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.
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.
Changes are coming to New Mexico In Depth. First, we’re thrilled to announce Sylvia Ulloa is joining our team. Sylvia most recently was managing editor of the Las Cruces Sun-News in the agricultural Mesilla Valley in southern New Mexico. Sylvia brings extensive experience in multi-media reporting and building engagement opportunities. She’ll be instrumental in deepening New Mexico In Depth’s community engagement program going forward, and we are looking forward to on-the-ground reporting from southern New Mexico.
Four New Mexico donors kicked in $145,500 to the committee that paid President Donald Trump’s inauguration. That’s a fraction of the $107 million the inaugural committee reported raising in a report filed last week. Select Milk Producers, an Artesia-based dairy company, kicked in $100,000. That company is likely to benefit from an executive order to promote agriculture Trump signed this week. The administration is also involved in a dispute with Canada over pricing of dairy products.
The Albuquerque City Clerk is asking six mayoral and two city council candidates to fix campaign filing mistakes ranging from anonymous contributions to missing employers and occupations. The candidates have 10 days to remedy the errors or face fines. Susan Wheeler-Deischel received the most reprimands. As New Mexico In Depth previously pointed out, her campaign listed “NA” for employers in 17 instances. Another entry was blank.
New Mexico In Depth won four 1st place awards over the weekend, including top honors for investigative journalism. The New Mexico Press Women’s Association conferred that honor on Puff of Smoke, a story reported and written by Jeff Proctor and published in collaboration with the Santa Fe Reporter. The issue at heart of the story was the investigative grand jury, a system Santa Fe District Attorneys used for years that resulted in numerous officers being cleared of criminal wrongdoing in fatal police shootings. NMID also took top honors in the categories of enterprise reporting, special series and website – as well as two second-place awards and one third-place finish. This weekend’s honors come a week after NMID won two first-place awards for multimedia journalism and general website excellence as well as three third-place awards in the Society of Professional Journalism’s Top of the Rockies regional journalism contest.
The executive director of the New Mexico Parole Board has moved to another state job, as fresh controversy surrounds the board’s handling of parole hearings for the state’s “30-year lifer” inmates and lawmakers consider a bill that would check the board’s power. Sherry Stephens’ last day as executive director was Friday, Parole Board Operations Manager Megan Moreno told New Mexico In Depth and SFR. Stephens gave two weeks’ notice on Feb. 27 and is now working at the state department of Aging and Long Term Services. Moreno said Stephens was not fired from her position at the state agency, which oversees the conditions of release for thousands of parolees around the state each year and decides whether people charged with certain capital crimes go free.
There won’t be any local road repairs, senior center vehicles or shade structures at schools coming from New Mexico lawmakers this year. There’s simply not enough money to sell more than about $63 million in severance tax bonds this year because of the decline in oil and gas revenue nationwide. That’s according to the sponsor of the annual capital outlay bill, Sen. Carlos Cisneros, D-Questa. “It would be a frivolous attempt for us to try to distribute that among 112 members,” Cisneros said. “If anything, right now we’re looking at using it for statewide needs.”
And the amount available won’t go far on statewide requests, which total $359 million.
With business and union lobbyists backing it, a bill aimed at reforming the Legislature’s allocation of infrastructure money passed the Senate Rules Committee on Friday. After a 4-2 vote, Senate Bill 262 next goes to the Senate Finance Committee. Two Republicans, Sens. Cliff Pirtle, of Roswell, and Mark Moores, of Albuquerque, opposed the measure. The bill creates a public works interim committee comprised of 18 lawmakers to recommend projects to be funded in the follow legislative session.
At the midpoint of New Mexico’s legislative session, bills that would legalize hemp research are moving at a clip through both chambers. But the governor’s not saying whether she’ll sign bills that would establish rules for cultivating the plant and a research fund at a state university, and remove hemp from the Controlled Substances Act. Senate bill 6 has one more hearing in a House committee before it heads to the House floor for a final vote. The bill establishes a research and development fund at New Mexico State University and removes cannabis plants cultivated for industrial hemp from the definition of “marijuana” in the Controlled Substances Act. The bill’s sponsor, Cisco McSorley, D Albuquerque, touts the economic benefits of researching hemp in the state.