It’s been a doozy of a year for everyone, but we made it. Sometimes we squeaked by the skin of our teeth, but it definitely happened because of the support of all of you, our readers. Since this is our anniversary issue, we decided we’d like to recap the best of our best over the past year. We’ve done some good work, and we’re hoping to do great work in the future.
The Ballad of Couy Griffin
The Paper. first reported on Cowboys for Trump Leader Couy Griffin a year ago, when Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver told the horseback-riding New Mexico-based support group for Donald Trump that they had to register as a political action committee.
A recent recall effort failed to collect enough signatures to force a recall election to remove Cowboys For Trump founder/ Otero County Commissioner Couy Griffin from office. Now Griffin says he has his eye on running for Catron County Sheriff or the governor’s office.
Before he gets ready for that fight, he might want to tie up the loose ends first. Griffin is still facing federal charges for his role in the Jan. 6 coup. A state investigation into Griffin’s alleged use of campaign donations to pay for child support is ongoing, as is the state civil case requiring him to register his C4T group and disclose donors.
Shining A Light On Two Cold Cases
Our veteran reporter Carolyn Carlson reported on two area homicide cases that have gone cold. In the case of Molly Sparks, few folks in Albuquerque may even recognize her name. Molly was a UNM student who’s badly beaten body was found along the irrigation ditch running behind the small Algodones bar located about 20 miles north of Albuquerque. Who killed Mary “Molly” Aleta Sparks has swirled with rumors and innuendo but has remained a mystery for 45 years. In July of 2020, the FBI and the Sandoval County Sheriff’s Office announced they were looking for new leads and witnesses in the decades-old case to see who remembers what and if modern technology and genealogy DNA ties can help solve this brutal murder.
In September of this year, Carolyn reported on the murder of Karl Jürisson, a prominent engineer, which happened in broad daylight in Nob Hill this summer. There have been many theories as to who killed Jürisson and why—none of which have been disclosed by police. Was it a high-profile project he was working on? Was it a case that his partner, a former prosecutor, was involved with? In her exclusive investigation, Carolyn spoke with his partner, family and friends about why he may have been killed and what they are doing to keep his memory alive.
New Mexico’s Water Wars and Climate Justice
Sometimes we get to report that the little guy wins. The year 2020 delivered likely one of the worst droughts on record for the middle part of our state. And yet, water bottling company Niagara asked the Village of Los Lunas to dedicate over 200 million gallons per year of central New Mexico’s limited water supply to fill bottles destined for Costcos and Walmarts around the country. It looked like corporate greed sucking New Mexico dry might win, again. But then something amazing happened. Residents and farmers surrounding the Village of Los Lunas started organizing.
A discussion of the permit was scheduled to take place at the village council meeting on Feb. 11. Organizers fought for transparency of the meeting and demanded to have their voices heard. Over 100 readers of The Paper. contacted the Village Council asking them to reconsider the permit application. After a two-day media blitz, Los Lunas Mayor Charles Griego emailed organizers and let them know Niagara had withdrawn their application the day before they were scheduled in front of the Village Council.
Small victories can mean a lot when you have endured a long history of environmental injustice and environmental racism in your community. Members of the Mountain View coalition and their attorneys from the New Mexico Environmental Law Center were elated when the City of Albuquerque’s Environmental Health Department backed off its efforts to get three board members kicked off the Air Quality Control Board for bias.
Mountain View Coalition-Mountain View Neighborhood Association, Mountain View Community Action and Friends of Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge want the city to reverse the air pollution permit for New Mexico Terminal Services’ proposed asphalt plant at 9615 Broadway SE, just past the Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge, and north of Isleta Pueblo and I-25. We are continuing to cover this story.
The Bad Cop List
Transparency plays a pivotal role in creating accountability and rebuilding public trust in law enforcement. But while studies have shown that better community relations often lead to increased public safety, police agencies often condemn transparency efforts as “anti-cop.”
There have recently been efforts around the country to publicly name police officers who end up on the “bad cop list,” and some states have been successful in their efforts. New Mexico allows that list to remain secret, but Bernalillo County District Attorney Raul Torrez made at least part of it public.
The Paper. found that New Mexico lacks a uniform system for reporting and tracking officer misconduct, enabling problem officers to bounce from department to department, essentially starting with a clean record each time. District attorneys are no different. Other than in Bernalillo County, no other DA publicly names or shares a list of potentially compromised officers. That means prosecutors in one judicial district may not know if prosecutors in a neighboring district consider an officer untrustworthy in court.
Have these “Bad Cops Lists” changed the way we think about policing? Will making them public solve anything? The Bernalillo County Public Defender’s Office hopes it might keep officers from moving around the state, agency to agency. But what happens if an officer with a credibility issue is a key witness in a homicide? Or when close to 60 cases could be dismissed because an officer’s credibility was completely undermined—as in the case of ex-APD officer Fred Duran?
Ultimately, making these officers’ names public is a step toward transparency. Whether or not it results in any type of reform or accountability are questions that still need answers.
Albuquerque’s Indian Boarding Schools
The Paper. began its investigation of what will inevitably be a long process of reporting on the Boarding School Era as both a local and national story. The discovery of unmarked burial sites at Canadian Residential Schools was a stone in a pond that created a ripple—a ripple we have seen land on our own desert shores and one that will continue to reverberate for a long time.
Interior Department Secretary Deb Haaland has vowed to investigate the boarding school legacy in the United States.
As The Paper. began its investigation into the history of Albuquerque Indian School, we found documents and photos showing that a city park had been built over the unmarked graves of students from Albuquerque Indian School. In addition, we have undoubtedly uncovered so many more stories that need to be told. Follow The Paper.’s continuing investigation into the rediscovery of unmarked graves of children buried beneath a city park, as well as photos and documents chronicling New Mexico’s Indian School history at abq.news/indianschools
We’ve had a hell of a year, and it’s all because of you, our readers, and your support that we have the privilege of bringing you independent coverage every day. Thank you for your trust, and we’ve just gotten started.