Newly released document reveals budget, details of ATF sting that netted large number of blacks

Federal law enforcement’s goal was to “infiltrate” local gun- and drug-dealing organizations supplied by Mexican cartels when they descended on Albuquerque in 2016. But the four-month sting, whose cost likely topped $1 million in taxpayer money, rounded up mostly low-level drug users and few, if any, hardcore dealers. That didn’t stop the federal Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives (ATF) from pushing the operation as a “template for future operations” nationwide. And Damon Martinez — U.S. attorney for the District of New Mexico at the time and current candidate for the state’s First Congressional District — was so pleased he “asked and offered to travel to the city selected for the next” operation to “sell the … product” to that city’s top federal prosecutor. The stated purpose, budget and Martinez’s enthusiasm are among the revelations found in a heavily redacted “executive summary report” about the 2016 operation — named “Gideon IX” — obtained by New Mexico In Depth after a federal judge ordered its release.

Good police work or racial profiling? ‘Memphis Mob’ and how so many blacks were arrested in ATF sting

 

A debate over how so many black people came to be arrested in a 2016 gun- and drug-sting operation in Albuquerque is playing out in the city’s federal courthouse. Following months of silence from the federal Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, a narrative is beginning to emerge. It’s a story of good police work. According to this version, a pivotal moment happened a few days after the operation started in April 2016. Albuquerque Police Department detective Vic Hernandez handed ATF Special Agent Russell Johnson two sets of documents.

Legal wrangling could pose challenge to proving racial profiling claims

On her last day as chief of the U.S. District Court for New Mexico in February, Judge Christina Armijo granted a motion from the lawyers representing Lonnie Jackson and Diamond  Coleman. Prosecutors, the order said, must turn over all background checks run through the National Crime Information Centers (NCIC) database during a 2016 law enforcement sting operation in Albuquerque. Jackson and Coleman, two of the 28 black people arrested in the federal Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives (ATF)’s operation, are trying to prove the agency racially profiled them in a massive undercover operation. Armijo’s order represented a step toward that goal. The NCIC queries, not only for the 103 people arrested during the four-month operation but everyone ATF agents investigated but did not pursue, would enable them to test their theory.

‘Righteous targets’?

Days before federal prosecutors and law enforcement officials announced more than 100 arrests from an undercover operation in Albuquerque in 2016, the sting’s lead agent was thinking about who, exactly, had been arrested. 

“If anybody ever asks if we are going after the worst of the worst or righteous targets, show them this list,” Special Agent Russell Johnson of the federal Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives (ATF) wrote in an Aug. 4, 2016, email to colleagues.”These are people for our second wave takedown.”

The email names 24 individuals and notes each person’s probation or parole status: 14 had successfully completed their obligations to the state, two were listed as “current and compliant probationer/parolee,” three had never been on probation or parole and four were “absconders.”

The 24 names are blacked out, as are the sender and recipients of the email and a handful of other words. Eight days after Johnson dashed off the email, a phalanx of high-ranking local, state and federal law enforcement officials told the press they had taken “the worst of the worst” off the city’s crime-ridden streets. The controversial operation has come under scrutiny over the past year for the highly disproportionate number of black people who were arrested. Meanwhile, the sting netted few, if any, of the hardened, repeat violent criminals supposedly targeted.

APD detective led federal agents to ‘Memphis Mob’

How and even whether the Albuquerque Police Department was involved in a 2016 undercover federal drug and gun sting has lingered for more than a year under scrutiny from legal scholars, defense lawyers and New Mexico In Depth. Police and city officials under previous Mayor Richard Berry’s administration denied the department was involved. Now, with a new mayor at City Hall and new leadership at APD, the city is acknowledging the department had a “minimal role” in the sting, which was led by the federal Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives (ATF). That included “cross-commissioned” APD officers who have long worked as part of an ATF task force assisting the federal agency during the operation. Whatever the size of APD’s role, the department’s involvement appears to have led, in part, to one of the more controversial aspects of the sting operation: the arrest of black people at a rate highly disproportionate to their population in the city.

Patchwork health care for reservation inmates raises concern

At a tribal jail in Washington state, an inmate with a broken leg banged on his cell door, screaming for pain medication, only to be denied. Hundreds of miles away, a diabetic man jailed on the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming needed insulin, yet government records say authorities were unable to get any for him. And jail staff at other reservation lockups on several occasions mistakenly gave inmates the wrong medication. These episodes, and dozens of others noted in limited detail in 2016 jail incident reports collected by the federal government, underscore what health professionals and jail administrators describe as a deep-seated problem: Scores of federally funded jails on reservations have no in-house nurses or other medical staff, often leaving corrections officers to scramble in emergencies to determine whether to send an inmate to the hospital, or provide basic care themselves — sometimes with unfortunate consequences. Jail data collected by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs from 2017 was not yet available.

How one influential NM powerbroker might have escaped a drunken driving charge

Just after midnight on May 20, Albuquerque Police Officer Joshua Montaño saw a luxury sedan veer into a turn bay blocked off by bright orange traffic barrels before it pulled back over a solid divider line onto an Interstate 25 frontage road. Montaño flipped on his emergency police lights and the 2004 Infiniti stopped in the parking lot of the Marriott Pyramid, a high-end hotel in Northeast Albuquerque. A veteran DWI cop who has conducted hundreds of drunken driving investigations, Montaño approached the vehicle on foot. He was armed with a slew of additional information gleaned from a police service aide and a concerned citizen: The Infiniti’s driver had swerved numerous times traveling northbound from downtown Albuquerque, he’d delayed proceeding through a green light by 10 seconds, he’d driven 10 mph under the posted speed limit, and he’d done it all with his headlights turned off. In the driver’s seat of the car was Ryan Flynn, 39, Gov. Susana Martinez’ former cabinet secretary of the New Mexico Environment Department, who left that job in 2016 to become executive director of the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association.

New Mexico Corrections Department holds hundreds of inmates past release dates

Joleen Valencia had resisted the temptation to count her days to freedom. She had learned inside a New Mexico prison that tracking time only added to the anxiety of serving a two-year drug-trafficking sentence that started in the spring of 2015, especially after her mother died and granddaughter had been born. She wanted nothing more than to return to her family’s home amid mesas on a reservation north of Albuquerque, and to stay clean after recovering from a heroin addiction. But rather than agonize, she kept busy. She worked daily dishwashing shifts, some lasting as long as 12 hours, to earn 10 cents an hour and eventually enough “good time” for what authorities said would be her new parole date: July 13, 2016.