Monday, March 31, 2008

Feds wreck havoc with City Police then walk away.

On Friday Night I received several calls letting me know that the federal govenment had dropped all charges against former Santa Fe police detective-sergeant Steve Altonji. As I spoke to several individuals involved either peripherally or some what directly over the weekend I can't help but wonder what the federal government was thinking. In May of 2007 The F.B.I. filed charges and searched the homes of two of Santa Fe City Police Detectives. There was a number of leaks of information in the weeks leading up to the charges as well as afterwards regarding the case. The F.B.I. seemed to have no trouble leaking information to the press yet would not release information to the agency heads at the City Police Department. The Police Chief, not knowing for sure who was involved and how strong the case was had no choice but to suspend narcotics investigations in the city.

This created an increase in narcotics and burglary cases that plagued the city and stretched out into the county and even surrounding counties. We all had to deal with the repocutions of these cases. So the federal government comes in, spreads around huge allegations. They file 24 felony counts against these detectives, and refuses to cooperate with agency heads allowing them to make informed decisions regarding the agency they head. Then a year later they drop all but one count against one detective and work out a deal with the other in which he agrees to not be a cop in New Mexico and they just walk away. Considering that the federal government already filed a motion in court which says they do not have enough evidence to prosecute these cases, what was their bargaining chip and what is the hammer they hold over the head of Steve Altonjie to make him give up his career as a cop in New Mexico? The only thing they possibly had was the fact that Steve probably wanted to just end the whole thing and make it all go away. So he agrees to give up his career in New Mexico as an officer.

The truth probably is, What Career? With their slash and burn tactics the feds had already ruined the careers of these two detectives and even when you look at the one charge that Detective Danny Ramirez plead guilty for, and his explanation verses the federal governments explanation, there is still much to suspect about whether Detective Rameriz was really guilty of anything. I have to admit when I first read the indictments (read them here) the purported evidence seemed insurmountable. But the truth seems to be that the federal government threw together a bunch of circumstantial evidence and filed the cases in court before anything could be proven. This is very amateurish in the sense of what a good prosecutor and law enforcement agency should do and seems to have been designed to put enormous pressure on the two detectives to just take the easy way out and plead guilty to something rather than face the costs and pressure of going to court.

This is not the way our system of justice is supposed to work. When charges are filed you should have enough evidence to present a case to a jury. Granted their is always extra work that may need to be done prior to trial but you do not file charges and hope the defendant takes a plea and you don't ever have to prove your case. I am embarrassed by the way this was handled. The Federal Government has come into Santa Fe, blew through the City Police Department like a tornado, left the city to pick up the pieces and walked away. Someone in the federal government should have to answer to the way these cases were handled. I call on our congressional representatives to look into this matter and see who dropped the ball and hold them accountable.

If these detectives were guilty the public deserves to have them held accountable. If they were innocent they are owed their lives and their careers back.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

KOAT TV has interview with Deputy Shot in Lincoln County

KOAT TV had an interview last night with Sergeant Robert Shepard of Lincoln County Sheriff's Office. Sergeant Shepard was shot by a fugitive on March 18, 2008. It was very emotional for me to watch and Sergeant Shepard showed what a great man he is when he makes a point of wishing condolences to the family of Kurt Sohrbeck the man who shot him. Kurt Sohrbeck was killed yesterday 3-26-08 when he was found in Otero County. I am glad to see Sergeant Shepard is doing better and my family's prayers continue to be with him and his family. I also thank god that the Otero County Deputy who confronted Sohrbeck survived the encounter and made it home to his family.

There is a saying in law enforcement that sounds harsh but is implanted in the back of every cops mind. "It is better to be judged by 12 than carried by eight."

Record blog visits since posting Toby, Ted, Rodney and Me.

The last two days the visits to this blog have more than doubled. Seems this blog was mentioned in the forums of both Toby Keith and Ted Nugent's Web sites. You must become fan club members in order to access the forums so I did not get to see the actual posts. My counter keeps track of how people find this blog and most hits in the last two days have come from their forums. Normally I get 60-70 hits a day to my blog. Yesterday I received 240 hits and today we are over 140 so far. I guess we need to have more celebrity guests on this blog! LOL.

Toby Keith gets sworn in as a deputy.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Toby, Ted, Rodney and Me.

Its appropriate that the title of this post sounds like a country music song. Its about my day with Toby Keith, Ted Nugent, and Rodney Carrington. The three along with Claire Forlani, ("CSI: NY"), country icon Willie Nelson, Barry Corbin, ("No Country For Old Men," "Dukes of Hazzard"), and Tom Skerritt ("Brothers and Sisters") were filming the movie "Beer for my Horses" in Santa Fe.

As has become usual for Santa Fe, The Sheriff's Office provided security and traffic control for the movie, paid for by the production company at over time rates. I visited the set and Ted Nugent, Toby Keith, and Rodney Carrington joined Burt Reynolds, Adam Sandler, and Chris Rock as honorary deputies in Santa Fe County. I had lunch on the set and watched some set up for the nights filming. It was a lot of fun and I thank the stars and the staff on the set for treating me like a star.

Ted Nugent and myself on the set of Beer for my Horses.

Toby Keith getting sworn in by Sheriff Greg Solano as a Honorary Deputy

Rodney Carrington and I strike a pose.

The Nuge signs an autograph for me.

Some may remember that Toby Keith gave Barry Switzer a friend and supporter of mine a signed guitar for my Re-election campaign. We raffled the guitar off at a fund raiser which was attended by Barry Switzer, former Oklahoma University and Dallas Cowboy head coach, who mingled with the crowd and signed autographs.

This last weekend Ted Nugent (his honorary commission says Theodore Nugent) called my cell phone and expressed his prayers for Deputy Robert Shepard of Lincoln County. Deputy Shepard was shot by a fugitive on March 18, 2008 and is in an El Paso Hospital fighting for his life. Ted said he wants to be back in New Mexico in a few weeks and would like to visit the Deputy. I am sure all of law enforcement appreciates Ted's support.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Minds Interrupted: Stories of Lives Affected by Mental Illness

On March 15, 2008 I took part in Minds Interrupted: Stories of Lives Affected by Mental Illness. It was an evening of monologues featuring stories of people affected by mental illness. The pieces included performances by people both with a diagnosis of mental illness as well as family members living with this disease. The event was produced by the Santa Fe Chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness and Project Life Stories. It was interesting from a writing perspective because other than this blog most of my writing has been fiction. It was one thing to write the monologue but performing it became an emotional event. I still choked up a little when I got to the part where my mother passed away. The house was sold out and all the monologues were inspirational. Those who are afflicted with mental illnesses were particularly inspirational and their bravery in standing up and telling their stories was indescribable. It was one of those things that you just had to be there. Here is my monologue.

He was a Marine, through and through. Although as a child the movie Rambo with Sylvester Stallone had not yet been written it could have been the story of my uncle. He was a large man with a serious look and a stone chiseled face. Vietnam had made him into the man he was, yet unlike Rambo he was intelligent. Always reading a book, sometimes a dictionary or a bible. Many times even after his tour of duty ended he still read army manuals. Books about infiltrating enemy camps or out thinking the enemy on the battlefield. After Vietnam his intelligent side kicked in. He went to work for defense contractor McDonnell Douglas building bombs and missiles. Still contributing to the war effort. At the time he was the successful one in the family. The one with the nicest house and the pool in the backyard. He lived near Los Angeles with a wife, two young girls and what appeared to the rest of us as a perfect life.

I was about 14 or 15 when I first realized things had changed. I soon learned that after Vietnam my uncle came back with addictions. Addictions to marijuana and alcohol. While he was functional for many years eventually it caught up with him. He lost his job, and then his wife, the house with the pool came next. By the time my mother got involved he was deep into a mental illness that turned him from the most successful Solano to the homeless Solano. That's when he arrived at our house. For the most part he still looked like the big strong marine. He even still walked around with large books, reading intensely as he walked back and forth in the front yard. He often would lift large boulders and carry them back and forth across the yard as a way of keeping physically fit. It was only when you looked into his eyes that you first realized something was wrong. When you looked into his eyes it was as though the soul was no longer there. He was not the uncle I grew up with. He was someone else. In some ways it was only the shell of the man I once knew. Did anyone notice I have been referring to my
uncle in the past tense for the last few paragraphs? I only just now noticed it. He was a marine, he had a nice home, he was married, etc, etc. I guess it’s because all this was pre-mental illness. Its as though he died, only he didn't, he is still around today. Just not the man he once was.

My mother worked two and three jobs to raise her two boys and two girls. A single mother who was intent on keeping her family off welfare. I remember as a young boy going to the grocery store and paying with coupons, food stamps. No fancy debit cards like today, In those days you separated the food and non food items, pulled out your book of food stamps and payed with the different denominations. Everyone in line knew that you were paying with food stamps. My mother hated it; I could see it on her face every time we went to the store. Now we had another mouth to feed, my uncle, her brother. My mother tried to get help for my uncle. He had been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. PTSD was a new thing in those days although it really existed for centuries. In World War I it was called shell shocked, Later Combat Fatigue, now PTSD. Different names, same ruined lives. He received medications which seemed to work, when he took them. He would go though bouts of getting better only to go though bouts of drinking and not his taking medications. The cycle ended with him going to jail. Jail, for those of you who don't have immediate family members with mental illness combined with drug and or alcohol addictions, is where we send our ill family members. That is where they stay until a bed opens up in a short term treatment facility.

The more my mother learned about his illness the more she wanted to help, not just my uncle but others as well, the future mentally ill who maybe could be saved before they lost it all. One of my mother’s jobs was with the State of New Mexico as a clerk at the Department of Motor Vehicles. While working for the state she learned of a state funded program called Sangre De Cristo Mental Health. A small clinic which was trying to provide outpatient treatment for those with mental illness. She applied for and received a job there, first as a secretary and later she progressed to a case worker. All while armed with nothing more than a high school diploma. While making mental illness her job, she still kept working to help others outside of work. At one time she traveled to Washington DC to learn about a new group called the National Alliance on Mentally Illness. Her travel companions and her returned to Santa Fe and began forming the local chapter. Meanwhile my uncle was still in and out of jail. Most of the time he was arrested for Protective Custody or Public Drunkenness. With no other place to take those intoxicated or mentally ill, police could only take them to jail. My mother next began work on a sobering center. A place where the intoxicated could be taken to sober up, get treatment and get back on their medications. A very early edition of the Newspaper the Santa Fe reporter chronicled her attempts to make the sobering center a reality. I was now 21 years old, just married and beginning a family of my own. I had moved into my own small, actually really, really, small mobile home with my new wife.

I remember the phone ringing in the middle of the night. You know one of those wake you up in the middle of the night calls that can never be good news. I reached over for the phone and it was one of my uncles. One who hardly ever called me. My mother was dead. She had taken a van load of staff from Sangre De Cristo Mental Health to a seminar in Taos. She dropped them off and then headed back down the canyon. The theory is that she swerved to avoid a boulder in the road, lost control
and went off the cliff above the Rio Grande. My life was never the same. My uncles only got worse. While family member after family member tried to care for my uncle no one could get the cooperation from him my mother could. His daughter moved to Santa Fe just to care for him. This ended in frustration and despair. Today you can still see my uncle, you can catch him at the St. Johns food Kitchen for lunch. You can also find him walking Cerrillos Road in Santa Fe. He refuses to live with
anyone and seems to be complacent living on the streets. He hardly recognizes me or anyone else.

Sangre De Cristo Mental Health closed down a few years after my mother died. Other Mental Health Centers have also come and gone. Those with mental illness still go to jail awaiting a bed in a mental health inpatient facility. Twenty three years after my mother began efforts to open a sobering center, the center came to fruition. The joint City, county sobering center opened last year. I am a conglomeration of my experiences growing up. The struggle my mother went through with my uncle and his mental illness taught me a lot about love and devotion. My uncle’s illness became my mother’s life. Her career developed out of her efforts to support him. In a way her death came in the same manner. While I can’t say that I began a career in law enforcement because of these experiences, they have definitely shaped my policies and issues. I can never forget seeing my uncle go from the most successful in the family to the homeless one in the family. I will always remember the love, devotion and sacrifice my mother endured for her brother. As I write this I struggled for a way to end this monologue and then I realized my family still struggles with my uncle’s illness and we pray for his safety while grasping for answers. There is yet no end to this story.