number of black people. It was a serious question, made all the more serious by the man asking: Joe Powdrell, a longtime local activist past president of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), which sponsored the Sept. 8 forum. The operation has drawn community and legal scrutiny for alleged racial profiling and for scooping up many who did not fit the “worst of the worst” profile trumpeted by federal officials after New Mexico In Depth investigations. Picking up on the alleged racial targeting, Powdrell asked the candidates “where your head is at in terms of this biased policing.”

Only three of the seven candidates who attended the forum addressed the sting directly.

Analysis: NM still tops in nation for reliance on private prisons

New Mexico incarcerates a higher percentage of inmates in privately run, for-profit prisons than any other state, according to a new analysis from the Sentencing Project. More than 42 percent of people imprisoned here were being held in one of the state’s five private prisons at the end of 2015, according to the analysis, which is based on figures from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS).

ABQ city councilor wants congressional investigation into ATF sting

An Albuquerque city councilor is calling for a congressional investigation of a massive, undercover federal sting operation that targeted a poor, largely minority section of his district last year in an attempt to blunt the city’s gun and drug crime. Pat Davis, a Democrat who represents the International District and is running for Congress himself, filed a resolution on Friday that, if passed by the Albuquerque City Council, would ask  New Mexico’s congressional delegation to push for hearings on the sting operation. The four-month sting was undertaken by the federal bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives (ATF). In addition, the resolution asks the ATF and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which is prosecuting the 103 people arrested in the sting, to apprise city officials of the details of the operation. The resolution, which will be formally introduced at a Sept.

Boyfriend’s betrayal: ABQ woman jailed after ATF informant lured her into drug deals

Jennifer Padilla’s boyfriend was pleading: Call people you used to run with, hook me up with some meth deals so I can pay off my Florida partners. 
He’d been robbed and needed cash, he kept saying. He’d be hurt if she didn’t. 
On parole after a year in prison for a string of Santa Fe burglaries and struggling to stay off drugs, Padilla was conflicted. Stepping back into the drug world unnerved her, but she refused to see the man she loved in danger. Two calls to three old acquaintances led to a pair of methamphetamine deals last July. Even though she wasn’t present for either, the calls cost Padilla, then 37, her freedom.

Feds agree to meet with ABQ black leaders about controversial ATF sting

The acting U.S. Attorney in Albuquerque will hear out local black leaders and their concerns over a massive, 2016 undercover sting operation that “sent shockwaves” through the city’s black community. Acting U.S. Attorney James Tierney agreed to meet in a July 11 letter to the  local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the grassroots Sankofa Men’s Leadership Exchange. The groups’ leadership contacted Tierney after a series of stories by New Mexico In Depth that examined the operation conducted by the federal bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives (ATF). The operation scooped up 28 African Americans — out of 103 arrested — or 27 percent, an “alarming” statistic, Dr. Harold Bailey noted in the NAACP’s letter. Bailey is the president of the local NAACP chapter.

Black leaders call for more communication between city and community

Black community leaders and citizens have taken to the airwaves to call for reform as more information surfaces about a federal sting operation that arrested a disproportionate number of blacks in a city with comparatively few African Americans. Earlier this month, I interviewed leaders from several black community groups, as well as black citizens, for a New Mexico In Depth story about the design of the 2016 criminal operation conducted by the federal bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives (ATF). The ATF operation used three black and two Hispanic confidential informants (none were white) and focused on a low-income, largely minority section of southeast Albuquerque.  Last week on NMPBS’s public affairs show, New Mexico In Focus, I continued that discussion with Patrick Barrett of the local chapter of the NAACP and Janette McClelland, a resident of one of the neighborhoods targeted in the operation.  (NMPBS is an NMID partner.

Black man swept up in ATF sting wins legal victory, but stiffer prosecution looms

A federal judge in Albuquerque has concluded the methods used by federal agents in a 2016 undercover sting operation made it likely they would arrest a disproportionate number of minorities. And the bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives (ATF) did nothing to avoid the potential racial bias as agents chose people to target, Senior U.S. District Judge James Parker, a Ronald Reagan appointee, wrote in a five-page order issued Monday. Parker’s ruling means Yusef Casanova, who was arrested last year, has the go-ahead to seek evidence to prove the agency targeted him at least in part because he was black. Casanova’s procedural legal victory comes as black community leaders in Albuquerque demand answers from federal and local officials about the operation. Agents arrested 103 people — 28 of whom were black, or 27 percent — a dramatic overrepresentation compared to Albuquerque’s 3 percent black population.

Black community wants answers on ATF’s Albuquerque sting, says it was ‘punch in the face’

Black community leaders and citizens want to know who invited out-of-town federal agents and informants into Albuquerque and how the decision was made to focus an undercover sting operation on an impoverished, largely minority section of the city, netting a highly disproportionate number of black defendants. They plan to put those and other questions into a letter to the federal bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and the U.S. Attorney’s Office. “We want to know exactly what happened and why,” said Patrick Barrett, a member of the two organizations drafting the letter — the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Sankofa Men’s Leadership Exchange, a grassroots organization of black men. Barrett and others interviewed for this story were reacting to a NMID investigation of the sting published last month. NMID found 28 of the 103 people arrested — or 27 percent — were black in Albuquerque, whose black population is 3 percent.

Maps: ATF Albuquerque sting in context

Competing narratives have emerged about how agents from the federal bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives (ATF) chose targets for a sweeping undercover sting operation in Albuquerque last year. A handful of defense attorneys who represent people arrested in the sting allege “selective enforcement” — essentially that ATF engaged in racial profiling as part of the agency’s strategy. They point to statistics: 28 of the 103 defendants are black — 27 percent — in a city with a 3 percent black population, and in a state where blacks made up just 5 percent of drug and gun defendants in federal court from 2006 to 2015. The defense lawyers also have questioned some of ATF’s tactics, many of which were detailed in a pair of New Mexico In Depth stories published last month, as they seek more information about the operation and, ultimately, dismissal of their clients’ charges. ATF has repeatedly ignored NMID’s request for comment about the operation.

Federal public defender: In America people of color have been labeled with a broad brush

On May 7, New Mexico In Depth published a story that closely examined the mechanics and results of a high-profile undercover sting operation conducted by the federal bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives (ATF) last year in Albuquerque. At a news conference in August, federal officials trumpeted the sting operation as an “unprecedented” success, saying they brought in “the best of the best to deal with the worst of the worst.”

NMID found a far more complicated picture. Rather than the “worst of the worst,” ATF arrested many low-level individuals who were struggling with substance abuse issues. Some were homeless or living in cars. Many of those arrested were not the violent, hardened criminals or the big-time traffickers federal officials said they were after.