Remarks by U.S. Attorney Damon P. Martinez on the Occasion of his Investiture as the 45th U.S. Attorney for the District of New Mexico
Chief Judge [M. Christina] Armijo, Judges of our United States District Court. May it please the Court. Good afternoon.
Chief Judge Armijo, on behalf of the Department of Justice, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Mexico and myself, thank you for permitting us to hold this ceremony in the U.S. Courthouse. Thank you also, Chief Judge Armijo, for presiding over this investiture ceremony.
Your Honors, being familiar with the Court’s crushing work load, I am very grateful to each of you for taking the time to be here.
Judge [James A.] Parker, thank you administering the Oath of Office to me. I asked Judge Parker to do me this honor because he was one of the first judges I appeared before as a young Assistant U.S. Attorney. Since then, I have viewed him as a person who is gracious, courteous and respectful to all who appear before him regardless of status or stature.
General Andrew Salas, thank you for being here and for the privilege of having the New Mexico National Guard’s Honor Guard present the colors. They are the citizen soldiers of New Mexico, and they represent the best of our proud military tradition.
Ross and Kristin Daugherty, thank you for performing here this afternoon. Ross and I, together with more than 400 other New Mexicans, were deployed with the New Mexico National Guard to Sinai, Egypt, in 2012. On Friday afternoons during that deployment, we had religious services and during those services I learned that Ross was the only one amongst us who could carry a tune. He had a voice I could only describe as “angelic,” and I began to look forward to Friday afternoons because hearing Ross sing made New Mexico seem a little closer to me. Today is the first time I have heard Ross sing since we left the Sinai. Thank you, Ross and Kristin.
Senator [Tom] Udall, you and Senator [Martin] Heinrich recommended me to the President of the United States, the leader of the free world, for this position. In essence, you vouched for me and I am eternally grateful for your confidence in me. I know that I have a great responsibility to uphold and I will do my best to live up to the trust you have placed in me.
Senator Udall, it is a great honor to have you here today. Thank you for your kind remarks today, and for also setting an example which I have never forgotten. When you were the Attorney General for New Mexico and I worked for you as an Assistant Attorney General, I wrote an advisory letter to a city here in the State that ended up on the front page of the local paper. Several days later, an editorial criticized you for my advisory letter. When I saw you the following week, I apologized to you for the criticism you had received. In response, you asked me if I had applied the appropriate case law and conducted the proper analysis. I said I did. You then asked me if I had run it by my supervisor and did he approve it. And I said I did. You then said, “You have nothing to worry about.” That incident made an impression on me that has guided my career and this is the tone I intend to set at the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
I am now into my fifth month as U.S. Attorney. This ceremony was postponed until now because, at the beginning of my tenure, we had to focus our energies on important matters in our community rather than this ceremony. It has become apparent to me, however, that the community needs to know – to the extent that I can talk about them – the priorities of the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The community also needs to know that, particularly in times of budget constraints, it is important that the U.S. Attorney’s Office maintain and strengthen partnerships with other members of the DOJ community in order to better serve our community.
Civil rights are a priority for the Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney’s Office here in New Mexico. [Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division] Molly Moran’s presence here today is a testament to the Justice Department’s commitment to civil rights and the Department’s commitment to working with this community. Thank you, Molly, for not only being here today, but also for the great partnership our offices have enjoyed as they work together.
As most of you are aware, the Department of Justice is in the process of negotiating a court-enforceable agreement with the City of Albuquerque to reform the Albuquerque Police Department. From the day DOJ released the findings of its investigation into APD, I have continuously stated that the vast majority of our officers are honorable public servants who risk their safety and well-being for the public good every day. I have said this because it is true. Nevertheless, there exist real systemic problems within APD that urgently need to be addressed. I am confident that we soon will reach an agreement that will provide the blueprint for reforming APD and that will result in constitutional policing while giving our officers the support they need to fight crime effectively.
In addressing this matter, we know what the answer to the question is. The difficult part will be in finding the courage to reach that answer. The answer is “trust.” Our police officers have to trust that the community supports them. And our community has to trust that our police officers are properly trained and are acting in the interests of keeping us safe.
Here with us today are representatives from many sectors of our community who have important stakes in the reform process: Mayor Richard Berry, Council President Ken Sanchez, Chief Gorden Eden and Assistant Chief Robert Huntsman, Stephanie Lopez and Shaun Willoughby who are the President and Vice President of the Albuquerque Police Officers Association, Jewel Hall of the Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial Center, Peter Simonson of the ACLU of New Mexico and APD Forward, community advocates Maria Bautista, Nyira Gitana and John Cordova, Bro. Gerard and Bro. Charles, who work with the homeless, and all of you.
We also are joined by Steve and Renetta Torres, who lost their son Christopher Torres to an APD officer involved shooting in April 2011.
Since we are altogether here today, let me tell you about a major step that has already been taken in establishing that trust. On May 9, 2014, about a month after DOJ released its findings on APD, I sat in on a meeting that included Mayor Berry and Steve Torres. During that meeting, Steve Torres offered his assistance to the Mayor and said he stood ready to help in reforming the APD. When I asked Steve Torres if I could share that story today, Steve said yes, he said, “My son would have wanted me to do this.”
In moving forward, I ask that we keep Steve Torres’ incredibly moving gesture as the beacon by which we navigate. If Steve Torres can do it, then we should all be willing to take that first step towards rebuilding the foundation of trust between our police officers and our community that is essential for effective, productive law enforcement.
As many of you know, this APD matter is civil in nature and so we have had no law enforcement agency assigned to assist us. When we have required assistance, the U.S. Marshals Service has readily stepped up. Thank you, Marshal [Conrad] Candelaria for the invaluable support you and your Deputies continue to provide.
Because of where our State is located, we have a had comprehensive border strategy which has traditionally focused on the investigation and prosecution of immigration and drug crimes.
When it comes to immigration-related crime, the heart of our prosecution strategy focuses on those who are illegally in this country after having been deported and who have committed violent crimes or other serious felonies, like a murder or rape. We do this with our Homeland Security partners, the U.S. Border Patrol and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
When it comes to our drug prosecution strategy, we regularly partner with DEA, represented here by Special Agent in Charge Will Glaspy, HSI, represented by Assistant Special Agent in Charge Kevin Abar, and IRS, represented by Supervisory Special Agent Chris Wajda, as well as our many other federal, state and local partners as we target major drug trafficking organizations.
Our border strategy, however, cannot be limited to taking on immigration and drug crimes. When we act to secure our border, we also help secure our nation’s security. Over the last four months, we have complemented our border strategy by adding a third component and establishing a national security/anti-terrorism section to the office. We must never forget that on June 3, 1945, right here in Albuquerque and just a few blocks away, the plans the first atomic bomb were turned over to Russian agents in exchange for $500. This understanding of history will inform the new section as it focuses on issues important to our national labs, the businesses that support the labs, and our military installations, and looks for effective ways of better protecting our national security as well as our country’s sensitive technology and information.
I want to thank Special Agent in Charge Carol Lee of the FBI, Director Gil Guaderrama of Transportation Security Administration, and Resident Agent in Charge Richard Ferretti of the Secret Service for their important efforts on the national security front.
Unfortunately our drugs problems are not limited to the border. New Mexico has long grappled with an epidemic of heroin and prescription drug abuse. On a per capita basis, we lead the nation in both heroin and prescription drug overdose deaths. Fortunately, many in our community are committed to taking on this serious problem, including Bernalillo County Commissioner Maggie Hart Stebbins who established the Bernalillo County Opioid Initiative. We will collaborate with that initiative and we have agreed in principle with Chancellor [Paul] Roth from the [University of New Mexico] Medical School to participate in a coordinated State wide effort to address this problem.
We will continue our “worst of the worst” anti-violence initiative. Under this initiative, we work with New Mexico’s District Attorneys and state, local and tribal law enforcement officers to target those criminals in our communities who commit a disproportionate amount of the crime. ATF, represented here by Assistant Special Agent in Charge Mark Murray, is the bedrock for this initiative. A number of our local partners in this initiative, including New Mexico State Police Chief Pete Kassetas, are also here.
District Attorney Francesca Estevez from Deming and District Attorney Mark D’Antonio from Las Cruces, thank you both for being here today, and for partnering with us on the “worst of the worst” initiative. To strengthen our bonds with the District Attorneys around the State and to enhance this program, we have launched a new initiative that contemplates designating a limited number of Assistant District Attorneys as Special Assistant U.S. Attorneys. These Special Assistant U.S. Attorneys will serve not only as a symbolic bridge between our offices but will also enable our District Attorneys to help us identify the “worst of the worst” in their communities for federal prosecution.
Cabinet Secretary Greg Myers of the New Mexico Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management also joins us here today. Secretary Myers is in the process of re-building New Mexico’s “fusion center.” Secretary, it is important that you succeed in this mission. It is important for our state, county, local and tribal officers to have one place from which to receive important information and one place to send information so law enforcement efforts can be enhanced and properly coordinated. Your efforts will assist officers like San Juan County Sheriff Ken Christesen, Santa Fe Police Chief Eric Garcia, and Chief Kendall Vicenti of the Jicarilla Apache Nation. A viable “fusion center” will help make our law enforcement officers’ jobs easier and safer, and we are pleased to be assisting Secretary Myers in achieving that goal.
New Mexico is home to 22 Indian tribes and the U.S. Attorney’s Office is proud of the work at it does with each one of these tribes. When he was U.S. Attorney, [U.S. District] Judge [Kenneth] Gonzalez created and implemented an Indian Country Crimes Section and he left a proud legacy when it comes to bringing justice to New Mexico’s Indian Country. At a minimum, it is now my responsibility to continue that legacy and hopefully to build upon it. Because many of our tribes are small and because of jurisdictional limitations, our tribal governments often do not have the capability to prosecute cases arising from their communities. This means that the Indian Country Crimes Section must prosecute some very difficult cases from these communities. If we do not prosecute these difficult cases – cases ranging from murder to child sexual assaults to serious assaults – they will not be not be prosecuted at all. So we take on these tough cases, and we do so in partnership with the BIA, FBI and our tribal police departments and with the full support of our tribal leaders, including Governor Gil L. Vigil of the Eight Northern Indian Pueblos Council and President Ty Vicenti of the Jicarilla Apache Nation.
We will continue our pro-active outreach to our tribal communities. We have partnered with BIA to train tribal, local and state law enforcement officers so that they could be cross-commissioned by the BIA. This past year, almost 200 officers were cross-commissioned by the BIA. This is a force multiplier that enhances public safety in our tribal communities. We also will continue to have outreach with our Native American youth to emphasize the importance of education and the perils of getting involved with drugs, gangs, violence and firearms.
At the beginning of our ceremony, Lt. Governor [Antonio] Chewiwi from the Pueblo of Isleta delivered our invocation in Tewa, one of the languages of our Pueblo people. Lt. Governor Chewiwi, thank you for honoring us with your prayer and thank you for also being a leader in a new initiative being launched by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the Pueblo of Isleta, and our Project Safe Neighborhoods Task Force. We will be implementing a reentry pilot program by the end of the year that focuses on tribal members who are being released from jail and transitioning back to pueblo life. It will focus on providing cultural and spiritual support and substance abuse treatment. A major goal will be to ensure that the basics of housing, food, transportation, and employment are met so that those who are reentering the Pueblo can focus on a future free from the problems that have plagued them in their pasts.
There are a couple more priorities I want to highlight today and those involve the outstanding work of our civil attorneys. U.S. Attorney’s Offices throughout the country have at least one “Affirmative Civil Enforcement” attorney who is charged with filing civil lawsuits on behalf of the United States to recover government money lost to fraud, waste and abuse. We have increased the resources in this area with the goal of identifying more of the fraud that is occurring at the taxpayers’ expense and returning that money to the government’s coffers.
We also have ramped up our affirmative environmental work with partners like the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Forest Service and the Department of Agriculture because it is important that we preserve and protect our natural resources not only for our use and enjoyment now, but also for our future generations.
Before I close, I want to acknowledge a good friend of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, someone who represents an essential part of our criminal justice system, Steve McCue, the Federal Public Defender for the District of New Mexico. We all know that effective legal representation for all persons charged with crimes is critical to safeguarding justice and fairness in the criminal process. Thank you, Steve, for being here today.
In closing, I want to thank the women and men of the U.S. Attorney’s Office. They are hardworking, dedicated public servants, and they are the reason why the Office is able to take on all that I have talked about today. Let me give you a couple of examples who they are.
On Wednesday, the Attorney General recognized Glynette Carson McNabb in Washington, D.C., for exceptional service in Indian Country. Glynette supervises the Indian Country Crimes Section for the Office. From across the country, the Attorney General recognized only one person in this category this year. This tells you about the caliber of Glynette’s work, and the attorneys and support staff who work with her.
As another example, last year when I supervised the Organized Crime Section, I called an attorney on a Sunday afternoon and asked him a question concerning a matter that had just come up and required immediate attention. That attorney responded by coming into the office on that Sunday afternoon, working through the night, working through the day on Monday, and then into the night and did not leave until 3:00 a.m. on Tuesday, after he made sure that the matter was addressed. This is the type of teamwork and dedication the people I work with exhibit.
I have many friends here today. Some I have known since childhood, some I know from schools, and others from working together. Understanding that some of you have traveled great distances to be here today, I want to thank each one of you. Thank you for your friendship, your support, and your inspiration.
I also want to thank my mom Carmen, my wife Holly, my sons, and the rest of my family. Thank you for your support.
Your Honors, I know that the U.S. Attorney’s Office here in New Mexico has built up a reservoir of good will with the Court as the result of previous generations of U.S. Attorneys and Assistant U.S. Attorneys who have practiced before you. With this knowledge, I realize that it is now my responsibility to make sure that when we appear before you, as officers of the Court, we must always accurately represent the law, be fair to the facts, and speak candidly to the Court.
Thank you for the great honor of being able to appear before you.