Sunday, July 13, 2014

James Boyd's (And Our) Hell

I'm participating in a group project to transcribe the 40 police interviews conducted in the aftermath of the infamous and ignoble shooting of James Boyd in the foothills of the Sandia mountains.  Here is the first snippet of the interview conducted with APD's Scott Weimerskirch the day after he voluntarily joined the death squad that ended the mentally ill homeless man's life. Not a shred of remorse. Sometimes words just speak for themselves.

Okay, today's date is Monday March 17th, 2014, it's approximately 13:42 hours and this is Detective Jeff Stone with the Albuquerque Police Department here at the Family Advocacy Center at 625 Silver. We are here investigating an Officer Involved Shooting that occurred up in the foothills area near 812 Piedra Vista, NE. This is in reference to case number 140023683. Present in the room, state your name: Agent Hal Page, New Mexico State Police. Also, Sean Wallace, APD. And we are here interviewing Scott Wiemerskirch.

Stone: Scott, can you just tell me who your employer is?

Wiemerskirch: City of Albuquerque as a police officer.

Stone: And what unit are you assigned to?

Wiemerskirch: I'm assigned to the Tactical Canine Unit under the Special Operations Division.

Stone: How long have you been assigned there for?

Wiemerskirch: Almost seven years.

Stone: What's your call sign?

Wiemerskirch: 754

Stone: And your man number?

Wiemerskirch: 2774

[Spelled his name]

Stone: Scott, how long have you been on the department?

Wiemerskirch: I started the Police Academy July of 99, so a little over 14 years.

Stone: Awesome. Alright man just run through me, I'll give you the floor, from start to finish, everything that you can recall about what you did last night.

Wiemerskirch: Last night, I was actually secondary on call. For a canine request. And shortly, probably around 17:30 hours I got a call from radio control from dispatch advising canine request to the foothills in reference to a guy that was armed with knives and threatened open space, officers, camping up there.

Upon hearing the call right away I was kind of concerned about that because, it's something like, they were saying that they told him, Don't come any closer otherwise they were going to beanbag him, things of that nature.

So at that point I asked them if they'd advise I believe ______________ who's also actually a lieutenant, and I advised here that I'd be also be able to help. Getting dressed to go to the call Officer Ken Ronzone who was the primary came in on the call, called me, and told me what was going on, and I told me I'd be there also, because concern of that time of the day, it was actually nice, the weather was nice, and I'm actually familiar with that area somewhat from biking and stuff and trail running. But realizing on a Sunday that if we got a guy up in the foothills in that area in open space, there's a lot of people and I'd want to have resources to try to contain him and stop him from moving around.

Along route to the call I heard there was another call in the valley which I originally was going to go to, but then hearing this I actually, I called Sergeant Silver who I was actually covering for, advising him of what was going on and I told him I was going to call another dog to handle the call in the valley. Because this, one based on the things I told you earlier, I thought it was a little bit more urgent.

Stone: Okay.

Wiemerskirch: So I continued on and proceeded from I-25 to I-40 to Tramway to Copper to turn in off La Cueva. And when I went on scene, even prior to that I was asking as I came up Copper ,if I needed to come off the top of the trailhead to provide self containment, or if I should come up to where they were at.

Officer Ken Ronzone advised me that I should just come up to where they were at. And also to deploy with my dog, and we went to the house at the address that you had mentioned, there's a gate to the backyard you go out to the open space. When I arrived on scene things I was concerned about...when I deploy I put on a headset to try to keep radio traffic down to a minimum. And grabbed my police service dog and proceeded to the gate. When I came out to the gate, I looked up to the east and I could actually see a guy in an elevated position above us by a formation of rocks, yelling down at a field officer and, also it was Officer Keith Sandy and Rick Ingram. The sergeant on scene was Jason Carpenter and I saw Ken Ronzone. Officer Ken Ronzone was talking about pulling people back down off the hill to create more distance. I also ran into Pat Hernandez to try and verify charges.

Basically what they told me is they're telling this guy to leave, and when they went up there he was in a camp, they told him, Look let me see your hands, they challenged him to come forward and he showed his hands and he actually pulled knives out of his pockets. So based on that they were saying they had him on Aggravated Assault on a Police Officer, so we had felony charges, and the guy was just real irate was what they were telling me. And I could even hear him up from up top of the hill yelling and throwing his hands up. When they wanted us to back up... Jeff McFarland had called me prior to me leaving my house and he says, Hey I heard this call and do you want me to head up that way?, and I was like yeah I could use the manpower.

After we were down below, I told the guys, Let's not back up. My concerns at that point that we had him out in the open to talk and all, but he had a camp, he had not been searched by any officer, he'd already showed aggressive violence toward officers, he was even making comments that he'd kill people. Concern I had is, I don't know what else is in his camp and I wanted to keep him in a position where he didn't have such an advantageous position such as high ground or a position of cover to engage us in case in his camp he did have a rifle, a gun or something. Because of the close proximity to not only the houses, but to the south there's people, there's even people that were occasionally passing on the trail down below and I felt if we backed up, and this guy went mobile we were putting the public in jeopardy also.

So I took that Officer McFarland to go to the south I wanted _______ and another officer went with him cause I wanted to have eyes on into that camp area, or the rocks where he was recessed back into, and I moved up down below with Officer Keith Sandy and Rick Ingram, and at the same time I was trying to have Officer Ken Ronzone take a team and go to the north, and started giving the positions out to flank the individual and also provide containment.

Even from our position, you can still any time you got a guy in an elevated position there and the position of disadvantage which was a concern ... when I initially got up there, we started talking to him and trying to find a viable, based on the crime of the felony, see if there was a viable deployment of a dog. And from that lower position there's a lot of cactus bushes, rocks, that the dog would have to encounter to try to go up there and it wasn't viable at all. It wouldn't have been a practical tool cause if he saw the dog coming, and he was in a position to observe that, that he could actually try to circumvent those tactics.

And I told the guys when they got up there that from here the dog would not be practical.

When I got there really no one was having any dialogue with him, so I tried to talk to him and told him you know, Sir, what's going on? I might have even called him dude, just trying to get him to talk and he started to explain how everything from the economy's going to collapse in five months, said his money, his identity taken away, was really upset about things, and he made mention of everything from white collar crime. And he's tried to talk to APD before but he's CSO and they pretty much kicked him out. And just irate with the whole system and he didn't get ahold of OSI and CIV, so now I'm thinking he's military too, and we need to do that stuff because you know we can't do anything, and I told him you know a) APD's here now, why don't we walk off this mountain and we can go talk abut this.

And then he, you know, he corrected me, It's not a mountain, it's a hill, and you guys don't have the right, and he said basically, he kept on referring to State Police about talking to them cause in my dialogue with him he was just getting irate. You know, Put down the knives and come down the hill. You don't have the right to do that. At one point during this whole interaction, on the lower part, he actually pulled out a knife in his right hand, and he made all kinds of gestures of throwing his hands up just really irate even to the point of, you know, You guys come up here. His whole demeanor was you know basically he was going to kill all us, and ________me at one point he even called me a punk and was going to kill me, and he kept on mentioning the State Police so actually I was...

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Slimy Passage: In Defense of Ed Champion (And Everything We Hold Dear)

By Goodloe Byron

The other day my friend Ed Champion wrote and published a prolix screed about the stranglehold on discourse and literary style in the hands of the grossly untalented few in American letters who are rewarded for nonsense and worse by the powers that be in corporate publishing. He amped it up by concentrating his attention in this piece exclusively on some of the female offenders (the pictures alone are priceless), and got in big trouble with the gatekeepers of the status quo. "He's after our womenfolk, circle the wagons!"

In fact, there's a very ugly pile on, and in the din made by those calling for his big beautiful head on a platter, the word "misogyny" is being recklessly bandied about. It's often an absurd charge akin to "Witch!," but in this case it rings especially hollow. Ed is no misogynist, I am certain of it, in fact I'm offended on his behalf, and I'm not easily offended. As charges go it's not only scurrilous, it's unsupportable. Even a cursory glance (or listen) to the hundreds of substantive interviews with women writers available in his archives make that rapidly and undeniably evident.

So why was it reached for, the laziest most convenient and damning slur? Curse you Ed Champion, you're a ..uh...uh...uh...misogynist!

All the usual reasons I imagine--to discredit and demonize him in order to neutralize his critique, which  at the end of the day, is powerful! If it were not powerful would Newsweek  bother insisting/dictating that he must NOT be engaged with...?

Evocation of the M word is an efficient way to blow Ed away instead of having to deal with him, in this case with his sulfurous furor at being so outrageously excluded from a livelihood in letters, even a meager one, while others in possession of talents far inferior have second acts, third acts, and beyond. I imagine for someone so invested in the possibility of a reformed corporate publishing industry as Ed is (many of us have long ago given up that ghost), watching someone as pathetically ungifted as Gould get another shot at a readership must be akin to watching Dick Cheney resell another invasion of Iraq. Are we really going to lose Fallujah again?

I feel him, not only because he's a friend, but because his cause is just--Ed's got chops in spades, his work is full of vividities such as this one from the essay in question:

"But she’s still the same scabrous and manipulative opportunist that she was when she deflowered a 14-year-old boy at the age of seventeen."

That's a marvelous mouthful spoken aloud, and the collection of words sends a postcard directly to the right frontal-lobe, the site in the brain where humor resides. On the level of vocabulary alone he's formidable--e.g. scabrous. With that one word Ed conjures adolescent knees, injury, and (extending the joke a little further) the freshly fornicated boy skating off on his skateboard with alacrity, maybe checking his billfold wondering why it's now far lighter... But let's face it, Ed Champion could recuperate the entire OED and the score would still be Ed Champion: no way, Emily Gould: yes please. Who's making these crazy-making decisions? On what possible basis?

For heaven's sake Ed doesn't hate Emily Gould personally any more than you or I do; I doubt he hates anyone. But he probably hates, and if so I think rightly, how low corporate publishing has gone in degrading itself. And who better to exemplify that nadir than Gould whose crassness is her trademark (Ed didn't invent or exaggerate that). That's ALL her.

From accounts in the media I gather that the most offending sentence from Gould's perspective was this: "But when a minx’s head is so deeply deposited up her own slimy passage, it’s often hard to see the sunshine."

I love that line--it really makes you think. What's Gould's problem with it? Is it "minx?" Does she want to try and deny that she's an impudent and cunning woman? After all, this is the woman who by her own admission instructed her publisher's publicist  to say that she was "the voice of her generation."  Sorry, but minx is legit.

What did she think he meant by this term--"slimy passage"--that renders it a woman-hating statement? Slimy has several meanings: 1) covered in slime (I don't think he meant that), and 2) very dishonest, bad or immoral. (I would choose this one given the context of what he was talking about, spreading baseless gossip for profit.) Passage means 1) a long, narrow space that connects one place to another, 2) a narrow space that people or things can move through, or 3) an act of moving or passing from one place or state to another. (No. 3-ding, ding, ding!)

Ed is a skilled and nuanced writer, chances are excellent that he's not even saying the lowlife thing she imagines he is. If I had to put money on it, given the context of the statement, I'd say that he was referring to her lax business practices at Gawker. Her head (meaning her thoughts, her intentions) was focused on  how she could move herself forward along her trajectory towards being a well-compensated ($200,000 for her first tome) professional author. The word "deposited" should give us a clue. This is money talk, not body parts. In all honesty I ask, how is this misogynistic?

Okay, one might say there's ambiguity in the statement. He's generous like that, he's not going to insist on any particular reading. But if this is how Ms. Gould reads, how do you think she writes?!

 Even if Ed were saying, and I don't think he was, that she's got her head up her ass (a common put down--so and so has his head up his ass, meaning blinded to his own actions) how is this misogynistic?

The only way I can torture this phrase into something woman-hating is if he was saying that she had her head up her twat. But this is a leap, there's absolutely no textual proof! Furthermore, it's totally counter intuitive that Ed, who is in a long-term and loving relationship with a lovely accomplished young woman (with an awfully good head on her own shoulders), and who wishes to advance in traditional publishing, which everyone knows is a female-dominated business, would disparage a vagina by calling it a slimy passage. That's ALL Gould's hermeneutics, you can't put that on Ed, at least not and look at yourself squarely in the mirror without cringing.

And you cannot, you must not, condemn a man, especially a writer who has spent years carrying hot boiling water for Literature, for a crime as truly serious as woman-hating without better proof than that.

 Not on my watch.

Saturday, June 7, 2014


Power has greatly abused its authority in New Mexico and some of us are trying to do something about that in various arenas, but particularly in the struggle to end police violence in Albuquerque. We're confronting power, we're directly challenging the people who lay exclusive claim to it, and we're rebalancing the power relations between us. 

Our efforts must be working quite well, because the city administration's tactics are gaining in repugnance what they lack in credibility—witch-hunts of one stripe or another, patently obvious perversions of our own institutions to punish us for defiance in the face of lawlessness. For what is Unconstitutional Policing if not the zenith of lawlessness?

The results of a new KRQE poll are telling. As is this remarkable video footage of what is being purported to be the basis of a felony charge ludicrously pending against David Correia, one of the Burque 13.

More Dirty Dancing than the Dirty Dozen, I'd say.

In grossly over-charging  David (as the video plainly shows and the New Mexico Mercury reports) Power's lackeys do our job for us--eyes are opening to injustice; people, and not just White people, are shaking off their stupor.

According to the autopsy report, Mary Hawkes,19, took three kill shots. Bullets at a downward angle entered her ear, neck and shoulder. APD Officer Jeremy Dear, her acknowledged shooter, is still at large.
The sheer fact of the over-charge, however, the show of force it represents, is presumably intended to have a chilling effect on our ever-growing coalition. But with a pile of five dead bodies this Spring of Sorrows, Mary Hawkes' among them, the over-charge is having the opposite effect—it's warming us up, instead. And in case you were wondering how low some alleged journalists can go...?


In threatening the mother of the boy in the video with "child endangerment charges,” a boy whose father was killed by the APD (they forgot to mention that in their story), they have succeeded in pissing off just about everybody else not already outraged by the killings. 

COA Rick Perry wants the boy's mother to sink to her knees in fear and despair, but before that happens he'll have to get past:

Nora Anaya

 Dinah Vargas

Frances Madeson

and a few other uppity women we know.

Further attacking our friend's family is a non-starter. Ditto to not-so-subtly threatening parents who bring their kids to marches and rallies. Somehow I don't see that message going over so well with the Respect Albuquerque Women coalition. Not at all. In trying to terrorize a single mama of three with the state-sanctioned kidnapping of her children, they've probably quadrupled our attendance at Roosevelt Park. And damn if Dinah didn't see them coming when she created this!

More information at

Plus, I hear we've successfully booked Mala Maña! So whatever else happens on Summer Solstice at Coal and Sycamore, it's going to be a spirited day of beautiful music, dancing and community.

Speaking of the human community, I just sent this lady a letter. It only takes a minute. 

Chair-Elect Mary Lynn Roper - NM Broadcaster's Foundation
President/General Manager KOAT-TV
Albuquerque, NM 87125-5982

Charlie gave me the idea. My letter reads:

Dear Ms. Roper:

I don't know whether you were sabotaged, blindsided or undermined by staff, but this propaganda parading as journalism is on you. With so much at stake, we're all watching you very closely to see how quickly and well you handle it. Good luck.

I am also posting this letter online as part of the "Over-Charging" blogpost on Written Word, Spoken Word. Please feel free to respond in the comments so everyone may have the benefit of your answer.

With every good wish for a thorough Spring cleaning,

Frances Madeson

Sent to Roper via email on 6/7/14

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

June 12th Fundraiser to Support June 21st March/Rally

Every chance I get I take the opportunity to tell the activists who are doing the heavy lifting with respect to police violence in Albuquerque how very much I admire them. But I thought it would be lovely for them--especially the "Burque 13"--to hear it from some other Santa Feans. So here are 13 images of random folks I approached yesterday afternoon who welcomed the opportunity to express support.

At the shop where the sign was printed!:

All images with the "Burque 13" sign by Frances Madeson

At Santa Fe Community College:

At the Chavez Community Center:

At the Southside Public Library:

In the parking lot at Natural Grocers:

 At the Paisano Market on Cerrillos:

At Trader Joe's on St. Francis:

At the Santa Fe Railyard:

At the Sambusco Center:

At The Cowgirl:

At the skatepark:

At the Santa Fe River: 

At the Plaza:

The movement is in the coalition-building phase and we will be showing our strength (exponential growth) at a historic March/Rally at Roosevelt Park in Albuquerque (Coal and Sycamore) at 11a.m. The March/Rally will be held on Saturday, June 21st and it's conceived as a family-friendly, non-violent event. The park is a beautiful setting for a summer solstice experience, and all are welcome.

More information at

For Santa Feans who understand that this is a viable movement for social change in New Mexico, and who wish to learn  more--unmediated, in an intimate setting  with the affected parties--about how we can help nurture the growing movement in Albuquerque, a fund raising event has been organized for Thursday, June 12th, from 6-8pm at a private home in Eldorado (more details below). Our modest goal is to raise $500 to help defray march expenses.


Speakers at the benefit:

David Correia, one of the Burque 13, UNM Professor of American Studies, editor of La Jicarita, An Online Magazine of Environmental Politics, and author of Properties of Violence: Law and Land Grant Struggle in Northern New Mexico.

Mike Gomez, whose 22 year old son, Alan, was unarmed when he was shot and killed by APD. Mike and his family successfully sued the city of Albuquerque. Mike has emerged as a prominent activist confronting the brutality of the APD. (And we're all grateful to Mike for bailing out our friend Nora Anaya, another of the Burque 13.)

Entertainment for the evening will be provided by:

Regina Ress, award winning storyteller, writer, and educator has performed and taught in schools, homeless shelters, prisons, international Storytelling Festivals, Lincoln Center and The White House. She has a deep interest in social justice and prison reform. She teaches “applied storytelling” at NYU. Here in Santa Fe, she volunteers weekly at the Santa Fe County Jail.

Karma Lama will also be performing on bamboo flute. His music has been described as inducing tranquility, peace and contemplation.

More musical entertainment to be announced!
Refreshments will be served.

When you RSVP to Carmen at or 505-699-8563, or Frances Madeson at or 505-466-1048, we'll provide the location and directions.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Mother's Day Lament

If Corrections Secretary Gregg Marcantel has his way, 239 more New Mexican women will be sucked into the for-profit prison industrial complex vortex. Who profits?

The record will show that during public comments at the April 23rd meeting of the legislature's Criminal Justice Reform Subcommittee (CJR), I asked New Mexico Corrections Department Secretary Gregg Marcantel to voluntarily withdraw RFP No. 40-770-13-04551. This Request for Proposal would increase the beds in the women's prison by 39%, and lock the State into partnership for another 8 years with a for-profit prison operator. 

When questioned by the media, the Secretary said that it was not his aim to expand the prison, that he just wanted “to be prepared.” A KOAT TV story has him famously saying into the camera, “I don't think that we wait for the fire to buy a firetruck.” One has to wonder what the firetruck's he talking about? Where is this fire other than in his own imagination?

The RFP, which closed on April 30th, calls for a new contract for 850 beds to be in place by June 30, 2014—the current contract with Corrections Corp. of America (CCA) expires June 2015. What possible justification is there for this excessive number? Marcantel has testified repeatedly that he's relying on the New Mexico Sentencing Commission, whose accuracy he praises. But its most recent study predicts a need for only 807 beds, and that's not until 2023. Plus it contains this hugely relevant caveat on page 4:
...long-term forecasts are based upon current sentencing statutes and current Corrections Department policies and practices. It is not difficult to imagine that statutes, policies and practices may be different in FY 2023. Even if our level of confidence diminishes as we move further into the future, the long-term forecasts may spur useful discussions among policy makers and criminal justice professionals.”

Exactly, and it's those very discussions that the bi-partisan CJR Subcommittee is engaged in having for the public good. It's not only “not difficult to imagine,” there's every reason to expect that CJR's work will lead to the creation of “statutes, policies and practices” that will impact the prison apparatus. Reforms that one hopes may entirely preclude the necessity for locking up more New Mexicans—men and women alike. Reforms that may serve to wholly extinguish Marcantel's chimerical fire.

CJR's very charge is to rewrite the criminal code and make informed, rational, cost-effective, humane and forward-thinking public policy recommendations. At its first meeting in October 2013, a scandalous report was presented by ACLU-NM and New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty—“Inside the Box.” It contains 18 of the saddest pages that any New Mexican with a conscience will likely read. Mentally impaired women who do not comprehend the rules thrown in 23-hour lockdown for weeks and months at a time, at a premium bed rate for the prison's operator. Who gains by such financially-incentivized cruelty? Who, other than CCA shareholders?

Marcantel has also failed to correct one of the more bizarre quirks of the Corrections system under his fiscal stewardship— “in-house parole”—wherein taxpayers pay for the continued incarceration of inmates even though they're eligible for release; there are dozens of such women at present. Combined with the hundreds of male prisoners in similar straits, “in-house parole” costs in excess of $10 million per year, and has every year of Marcantel's tenure. Halfway houses are two-thirds less costly, but how many has he established? Any?

38 New Mexican women (the majority of them are mothers) are eligible for parole but are still incarcerated due to bureaucratic indifference.
 And who will fill these new cells if we are so lax as to allow them to be built? Mothers, mostly. In 2009, 87% of the prisoners were moms, now I understand it's 89%. This is very bad public policy news considering that one of the risk factors for incarceration is having an incarcerated parent. At present, only a quarter of the offenses committed by women are categorized as “violent.” Mostly, they got caught with some quantity of drugs, or they peddled drugs, or drove drunk, or stole some property to feed their habit. Addiction and mental illness are proven not to be aided by incarceration. CJR is exploring less costly and more effective alternatives. Fire prevention, to use Marcantel's inflammatory metaphor.

After the April CJR meeting, Marcantel told me that he is not wedded to “for-profit” prisons; he inherited them, and would happily get rid of them if so directed by his governor and the legislature. From his own lips issued yet another important reason not to saddle New Mexico with a contractual boondoggle that would span the next two governorships, no matter who is in office, no matter who is Secretary.

Lastly, what if CJR concludes that we'd be better off with several smaller regional prisons rather than a single facility remote from families, inaccessible by any form of public transportation? How do we get out of his contract then?

We'd have to pay our way out.

And all for a firetruck we never needed in the first place.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

No Fences in the Valley

“If you dare to struggle, you dare to win. If you dare not struggle then damn it, you don't deserve to win.” --Fred Hampton, August 1969, People's Church, Chicago

It's the one-year anniversary of the enactment of the anti-fracking ban in Mora County, and despite two pending lawsuits the Ordinance is still the law of the land. In Mora, oil and gas corporations, by strength of local law, are not allowed to plunder Mora's earth and spoil its increasingly precious waters.

But as David Correia writes in Properties of Violence, Law and Land Grant Struggle in Northern New Mexico, “law is a site of social struggle where claims over property are constructed and contested...while the law can be said to mediate conflicts, it can also produce the conditions for those conflicts.” It's those very conditions that the Ordinance redresses, blowing away “law” that undemocratically privileges corporate rights over individual rights.

It's been an eventful twelve months. Here's a quick recap of events to date:

April 29, 2013, Mora County Commission enacts the “Mora County Community Water Rights and Local Self-Government” Ordinance, the first countywide ban of fracking in the nation. (For an excellent summary of events leading up to the enactment of the ordinance please see

November 15, 2013, Mora County is sued in federal District Court by the trade group Independent Petroleum Producers of New Mexico, landowner Mary L. Vermillion, the JAY Land Ltd. Co., and Yates Ranch Property. The suit claims violation of their rights under the First, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

November 26, 2013, Mora County Commission votes unanimously to defend its Ordinance, which bans oil and gas extraction and other hydrocarbons within Mora County. The Commission also voted to hire Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), the New Mexico Environmental Law Center, and Santa Fe attorney Dan Brannen, a CELDF associate, to defend the Ordinance.

January 10, 2014, SWEPI LP, a U.S. subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell PLC, files a federal lawsuit against Mora County, claiming the Ordinance violates state law and the U.S. Constitution's equal protection and commerce clauses, amounts to taking property without compensation, conflicts with U.S. Supreme Court rulings that gave legal rights to corporations, and violates other state and federal laws.

January 27, 2014, Mora County Commission is served with the SWEPI lawsuit.

February 14, 2014, the Commissioners again vote unanimously to defend the Ordinance.

March 6, 2014, Mora Land Grant and Jacobo Pacheco, Individual Intervenor, file a Motion to Intervene and a Memorandum in Support thereof, in the SWEPI suit. The Mora Land Grant has 66 individual members, descendants of the original families who received the land grant in 1835, when the area was part of Mexico. The land grant was patented by the U.S. Congress in 1876 and is a political subdivision of the state of New Mexico, managed by a board of trustees. It is represented pro bono in these matters by Jeffrey Haas.

April 8, 2014, Mora County Commission passes a resolution not to oppose the Intervention and retains Jeffrey Haas pro bono as defense counsel in the Vermillion lawsuit.

Current Moment, The Mora Land Grant, or as it is known more lyrically in Spanish, La Merced de Santa Getrudis de lo de Mora, is awaiting the ruling of the New Mexico federal District Court on its Motion to Intervene.

While here in Santa Fe local media noted the event of the Land Grant joining the Mora County Commission in its fight against big oil and gas, I sought from the affected parties a fuller explanation of the significance of the Motion to Intervene.

“This political moment may never come again, and the Mora Land Grant was not willing to sit back and take a wait and see attitude,” Jacobo Pacheco, a member of the Land Grant and Individual Intervenor, told me. “We here in Mora have historically defended and protected our land. We were one of the last bastions of resistance to the invading U.S. Cavalry during the Mexican-American War. Moreover, our people have even formed citizen posses (Las Gorras Blancas) who patrolled our land cutting fences that the land thieves had erected.”

Mr. Pacheco is clear-sighted about the traps inherent to a regulatory approach. “The state regulatory authorities do not have enough manpower or a budget sufficiently robust to engage in any meaningful regulation,” he explained. “In such an environment, rules can easily be circumvented with a bit of ingenuity. Moreover, since the petroleum companies managed to exempt themselves from the Energy Policy Act of 2005, there exist no bona fide federal regulations.” He likens allowing frackers into the county to tolerating rattlesnakes in the garden. “Some activities are inherently dangerous, they can inflict irreparable harm, and should be prohibited, not regulated.”

When it came time to lawyer-up, the Mora Land Grant secured a seasoned veteran of major civil rights legal battles. “We have a strong interest in this fight and wanted to jump in. Jeffrey Haas was on a list of lawyers who'd volunteered to help in the struggle,” Mr. Pacheco explained. “We reviewed his tremendous and impressive record of civil rights advocacy, and we reached out.” Haas is one of the founding members of Chicago's People's Law Office and represented members of the Black Panther Party.

 The book has been optioned for a movie!

Haas, who is a father of four, is deeply concerned about “the habitability of the planet for the next generation or two.” Concern over future climate crises and wars over scarce resources impelled him to offer his legal services “to support the people who are standing up.” The work involved is considerable. The day before we met, Haas, a 71 year-old Santa Fean, had driven the two hours back and forth to Mora to attend a six-hour meeting, one of several such long hauls.

Pro bono means that Mr. Haas will not be receiving any compensation for his legal services, but can recover costs for copying, travel and expert witnesses. To that end Mr. Pacheco has created a website where supporters can learn more about the dangers and harms caused by fracturing, and where they can donate funds to help defray expenses. “As a practical matter,” Pachecho explained, “this litigation could go on for 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 years, and we have to be prepared.”

According to Haas, the Land Grant is a political entity that can sue and be sued and its move to intervene is both symbolic and substantive. “It shows a broad base of support by and for Mora by people with a history in Mora who don't want drilling. It heightens public awareness generally, by drawing attention to the uneven playing field. And it's another avenue to express the voices of the people who want to shore up the defenders of the Ordinance, some of whom may be feeling the pressure.”

And the stakes are enormous. In the first case--the Vermillion case--the plaintiff's do not seek damages but do seek attorney's fees, “which could be a lot,” according to Haas. “But the judge would have a lot of discretion there. In the second case (the SWEPI lawsuit) damages are sought, but the irony is that if they were to win they will have incurred no damages.” But if Mora were to lose, any fees would be mere insults to the more perilous injuries to its ecosystem. “In Mora, hunting and fishing is a way of life, and water is absolutely critical,” Haas explained.

Quoting from the Memorandum of Support to the Motion to Intervene, the Land Grant seeks to be a party to the legal fight because:

“Mora County is a municipal corporation. Mora County residents possess rights

under the Ordinance which are distinct from the powers of Mora County. The Ordinance

does not secure Mora County’s rights. It secures the rights of Mora County residents and

Mora County communities. As the very purpose of the Ordinance is to enumerate and

secure their rights, the interests of Pacheco and the individual members of the Mora Land

Grant are clearly at stake.”

Rio Mora

The Land Grant hopes to.make challenges with respect to the legitimacy of land ownership and how sub-surface rights were passed on. It also hopes to show how damaging fracking would be to the quality and quantity of water in Mora County, and how land values would be adversely impacted by diminished and polluted water supplies. As Haas explained it to me, “As the runoff from the mountains is depleted due to drought or climate change, the sub-surface water becomes even more critical for survival.”

Haas hopes there will be a complementary relationship between the CELDF legal team and his own. “CELDF has been instrumental in drafting and supporting the ordinance nationally, and we offer a local component defending local communities.” There are two lawyers, one in California and another in Washington State, who are assisting Haas with legal research, while he keeps them apprised of political developments. Together they come up with new arguments, new theories, some of them reaching back to the Declaration of Independence.

A grotesque irony of the Pleadings is that corporations are now using the Civil Rights Act to assert that due process and equal protection must be extended to them on account of their corporate personhood. In the Answers, the Mora Land Grant will deny the allegations, demand proof of them, and move to dismiss the suit. “It's exciting, challenging and daunting,” Haas confessed. “Fred Hampton's example helps me keep going, keep pushing. I think, what would he say or do? I try to live up to that. There's a legacy I feel I have to uphold.”

A revolutionary legacy?

“Yes, in many ways. Not grab a gun and shoot something, but a deep feeling that the system must dramatically change-- the power has to go to the people. We can't separate social justice from environmental justice. Often climate disasters affect the poorest countries and people the most.”

Gilbert Quintana, Vice President of the Mora Land Grant, told me that while he lives on the same land where his great-grandparents resided, the 826,000 acres of commonly held land that comprised the land grant are dispersed among private owners. “People sold us out. There was thievery, chicanery, people were bamboozled. The fact is ours is a landless land grant.”

This history of dispossession by hook or by crook is common in northern New Mexico. Mr. Quintana is well aware of the legacy of struggle recounted in the Correia book—Alianza, The Courthouse Raid, all of the vigorous protests by the Chicano communities during the sixties and 1970's when they realized the extent of the ripoffs. And while that history both contextualizes the current struggle and offers inspiration, for Quintana the strong sense of resistance to “kings and queens, masters, or now, corporations” is even more personal than that. “The grandparents would tell us of the time when there were no fences in the valley.”

Mr. Quintana, who describes the current battle as “lopsided” between a poor rural county and the “biggest corporation in the world,” believes that like Biblical David, Mora will be victorious against its Goliath. “Often the strength of Power is exaggerated, while the Underdog's is underestimated. Our limitations force us to be more creative.”

His vision for the county is as a “food sovereign” area where the people produce food in pristine conditions--“good air, water and land.” To the frackers he would say, “We'll sell you food when you need it, and we'll buy your gas. We're not hypocrites, we'll share what we have, but we don't want your drills here. In this, we are governed by our belief in the land and in our roles as protectors of the land.”

Happy Anniversary, Mora--let's celebrate, let's dance!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Graft, A Daydream

NM DOC Secretary Gregg Mercantel, a man of dual allegiances.

We already know thanks to NM State Senator Linda Lopez's solitary exertions during his confirmation process, that NM Department of Corrections Secretary Gregg Mercantel is prone to lies of omission. Notwithstanding his failure to report “several incidents,”and given the 38-1 vote approving his nomination, it seems reasonable to surmise that partial truth-telling is part of the position's requisite skill-set in the nation's most corrupt state.

What is the evidence that New Mexico is the most corrupt state? The fact that it is fiftieth in child well-being. These pillagers unabashedly scrape the gruel right out of the children's bowls, so what do you think happens to their prisoners? The abuses are documented, but never answered and never ever corrected.

While I was sitting in yesterday's absolutely vomitous Legislative Finance Committee hearing on the 4+ million dollar “shortfall” in Corrections' budget--and as a strategically staged sidebar, the expansion of the privately operated for-profit women's prison--I let my mind wander, and had the most fantastical daydream.

In the fantastical daydream Secretary Mercantel and I had left the foul air of Room 307 where legislators act their part in an endless and pointless kabuki asking all the wrong questions designed to distract from anything real that might be going on (e.g. modern day slave-catching for fun and profit). And where the dutiful press at best hints of wrongdoing, but mostly takes dictation and lives on to collect another paycheck.

Instead we strolled the lovely lanes outside the Roundhouse among the blossom-filled trees while conversating, and here's the really fantastical part--we were both wearing togas! If you'd been a bird in the bower, these are the words you might have heard amidst the laughter (mine) and the Secretary's gleeful giggles.

Me: I can't help noticing, Gregg, that you're wearing some kind of elaborate bandage on your foot.

Secretary Mercantel: Yep Frances, that's to protect my Achilles heel. You're very observant, most people wouldn't have caught that.

Me: I have a sense for people's vulnerabilities. Did you kill Mary Han?

Secretary Mercantel: No, why do you ask?

Me: You were a homicide cop, right? Who knows better how to get away with murder than a homicide cop? Silly intuition, never mind. Here's what I really meant to ask, more of a policy rather than tactical question—why do we have for-profit prisons?

Secretary Mercantel: We have found over the years that the outsourcing model has consistently created better graft-taking opportunities for us. There are certain inefficiencies in the public system in that regard—periodic audits, citizen watchdog groups, and other roadblocks. If I had my druthers we'd still have a public system, but this is what I've inherited.

Me: How does it work?

Secretary Mercantel: The graft-taking? Many ways, but the main one is the fines.

Me: The fines! I thought there was something fishy about those big fines DOC slapped on the private prison profiteers. Wait don't tell me, now that you've given me that helpful hint let me see if I can imagine the scenario.

Secretary Mercantel: (Lighting a spliff) Go ahead, Franny. Knock yourself out.

In this part of the fantastical daydream I time traveled a few hours ahead to the hot tub at El Gancho where I had a bubbly tête-à-tête with a well-heeled and rather prominent business consultant who acted as a sounding board as I pieced it all together. (Some of this biz lingo is his.) The fines: establish the fine in the first year as $1.8 million. In functional terms the fine is equivalent to the amount of graft that the corporations can bear and yet remain profitable. In year two, the fines are reported to go way down, showing progress and a good working relationship. But what the public doesn't know is that the corporations still pay the agreed upon shakedown number of $1.8, but this time less to the State and more to the graftees, and so on in each subsequent year. The governor doesn't even have to be in on it. Every so often, after deliberately causing overcrowding, it becomes necessary to add prisoner beds to the enterprise to keep the scheme growing and thriving. That's the moment we are now in.

I said as much to the Secretary who by now was completely stoned.

Secretary Mercantel: You got all that from being in the room with me for an hour and a half? Was it something I said?

FM: Yes. It was when you let your guard down, and I saw a furtive smile come over your face. You said that because of the fines, or rather because of the "clarity in the contractual arrangements," you and the operators were getting closer.

Secretary Mercantel: I actually said that out loud?!

FM: Yes. Everyone there heard you. But it wasn't just what you said, it was the manner in which you said it. Like you had a delicious secret. And you do, don't you?

Secretary Mercantel: God bless ya, Franny. (Passing the joint my way) Guilty as charged.