El Mitote, Culture, Politics, and Evidence?

By: Bill Whaley
15 August, 2018


As Taosenos squirm under the bright lights of national media attention, the social media response to the “Amalia Bust” of “child abuse” illustrates the disconnect between the culture of law enforcement and the local commentators as well as deep-seated prejudice, fostered by the Trump administration about “Muslims.”

First, the Taos County Sheriff’s office should be congratulated for the peaceful apprehension of adults and removal of children to foster care. Despite the presence of weapons and ammunition, an AR 15 close at hand, nobody was shot or injured in the bust. The children are being fed and housed by hospitable Taosenos.

Second, Judge Sarah Backus at a bail hearing courageously followed the evidence presented by the TCSO and DA’s office and decided on the “facts” as opposed to “hearsay” about preparations for a school shooting. She disallowed the notion of “prejudice against black Muslims” to allow release of four adults on ankle monitors (once the three women and male find a place to live). Sleazy or slum-like living conditions are not a crime unless criminal negligence can be proved.

The States Children, Youth and Family Department acted promptly as mentioned above to remedy the children’s plight. (Two of the children are being housed and fed by a local family, attended “Church” on Sunday, and are getting a course in comparative religion.)

The chief miscreant, due to a warrant from Georgia, remains in jail while the OMI analyzes the remains of the child in question. Apparently, one of the women is being held as an illegal immigrant from Haiti on a warrant from ICE. These are not the first visitors and residents to follow “cult” leaders or engage in unseemly living conditions. Some of us can tell stories about the last fifty years wherein primitive living conditions and the occasional guru exploited his flock in Taos County.

While the TCSO acquitted themselves honorably in the apprehension of the suspects, Sheriff Hogrefe’s awkward remarks about “extremists” added fuel to the fires of El Mitote. Is a Muslim worse than a hippie, a Mesa Rat, or the member of an addled sex cult, all of which fuel the fires of scandal over the years? Further, the social-media critics seem unfamiliar with TCSO’s investigations and the DA’s frequent mis-steps in high profile robbery and murder cases, both charged and uncharged.

More troubling in the current case of the Amalia Bust concerns the land-owners “prior police calls,” according to a story by KOB’s Ryan Laughlin about “The Badgers (Jason and Tanya) [who]even kept the receipt, showing they paid $74 to have a sheriff hand-deliver the summons to Morton, which happened on June 18.

`That means a uniformed officer was here and knew someone was living in this filth,’ Jason Badger said. `We went to court and that’s when it got thrown out. Dismissed. Even though Lucas didn’t show up.’

“The eviction process was stalled, seemingly permanently. Badger said the judge dismissed the claim because it was a matter of criminal trespass, not a civil suit. Thus, the Badgers were supposed to take the complaint to district court and state police.

`We did that,’ the Badgers said. “That’s when we called New Mexico state troopers; he came out. Officer B. Donis came out and gave us, after all this, he said, ‘We can’t touch it.’ And I said, ‘I still want it. A case opened that we tried to get these people off.'”

“The Badgers say state police arrived and talked to Morton; that officer would have been the second uniformed officer to see those living conditions firsthand.”

As has been reported, the FBI allegedly surveilled the property, the TCSO and State Police knew about the conditions, but none acted until Holgrefe and his deputies got wind of a “text” as “probable cause” from out of state about starving children. I guess they believed the “text” as opposed to their “lying eyes.”

As Taosenos know, landlord-tenant cases and criminal trespass require complex proof in Magistrate Court to reach an appropriate conclusion. Further, the outlaw culture of the West Mesa, where residents, historically, have resisted cops, ambulances, and the fire department have made it dangerous for first responders. Similarly, the pursuit of the “paper trail” or documentation of criminal evidence is not one of meritorious areas of Taos Criminal procedure. One never knows whether “incompetence” or “conspiracy” will prevail as cultural marker in court.

Still “tragedy” was averted. The alleged “kidnapper” of the child, who has been described as a kind of dysfunctional cult leader, is in jail. The children are being cared for. At a press conference, a Muslim man asked Secretary Jacobson of CYFD if the grandparents could apply to the department to retrieve their children. She replied in the affirmative. Let us hope that the grandparents, children, and families can be reunited.

The perfect storm of catchwords, “Muslim” “Media,” and “Children” has created an over-blown tempest in a teapot. Let us be thankful that the TCSO acted, however belatedly and that the judge resisted political prejudice in the midst of the media storm, the outrageous statements from the Governor (who appointed her) and tweets from the NRA, who make it possible for everyone to legally arm themselves by dropping by Walmart.

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