Thursday, February 08, 2024

Time For Another Edition Of Reader Vox Populi: They Write Of The APD DWI Scandal With Insights And Solutions, Mississippi Beating NM To The Punch And CYFD Disarray, Also: Two Appointees And $50 Billion  

The slow unraveling of the APD DWI scandal continues to draw reader interest and much comment, so we are off to another edition of Reader Vox Populi for their insights and some possible solutions. . .

Reader Don Miller this week placed blame on the ABQ police officers union for the chaos enveloping the agency:

I believe that APD is an autonomous para-military organization run by the Albuquerque Police Officers’ Association. They appear to defy the authority of the 11th floor, the Civilian Police Oversight Agency, the U.S. Department of Justice, the recent “Defund the Police” movement, and anyone else who challenges their authority.

A retired cop came with this rebuttal:

Don Miller clearly doesn’t know how dysfunctional the Albuquerque Police Officers Association is. They don’t run APD. But in the chaos we now have I fully expect union haters to find a way to blame the APOA. I am sure Chief Medina will hold another press conference and pick up Miller’s standard and blame the APOA too. Why not, he has blamed everyone else but himself and his incompetent command staff. 


Regarding the finger-pointing between DA Sam Bregman and APD Chief Medina over whose responsibility it is to notify APD when an officer fails to show for a DWI court hearing, this former officer says history leans toward Medina when he asserts it is the job of the DA but he believes the blame game can end with a simple solution:

It has been the prosecuting attorney (DA) that has always notified APD Metro Liaison of an officer missing court. It takes but a minute to call them on the phone or send them an email. This makes sense because, as officers of the court, the reason everyone is in court is because the DA has charged a suspect with a crime and subpoenaed witnesses (this includes the police officer). If someone doesn’t show up who else would know? (Sometimes the judge will notify Metro Liaison, but that is rare). 

Maybe it’s been a courtesy for the DA to inform APD, as Bregman argues, but that courtesy has been going on for decades. Maybe it’s time for APD and the DA to sign an agreement that when an officer doesn’t appear the DA will take a minute and notify APD Metro Liaison. That’s all it would take to move this forward. 

Bregman has now sent out over 30 missed court notices since the scandal became public so he is already doing this. Now meet with APD and put it in writing and let's move on. Let’s add to this agreement that the DA sends APD a quarterly report on case dismissals and conviction rates.

This week the DA's office did in fact announce a new system to track officers failing to appear for DWI cases:

The District Attorney’s Office has launched a new system to notify law enforcement agencies when an officer misses a hearing or a pre-trial interview. Joshua Boone, the chief deputy district attorney, said the DA’s Office started working on the system—essentially a Google spreadsheet that is populated when an attorney or paralegal in the office fills out a form—in the fall and began using it earlier this year. “The minute we submit this form, it automatically sends an email to the court liaison,” Boone said. “Then APD created their own separate email and it will automatically send it to that designated email.”

Nearly 200 DWI cases have been dismissed by Bregman because of the federal probe of allegations that cops got paid by an attorney not to show up for court in order to get his clients' DWI cases dismissed. 


What about the Federal Monitor who has been here for years as part of the Dept. of Justice consent decree to reform APD's use of force policies? Could not James Ginger and his team have played a part in uncovering the alleged bribery scheme early? A reader writes:

The Monitor has been paid millions to find and recommend solutions. He has been here during the DWI Movida yet he did not catch this Movida. What oversight did he provide? Not to blame him directly but again what did he do to change the culture of APD? 

Reforming the DWI unit is not part of Ginger's charter but when a scandal of this proportion breaks the blame game takes in a large circle and Ginger and his lucrative contract are not exempt.


Reader Robert Baroody wrties from Santa Fe:

This reader (Independent voter) 100% approves of your continuing focus on MLG’s abysmal record with CYFD. This Governor, who couldn’t help but look good in comparison to her predecessor, has combined incompetence with an innate authoritarianism that has hurt our state. Ditto for your criticisms of the legislators who, blessed with the oil and gas windfall, can’t seem to come up with effective programs to lift us out of 50th place. So damn sad! 

Also from Santa Fe, reader Chris Brown writes:

How much longer will we have Mississippi to diss? Does their Amazon coup have anything to do with their decade-long education initiative? 

Amazon.com's AWS said it plans to invest $10 billion to build two data center complexes in Mississippi, its latest capacity expansion amid growing demand for cloud services as more firms adopt new artificial intelligence technologies. Businesses are doubling down on AI development. . . 

Thanks, Chris. 

This is from the Mississippi Department of Education:

The Education Week Quality Counts report ranked Mississippi No. 2 in the nation for improvement in 2019, 2020 and 2021. Quality Counts ranked Mississippi No. 2 in 2021 for closing 4th grade reading achievement gap between students in low-income families and their wealthier peers. What is more, Mississippi's Quality Counts ranking for K-12 achievement has risen from 50th in 2013 to 35th in 2021.  


Allen Sanchez
Congrats to Allen Sanchez, President of Chi St. Joseph's Children on his appointment to the State Investment Council. That's the Council that presides over a gargantuan $50 billion in state investment funds. He was appointed by Speaker Martinez and confirmed by the Senate on a 23-15 vote. It seems GOP senators are still smarting from Sanchez's long and ultimately successful advocacy for a constitutional amendment that was approved by voters. It led to more funding for early childhood education from the $29 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund. Give them time, Allen. In a couple of years they'll love it.
Another solid appointment to the Council--this one by Senate President Mimi Stewart--and approved unanimously by the Senate is that of Kelly O'Donnell, an economist and public finance expert. Back in 2015 when the state was enduring economic pain and the spinners were in denial, we named O'Donnell to our list of "No BullShit Economists" for her frank analysis. We think she'll bring the same candor to her new post where reflections about how to employ the state's massive wealth to improve our dismal rankings is surely in order. Hey Kelly, how about making a motion that the Council conduct a meeting in Mississippi? A lot to learn there. 

The Wednesday blog yesterday posted later than usual. If you missed it, scroll down for the full report. 

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Wednesday, February 07, 2024

Trump Again Puts NM On His List Of Top States To Flip; Dems Dismiss The Threat, Plus: Federal Candidates File With SOS; Heinrich And Vasquez Challengers In Spotlight At Start Of '24 Campaign  

When it comes to New Mexico's is it another head fake from Donald Trump?

In each of his two earlier runs for the White House he has taunted Democrats that he would shock them by taking this Dem stronghold. He even showed up to campaign here but each time the early boasting bent to reality and Trump did not seriously contest the state. 

Now for his third run Trump is at it again, telling Fox he believes he can flip five Dem states including ours: 

We can flip New Mexico," he declared while also citing New York, New Jersey, Virginia and Minnesota. 

State Dems were quick to dispute the former President's contention: 

New Mexico never has and never will be Trump Country. New Mexicans will show up to re-elect Joe Biden. In the 2020 election, Trump lost New Mexico by a comically wide margin, losing by almost 100,000 votes. If he thinks he stands a chance in New Mexico, he clearly can’t comprehend who New Mexicans are or what we believe in. New Mexicans don’t stand for far-right MAGA extremism. . . 

Still, Trump's newfound strength with Hispanics and Scranton Joe's overall current polling weakness is cause for the Dems to worry, perhaps not over a statewide loss but for that battle for the southern congressional seat held by Dem Rep. Gabe Vasquez who will be in a tight fight with Republican Yvette Herrell who he ousted in 2022. 

In 2020 Biden beat Trump in the 2nd district by 6.1 points. In 2016 Trump carried it by 10.2 percent over Clinton. How the district behaves in this year's presidential race will be a major determinant in whether Vasquez holds on for a second term. It makes you wonder if we might see Trump hold a rally in the ABQ South Valley, an Hispanic stronghold that is now in the southern district.


Nella Domenici 
It was filing day at the Secretary of State's office for the '24 federal candidates Tuesday but there wasn't much excitement. 

None of the state's three congressional Dems--Reps. Vasquez, Stansbury and Leger Fernandez--will face a primary challenge. Excepting Vasquez, they start as heavy favorites for re-election.

(Federal filings here.)

But the US Senate race is drawing unexpected interest now that Nella Domenici, daughter of the late GOP US Sen. Pete Domenici, filed 8,000 petition signatures Tuesday--twice the required amount--to qualify for the ballot. 

Former BernCo Sheriff Manny Gonzales also filed paperwork to run for the GOP Senate nomination but Domenci is expected to heavily outspend Gonzales who also faces legal issues from the time he was sheriff. 

Heinrich will face no Democratic opposition in the June primary as he sets out to win a third Senate term. But his worry is that Biden underperforms in the state giving Domenici a boost in November. 

No NM US Senator has been ousted from office since 1982 but these are very unsettled times. The national parties will monitor the race closely going forward with Heinrich the early fave.

Republican Louie Sanchez, an ABQ shooting range co-owner, filed for the ABQ-centered congressional seat and the right to take on Dem Rep. Melanie Stansbury who will be unopposed in the June primary. Accountant Steve Jones of Ruidoso also filed for the GOP nomination, with Sanchez the favorite to take the primary win. 


Former GOP state Rep. Sharon Sharon Clahchischilliage, a Navajo from the Farmington area, announced months ago she would seek the northern congressional seat held by Dem Rep. Teresa Leger Fernandez. The Republican filed Tuesday and was the only R to do so. 

While a clear underdog in the fall, she is a political pro who will have to be watched by the Dems in the sprawling rural district whose centerpiece is the Dem stronghold of Santa Fe. Clahchischilliage said upon filing:

Look at gun control, look at oil and gas ... there’s a lot of over-regulating. Farmers are feeling it, ranchers are feeling it. We’re all feeling it as New Mexicans and it’s not common sense to us.

Any debates between the two candidates in this northern race should be of interest. 

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Tuesday, February 06, 2024

Finger-pointing Continues Over APD DWI Bribery Scandal: DA Slaps Down Police Chief; Says He's Not Responsible For Tracking Cops At Hearings As Medina Appears Before Skeptical City Council, Plus: More From Pirtle Place  

Medina and Bregman
The APD DWI bribery scandal is starting to rip away at the fabric of local law enforcement as the blame game gains momentum.

In a letter to APD Chief Harold Medina, Bernalillo County District Attorney Sam Bregman blasted the chief for asserting that it is the DA's office that is required to notify APD when cops don't show up for DWI hearings.

No show cops are at the crux of the alleged bribery scandal with at least five officers suspected of conspiring with a local attorney and taking bribes in exchange for not showing up at DWI court hearings and getting his clients off the hook.

Now the once congenial relationship between the DA and Medina is in tatters as the political pressure cooker grips both--as seen in this scorching of Medina from the DA's office: 

In a letter dated February 1, 2024, to the City Council, the Chief of Police stated “the District Attorney’s Office currently has the responsibility to notify APD of missed appearances.” This is simply not true and has never been true. The Federal DWI investigation is about alleged misconduct by DWI police officers. Instead of focusing on that issue, the Chief is blaming the District Attorney’s Office, the Law Office of the Public Defender, and the Metropolitan Court for the dysfunction and mismanagement of his DWI unit. 

He should refocus on putting things in place to prevent this type of disaster from happening again. Although the District Attorney’s office has never been under any obligation to ensure officers show up for scheduled court appearances, we have put in place an additional robust notification system so APD will be aware when their officers miss court. The bottom line is holding accountable those people who are drinking and driving and the safety of our community. 

Bregman must shed any links to the scandal by his office to avoid political damage in the June primary where he is seeking the Democratic nomination for DA against two serious opponents. He already took a hit when it was disclosed that the lawyer at the center of the alleged scheme gave him a $1,000 campaign donation that he has since returned.

His direct attack on Medina raised questions in the political community as to whether it would hurt or help him with voters who are now developing a distrust for all of those involved in the investigation.

Medina showed up at last night's City Council meeting and took questions from councilors. It was a public session after the administration dropped their request that the meeting be held behind closed doors.

Councilor Louie Sanchez, a former APD officer and FBI staffer, told the chief that it is his "responsibility to deal with missed court (dates)--not anyone else's." 

Sanchez's motion for a vote of no confidence in Medina failed to get a second and was not addressed. 

Medina said if APD is expected to track missing dates it will take 20 additional staff in his budget. 

His spokesman told the newspaper:

Medina, as a deputy chief, spoke with then-Chief Deputy DA Chuck Barth about high case dismissal rates, and Barth wanted the DA's office to take responsibility for tracking no-shows in court. So the DA's office took the responsibility for notification. But after Barth died in 2021, the system appeared to break down and APD wasn't notified consistently. That has recently changed.

Medina told Council that while the DA's office says it is not responsible for police missing DWI hearings, that hasn't stopped the DA from notifying APD of 33 such cases since the scandal broke  

It's all about openness and transparency now for this police chief, the DA and the Mayor and his staff. As the saying goes, "the cover-up is often worse than the crime." Finger-pointing and the blame game are one thing. Covering up is where the trouble begins and where careers end.


Should we be hopeful that his APD scandal is the one that ultimately ends the decades long list of scandals at the agency. Reader Don Miller is not optimistic: 

I personally believe that APD is an autonomous para-military organization which is run by the Albuquerque Police Officers’ Association. They appear to defy the authority of the 11th floor, the Civilian Police Oversight Agency, the U.S. Department of Justice, the recent “Defund the Police” movement, and anyone else who challenges their authority and autonomy, which is not necessarily a bad thing, as long as internal checks and balances are maintained. My assessment is that APD will fire a number of police officers, depleting an already understaffed police force, and possibly fire Police Chief Medina and replace him with another “insider” as they have continually done in the past, maintaining the status quo.


Pirtle and Company
The Alligators roaming the halls of the Roundhouse are nothing if not persistent. They dug up this photo of Roswell area GOP state Senator Cliff Pirtle in his full display of chutzpah at the opening day of this 30 day legislative session.

That's Pirtle, whose wife is seeking a divorce, introducing to the chamber to his father, his mistress and newborn child who are all seated at his side. 

(We did not include two of Pirtle's three children by his current wife who were also in the pic.) 

Pirtle, 38, shocked the state when he was publicly outed last year for cheating on his wife with now 20 year old McKenzie Luna, a staffer in a fellow senator's office. The second shocker came when it was disclosed that Luna gave birth to Pirtle's child. 

After the mess Pirtle announced he would not seek re-election to his seat and GOP state Rep. Candy Ezzell announced she would run. 

That was a good call but now Pirtle has backed off and is contemplating running again and that's why the Alligators are hot on his trail.

Pirtle's behavior not only raised questions about his personal ethics but the ethical issue of his relationship with the senate staffer and whether it constituted an abuse of power by Pirtle since the young woman was technically in his employ. 

Of course, the Senate brushed it off, probably because Pirtle is a Republican who is part of the cannabis worshipping club so central to the identity politics in certain Democratic quarters. But not so for Sen. Ivey-Soto who is being excoriated by fellow Dems over an allegation of sexual harassment by a lobbyist seven years ago. That's probably because Ivey-Soto is not part of the club. He derailed a voting rights bill that the lobbyist accusing him of harassment was leading the charge for.

Pirtle's problem is also hypocrisy. As we reported in  March of 2023:

Pirtle's scandal is not only an embarrassment for him and his immediate family but also for one of the top family-owned businesses in Roswell--Pirtle Farms located since 1926 in the SE NM city. The operation includes cows, goat and sheep whose meat and dairy products they market to the public. Cliff Pirtle was born into the family and has been an owner/manager of the farm since 1999. . .The Pirtle family does not shy away from their faith, saying on their website: We believe in honoring God by tending his garden and livestock that he has entrusted to us; through producing quality crops and nutritious milk that feed the world. In his 2012 ABQ Journal questionnaire candidate Pirtle said his "major personal accomplishment" was: Staying true to myself, being the best husband and father I can be, and finding the right balance between work and family. 

Doesn't hypocrisy really stink up the room or in this case the state Senate? 

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Monday, February 05, 2024

APD Scandal Reverberates; Councilor Calls For Chief Medina's Resignation As Multitude Of Questions Linger, Plus: MLG Stubborness And CYFD, And: A New Kid On The Publishing Block  

Medina and Keller
The APD scandal continues to reverberate as Chief Harold Medina again goes before the cameras to demonstrate that the department has a handle on what may be the ultimate political back breaker for Mayor Keller. But instead of clarifying the chief keeps digging a deeper hole.

At this point Medina has lost much of the audience as seen by the call for his resignation by ABQ City Councilor Louie Sanchez, a former cop. Although an avowed foe of Keller, the Sanchez call is likely a bellwether of what's to come. 

The Council wants the chief to appear at today's council meeting to answer questions but the administration is insisting that any such appearance be done behind closed doors. Yet another faux pas in a long line of them since the scandal broke,

With the help of APD watchdog and former Sergeant Dan Klein we compiled some questions arising from the latest official statements and news reports:

--A notable revelation came within a minute of Medina speaking at his news conference Friday afternoon. (Video here.) On January 23 he told the media that he went to the FBI with the allegations of a bribery scheme being operated by DWI officers. But Friday he revealed that “when this first came out we put out original information about the District Attorney calling me and then me calling the FBI. It may have been vice versa. The FBI may have called us and then I called the DA. It probably occurred that way.” 

--Medina either had his facts wrong or purposely misled the media and the public in an attempt to show he had his finger on the pulse. Clearly he did not. How hard is it for Chief Medina to know if the FBI told him about the investigation or if he told the FBI--an investigation by the FBI into your police department? The best case for Medina is that he is either incompetent with facts or he purposely misled the public to make himself look better.  

--The Journal comes with a detailed report on at least one person who reported being shook down by a member of the APD DWI Unit during a traffic stop. Was this shakedown recorded on the officer's body camera? If not, why do APD officers still have the ability to turn off their cameras during interactions with citizens? If it was on body camera, why didn’t the officer's supervisors catch it upon review? Is APD command fulfilling their duties to supervise as Medina promised months ago?

--The DWI officer waited ten weeks before sending a DWI citation to Metro court on the person he allegedly shook down. How did the prosecutor, the court, the DWI officer's supervisors not catch this and ask questions? Normally, a DWI offender is arrested at the scene and booked with a criminal complaint. Why wasn't the person arrested and a complaint filed on the night of the arrest? Waiting ten weeks to do so is extraordinary. 

--There could be hundreds of citizens who paid a bribe to get their DWI cases dismissed. Will the FBI interview them and will any of them face charges for paying the bribe? It appears there are some people who were not arrested for DWI and just agreed to the shakedown and went to the office of the attorney who was allegedly part of the scheme and paid the bribe. How many times did this happen? Did the DWI officers allow these drivers to continue driving that night? 

--What about the MVD hearings? When a DWI offender is arrested the officer seizes their driver's license. Not only does the offender have to face a criminal charge, but they also have to appear at an MVD hearing to determine if their license was seized in accordance with law. Police can lose a criminal case and still win the MVD hearing and get the license suspended. Were the officers and attorney involved in the alleged bribery operation also not showing up for MVD hearings? MVD does post notices about police missing their hearings just as the courts do. Obviously this is a task for the FBI to undertake in conjunction with the overall investigation. 


While Mayor Keller is stubbornly sticking by Chief Medina--even though he unceremoniously jettisoned Medina's predecessor Chief Mike Geier--MLG is doing something similar. 

Her controversial appointment of Teresa Casados, a top MLG political aide who served as her office COO, as director of the dysfunctional Children, Youth and Families Department (CYFD) was approved by what critics call a meek state Senate on a 32-8 vote with not one Democrat objecting.

That might be called party politics at its worst--refusing to look through a neutral lens and realize that the shortcomings of Casados are identical to that of Barbara Vigil who was appointed by MLG then failed at the job in short order because she also had no experience in child welfare. 

As much as the state wishes anyone heading up CYFD the best of luck, it takes much more than that to turn around a department that has 2,000 cases of child abuse in its backlog. Yes. That's 2,000, according to neutral court observers tasked with assessing the crisis at the agency. 

MLG is playing with fire, although unlike Mayor Keller, she is not seeking re-election. Still she is one child tragedy away from seeing her polling popularity plummet--if that's not already happening--and perhaps even having the agency run by the courts. 

The Governor said in an interview that the 2025 legislative session will feature "child well-being" that presumably would include CYFD reform which she has refused to have considered at this session. Why not now? Is 2,000 uninvestigated cases of abuse and neglect not enough?

The collapse of CYFD is an abysmal failure of executive leadership and that of the progressive Democratic women who have largely seized control of the Legislature and who are MLG's enablers. 

How is it that these legislators who we had such high hopes for and who are mothers themselves can turn their backs on the children of this state while they babble on endlessly about electric cars and clean fuel standards? How about cleaning up your own house before taking the broom to someone else's. Geez. . . 


Another nonprofit newsroom has popped up and joined a long list of such enterprises in the state. In many ways they've replaced the traditional daily newspapers as those continue to shrink or even cease publishing. 

This one is all digital and called City Desk. It's the brainchild of former ABQ City Councilor Pat Davis who already has four print publications under his ownership umbrella, including the Sandoval Signpost and the Corrales Comment.

CityDesk is aimed at the big city, publishing afternoon editions each weekday and covering the ABQ beat.

Like much local media they've been kept busy recently by the APD scandal.

The digital outlet has an experienced team of reporters, many of whom once toiled at local newspapers. 

Davis says City Desk, supported in part by reader donations, came about in large part because of cutbacks in newsrooms leading to less coverage of ABQ news. (That's also a national problem.)

While it would be hard to replace the legendary afternoon ABQ Tribune that went out of business in 2008, if City Desk can accomplish half as much as they did, they will be doing the town a favor. 

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