Protesters of the police killing of George Floyd organized a protest caravan in Albuquerque, NM, May 28. Credit: Shaun Griswold
This story was published by Stateline, an initiative of The Pew Charitable Trusts. New Mexico In Depth is an investigative, nonprofit newsroom that occasionally republishes stories that have particular relevance to New Mexicans. Don’t miss out, sign up to receive our stories soon after they’re published. Every weekday morning, mental health clinician Carleigh Sailon turns on her police radio in downtown Denver and finds out who she can help next.
A New Mexico state senator wants prosecutors to decide much more quickly whether a police use of force is criminal — and to show the public their work as they go. And state Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, D-Albuquerque, wants the attorney general to oversee the whole process, bringing uniformity to a patchwork system of legal reviews that has left victims of police violence and their families frustrated and angry over a lack of clarity, accountability and swiftness. Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez
She plans to introduce a bill — co-sponsored by three other Albuquerque Democrats, Jerry Ortiz y Pino, Gail Chasey and Patricia Roybal Caballero — for consideration at what’s expected to be a short, whirlwind legislative session that begins Thursday to address “a real blind spot in the police reform discussion we are all having now.”
In addition to Sedillo Lopez’s bill, slightly different versions of which have failed during previous sessions, lawmakers are expected to push several other proposed changes to how officers operate in New Mexico as street protests and impassioned calls for reform have swept the nation following the deaths of several black people at the hands of police. Among them: A requirement that all officers and deputies in the state wear body cameras, a ban on chokeholds and a clearer path for people to sue officers in civil court. If passed and signed into law by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, Sedillo Lopez’s proposal would force all New Mexico jurisdictions to review “police actions that result in death or great bodily harm” the same way, she said.
Advanced Health Care facility in Albuquerque. Tara Armijo-Prewitt/New Mexico In Depth
We published a story this week about the nursing home industry resisting for years a federal mandate to plan for disasters including pandemics. About 43% of nursing homes nationally have been caught violating the requirement, including some with deadly COVID-19 outbreaks.
The story by New Mexico In Depth reporter Bryant Furlow and partners at ProPublica and the Raleigh, NC-based News & Observer newspaper features a COVID-19 outbreak and deaths at a nursing home in Albuquerque, Advanced Health Care. As of yesterday, 102 of 335 New Mexicans who have died due to the COVID-19 pandemic were residents of nursing homes, and another 30 were residents of other long-term care facilities. We don’t know how many, if any, staff of nursing homes have died.
It’s important to know that AHC of Albuquerque earned a 5-Star rating — the highest level — from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
New Mexico appears to have bucked another national trend. Just one of the nearly 4,000 inmates and staff tested in the state’s 11 prisons is positive for COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the new coronavirus, according to results released by the state Corrections Department on Friday. The lone positive result, according to a news release from department spokesman Eric Harrison, was for a correctional officer at the Otero County Prison Facility in Chaparral, near the U.S. border with Mexico. The officer is now in self-quarantine at home, Harrison’s release said. Across the nation, prisons and jails have emerged as hotspots for COVID-19, with incarcerated populations and those who work to supervise them testing positive at alarmingly high rates in some places.
Many inmates suffer from pre-existing health conditions that make them particularly susceptible to the often fatal consequences of COVID-19, leaving prisons with some of the most vulnerable populations in the U.S. as the pandemic continues its march.
Before inmates at the privately run Cibola County Correctional Center near Grants received face coverings last month, they had to sign on the dotted line. “They made us sign a waiver stipulating that if we incur any damages or injuries or what have you due to wearing the mask, that we relinquish CoreCivic (the giant, for-profit prison operator) from all liability,” one Cibola County inmate, who asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation, told New Mexico In Depth. “And that we’re personally volunteering to wear the mask. So, if you sign the waiver, then you receive the mask.”
Family members of a second inmate, who also asked to be unnamed, described a nearly identical experience. Inmates “have been told that unless they sign a release form they do not get a mask,” the family said.
A spokesman for CoreCivic this week wrote in an email that the company had not required legal waivers in order for inmates to receive masks.
Half of the 200 people who had died as of yesterday in New Mexico from COVID-19 were Native Americans, a jarring number for a population that makes up 11% of the state’s population.It’s another grim statistic for the state’s 23 tribes who have borne the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic in New Mexico. Nearly 60% of people identified to date through testing as infected with the virus are indigenous. Data about those who’ve died, provided to New Mexico In Depth by the New Mexico Department of Health, came in advance of Monday’s daily update from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s office. That update included eight additional deaths, pushing the state’s death total to 208, four of which occurred in hard-hit McKinley County, where Native Americans make up almost 80% of the population.
The 100 deaths attributed to Native Americans in New Mexico likely include Navajo people living in the state as well as Native Americans from the state’s more than 20 other tribes.
Meanwhile, deaths attributed to white people in New Mexico–30%–exceed the 14% of identified positive cases attributed to that group, but still fall below their representation in the population as a whole.
New Mexico officials on Tuesday rolled out an ambitious plan to test for the new coronavirus in the state’s prisons. At a virtual news conference led by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, state Health Department Secretary Kathy Kunkel said all prison guards and staff — more than 1,800 people — would be tested by May 13. Officials plan to test 25% of the state’s 6,500-plus inmates by then as well, Kunkel said. Additionally, all newly arriving inmates will be tested and quarantined for 14 days, she said. The announcement marks a sharp turn for Lujan Grisham’s administration.
The Luna County Detention Center holds 590 inmates at maximum capacity. As of Wednesday morning, just over 200 people were locked inside the jail in Deming, about 30 miles north of the Mexican border. Shauna Smith, a 43-year-old mother who has been incarcerated there since October, said the inmate population has been steadily thinning since the coronavirus pandemic began sweeping across New Mexico in early March. The county of roughly 24,000 people has seen just 347 tests for COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the virus, with three positive results as of Wednesday, according to the state Health Department. Like so many other jails and prisons around the state, few of those tests were performed at the Luna County Detention Center — four inmates and three staff members, all of whom were negative.
Joseph Chavez. Image courtesy of his family. Joseph Chavez says he gets one “tiny” bar of soap a week, gratis. If he wants more, it’ll cost him. And yet, corrections officers have for weeks steadily reminded Chavez, 42, and the other inmates being held with him in solitary confinement cells at the Penitentiary of New Mexico’s south facility near Santa Fe that they need to wash their hands.
New Mexico In Depth welcomes reporter Shaun Griswold to our team beginning next week. Shaun is Pueblo from Laguna, Jemez and Zuni, and grew up in Albuquerque and Gallup.
He brings a decade of print and broadcast news experience to our team. He’s covered Rocky Mountain fire seasons, local police reform, and, as he is sure to note, the Denver Broncos and Kendrick Lamar.
We’re thrilled by the opportunity to work with Shaun, thanks to Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues and communities through its reporting corps. Report for America is an initiative of the nonprofit news organization, The GroundTruth Project. He joins 225 reporters placed by the program in 162 newsrooms around the country, from a pool of more than 1,800 applicants.
For New Mexico In Depth, Shaun will focus on issues important to urban Indigenous people in Albuquerque, as well as tribal communities throughout New Mexico, including education, child welfare, and more.
“I’m excited to join the ranks of Indigenous journalists at Indian Country Today, Navajo Times, High Country News and every publication focused on expanding news for thriving Indigenous communities that demand coverage,” he says about this opportunity.
Native Americans compose 11% of the New Mexico state population, and Albuquerque is home to one of the largest communities of urban Indian people in the country.