Sandoval Signpost


An independent monthly newspaper serving the community since 1988
  Up Front

Bernalillo police Sgt. Josh Anderson guides a car to a stop while Sgt. Darrell Sanchez checks a driver's paperwork during a DWI checkpoint on Avenida Bernalillo recently. Chief Tom Romero said officers estimated about 500 drivers came through the checkpoint on a Friday night with eight receiving citations for violations like not having their driver's licenses, vehicle registrations or proof of insurance. Two were arrested, one on a outstanding warrant, the other for driving on a suspended or revoked license. "No DWIs, which is a good thing," Romero said.

Sgt. Allen Mills of the Sandoval County Sheriff's Office discusses burglaries in Placitas during a public safety meeting sponsored by the Eastern Sandoval Citizens Association.
Photo credit: —Bill Diven

Handful of cases raise Placitas crime fears

—Bill Diven

While high-profile incidents like a shooting death during a break-in and three burglaries within a few hours rattle local nerves, Placitas records few crimes overall, according to a sheriff’s investigator. That creates a separate problem for law enforcement looking for the bad guys.

“When you have a lot of burglaries, you catch a lot of burglars,” said Sargent Allen Mills. “We don’t have many, so they’re harder to catch because there’s no repetition.”

Burglars who may not be able to find Placitas on a map tend up come up State Road 165, pick a left or right turn and look for a house to hit, he said. There’s little sophistication involved, so the criminals rarely, if ever, choose a house in advance and aren’t using disguised delivery trucks and the like, Mills added.

The officer called the fatal September 16 shooting of an intruder a specific incident not related to burglaries in the community. Mills declined to further discuss the still-open case that involved a middle-of-the-night break-in of a home where investigators later found a “large amount” of cash and two hundred marijuana plants.

Mills, who heads criminal investigations for the Sandoval County Sheriff’s Office (SCSO), made his comments during the September 19 Placitas Public Safety Meeting, sponsored by the Eastern Sandoval Citizens Association (ES-CA). The Sandoval County Fire Department also participated taking questions about the safety of petroleum pipelines and the limited evacuation routes from Placitas. More than fifty people attended the event.

SCSO tallied 59 burglaries countywide in 2014 with a dozen of those in Placitas. This year, the community recorded 11 through mid September including two attributed to a man and women—the couple was arrested and is believed to have committed their alleged crimes while out with a baby, Mills said.

Beyond the shooting, the current buzz in Placitas is about burglars hitting three homes within a few hours in September. The crimes occurred in the adjacent Placitas Trails, Desert Mountain, and Placitas West areas off NM 165. The thieves made off with jewelry, firearms, and electronics.

Investigators, who believe the same suspects are responsible for all three break-ins, collected DNA samples at the scenes and are waiting for test results. Witnesses reported seeing the same black Chevrolet crossover-type vehicle about the time of the break-ins.

In response SCSO stepped up patrols on NM 165. “We stopped some interesting characters,” said Mills, who has spent most of his 32-year law-enforcement career as a detective. “It’s amazing how many people come into Placitas and don’t belong here.”

He also said patrolling the highway can make deputies more effective when a crime or suspicious activity is reported since the response time is shorter than if the deputy was randomly driving remote back roads.

Mills and the sheriff’s office listed a number of tips to keep your property safe and to alert law enforcement:

  • Call 911 to report a crime in progress or the dispatch center non-emergency number 867-4581 to report suspicious activity. Investigators check an additional recorded line, 891-7226, for general reports of suspicious activity.
  • Try to obtain vehicle information (make, model, color, and license plate) and descriptions of people and clothing. Take cell-phone pictures and video if possible.
  • Don’t approach possible criminals yourself. They may be armed or may have just stolen loaded weapons.
  • Burglars ransacking homes generally skip garages and attics.
  • Alert your neighbors when you’ll be gone for an extended period and ask them to pick up newspapers and parcels. Stop your mail at the post office. Call the sheriff’s office to request a “close patrol” while you’re away.

Other statistics from 2014 showed two commercial and eight vehicle burglaries, 21 reports of criminal damage to property, most involving neighbors or free-roaming horses, and ten fraud cases, three related to credit cards and the rest either phone or online scams. The community also logged 21 crimes against persons including domestic disputes, assault, battery, and a single sex crime.

The sheriff’s office also tracks and checks on 160 registered sex offenders in the county. The New Mexico Sex Offender Registry lists two men living within the Placitas ZIP code. “There are not a lot of problems with sex offenders,” Mills said. “That’s where the media goes crazy.” Much time is spent following up on tips and reports made to the state Children, Youth, and Families Department and Child Protective Services, he added.

Assistant Fire Chief Dave Bervin, who doubles as the county’s emergency manager, fielded questions about whether three companies with four pipelines running through Placitas are sharing information with the county about what might happen with a catastrophic spill or fire.

“There is a plan,” Bervin said. “It’s not a little black-box thing. They do cooperate with us.”

A table-top training exercise was scheduled for late September with Western Refining, he said. Western recently revived a 58-year-old pipeline to transport crude oil from the Farmington area to El Paso, Texas, by way of Placitas and southeastern New Mexico.

Terrorism concerns restrict what can be released publicly, he continued, although one audience member wondered why ES-CA couldn’t get information on pipeline contents and controls even with sensitive material blacked out. Bervin said that information is being shared with county emergency management.

ES-CA Vice President Ed Majka said the organization is working on pipeline issues and pressing for more monitoring and shut-off valves to limit any spills. ES-CA could use more community support on this and other issues, he added.

Bervin said evacuation routes remain an issue in Placitas whether it relates to wildfire or other emergencies given State Road 165 is the only highway out of the community.

“I have to say there are neighborhoods up there where that is an issue,” Bervin told a resident of northwestern Placitas. “We can’t come up with a plan because there are no alternatives.”

The county has looked at installing crash gates on currently closed roads between neighborhoods that could open in an emergency and is looking at “back door” routes—Camino Manzano and Petroglyph Trail on the west and Diamond Tail Road on the east—that might serve as alternatives to NM 165, he said.

Bervin also plugged Code RED, the county’s emergency-notification telephone system that alerts residents to trouble

Landline phones already are in the system, and cell phones, text messages, and email can be added by going to and navigating to the Public Safety section, he said.

Significant marijuana grow found in recent Placitas home invation incident
Photo credit: —Sandoval County Sheriff’s Department

Gunshot death leads to marijuana grow in Placitas

Signpost Staff

A fatal shooting Placitas residents first feared might be a random home invasion turned out not to be so simple. Instead, the investigation into the death of an armed intruder led to the discovery of a large amount of cash and a “significant illegal indoor marijuana grow operation,” Sandoval County Sheriff’s Office reported two days after the September 16 incident.

Undersheriff Karl Wiese told the Signpost that SCSO released more case details as quickly as possible to allay concerns the burglars who target Placitas had escalated to violent break-ins while residents are home.

Statements released by sheriff’s Lt. Keith Elder gave this account of what happened at the home off State Road 165 near mile marker 9:

Early on that Wednesday morning a man later identified as James Garcia, 31, entered the home while wearing black clothing and a mask and carrying multiple weapons including a handgun. Homeowner Mark Richardson, 59, told investigators Garcia assaulted him, and a struggle took place in the living room during which multiple shots were fired.

Richardson, who was not hit by bullets, was able to wrestle the gun away from Garcia and shoot his assailant. The sheriff’s office has not said whether Garcia, an Albuquerque resident, died at the scene or later.

Richardson was taken to the University of New Mexico Sandoval Regional Hospital for treatment of injuries his attorney said included a gash on his head and a broken hand. The attorney also said Richardson did not know Garcia and that the shooting was clearly self-defense.

The time of the incident was not released, but a neighbor told an Albuquerque TV station he heard sirens around 4:00 a.m. Investigators obtained a search warrant for Richardson’s home finding the cash, grow equipment, and more than two hundred marijuana plants, according Elder.

Richardson’s attorney Richard Cravens didn’t respond to a request for comment from the Signpost. He did, however, tell the Albuquerque Journal his client is a medical-marijuana patient, licensed to grow plants, although he didn’t know if the license covered that many.

Under law and regulations governing the state Medical Cannabis Program, patients can possess up to four mature marijuana plants, 12 immature plants and, within a given three-month period, ten ounces of harvested and consumable marijuana. Licensed producers supplying cannabis clinics were growing an average of 193 plants during the second quarter of 2015, according to an August report from the New Mexico Department of Health.

More than 22,000 patients bought marijuana during the quarter with the average purchase being just under one ounce, NMDOH reported.

Cravens added to the few details in the official news releases telling the Journal that Garcia broke into the home through a window, fired one shot at Richardson and that Richardson used his cane to knock the gun out of Garcia’s hand. Richardson does not own any guns of his own, the attorney said.

While no information has been released on Garcia’s motive, the second statement from the sheriff’s office described the intrusion as an apparent robbery.

As of the Signpost deadline, the investigation was still continuing. Richardson had not been charged with any crimes related to the shooting or the indoor pot farm.

Artwork illustrating the Spanish caste system
Photo credit:—Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

New Mexican identity and the Spanish Empire at the beginning of the Seventeenth Century

—Matthew J. Barbour, Manager, Jemez Historic Site

New Mexico was settled by the Spanish in 1598. Not surprisingly, many New Mexico residents have Spanish surnames and ancestry. However, exactly what that means is often more complicated than initially suspected. Most residents, if asked to point to the place of their family’s origin, would point to Madrid or Seville in the central and southern reaches of the Iberian Peninsula. They may speak of Castilian or Aragonese blood. This certainly could be the case. Yet, the Spanish Empire sprawled across much of the known world. Only the continents of Australia (that would come in 1606) and Antarctica did not contain any Spanish landholdings in 1598.

In Europe, Spanish control went well beyond Castile and Aragon. Under the Iberian Union, Portugal was also ruled by the Spanish Crown. This included Portuguese landholdings throughout Africa and Asia, such as Ceylon and Mozambique. Then there were the Italian Kingdoms (which included Milan, Naples, Sardinia, Sicily, Sienna), the Seventeen Provinces of the Spanish Netherlands (portions of modern-day Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxemburg, and northeastern France), and the Spanish Crown’s holdings in France proper (Franche Comte and Charolais). These are without even considering that the Spanish King was also a Hapsburg. The Hapsburg family ruled Bohemia (the modern day Czech Republic), the Holy Roman Empire, Hungary, and Croatia. Spanish King Charles I (who was at the time also Holy Roman Emperor Charles V) was once quoted to have said: “I speak Spanish to God, Italian to women, French to men, and German to my horse.”

Spanish landholdings in Africa were not limited to those managed by the Portuguese either. After the Battle of Lepanto in 1571, Spain was largely recognized as the dominant military force in the Mediterranean. Their victory against the Turks had given them control over many of North Africa’s major ports. This control would fluctuate with Ottoman suzerainty and the financial stability of the Spanish Crown, but would play a major role in military endeavors and the administration of Sicily and Naples.

Landholdings in Asia were equally impressive. While colonies exclusive to the Portuguese were widely dispersed throughout the Indian subcontinent, both Portuguese and their Castilian/ Aragonese brothers also set up colonies throughout Southeast Asia. It may surprise some to learn that the name of the Philippines comes from King Philip II of Spain. By 1600, these colonies in Southeast Asia were flourishing. Direct trade occurred with ports as far north as Japan and Korea.

However, most of the land controlled by the Spanish Crown was located in the New World. There was Brazil, eventually divided into the states of Maranhao and Brasil, which came with Portugal and the Iberian Union. This colony was largely coastal and relied heavily on African labor from Spain’s Old World Colonies. Then there was Viceroyalties of New Spain and Peru. The Viceroyalty of Peru would eventually be split twice to form the Viceroyalties of New Granada and Rio de la Plata. These colonial holdings were remarkably different from that of Brazil in that both were founded through the conquest and assumption of power from large complex states, specifically the Aztec (New Spain) and Inca (Peru) Empires.

It is from the Viceroyalty of New Spain that most of New Mexico’s settlers would hail. While these people self-identified as Spanish, they represented a mix of both Native American and European cultures. Most have their roots in ancestors born in New Spain to a combination of espanoles (Spaniards) and indios (Indians). These people were known in the Spanish caste system as mestizos (even mix), castizos (mostly European), and cholos (mostly Indian—now has a derogatory connotation).

New Mexico’s settlers are children of a colonial adventure that had started nearly a century before with the coming of Columbus. They bore Spanish surnames. Their grandfathers and fathers were certainly European, but with the absence of Spanish women had intermarried with the Native American peoples of Mesoamerica. Their language, while tentatively Spanish, now included many words from Nahuatl—the lingua franca of the Aztec Empire. Their diet was a mix of Old World (lamb, wheat, grapes, etc.) and New World (buffalo, corn, squash, etc.) foods. Their clothing consisted of cotton (New World) and wool (Old World) and their family dishware was an odd assortment of Aztec redwares and Spanish majolica.

While there is some truth to New Mexico residents’ claims of Castilian and Aragonese ancestry, it ignores the more cosmopolitan aspects of the Spanish Empire, which extend across much of the known world. Moreover, it disregards the colonial history and cultural complexion of New Spain at the time of New Mexico’s settlement. One could argue that Española and Santa Fe are as much Aztec as Spanish outposts. This is not a negative. Diversity is to be celebrated, but it also provides a cautionary note. Cultural identity is often overly simplified to mask a complex and nuanced origin.

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