A Democratic district attorney in New Mexico is defending her decision to allow almost every rioter in a Santa Fe case to remain free under a concept known as “restorative justice,” according to local reports.
DA Mary Carmack-Altwies, who oversees three counties that include Santa Fe, wants to see seven of eight defendants go into a probationary program ahead of potential prosecution for allegedly destroying a 152-year-old obelisk in October, the Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper noted.
Altwies reportedly described their cases as part of “a political problem that got forced upon the criminal justice system,” a line of reasoning that has drawn heavy criticism.
“It was my promise upon assuming this position that our office would do our best to divert non-violent and first-time offenders from costly and unnecessary incarceration,” the DA said in a statement. “The Obelisk case defendants meet the criteria I set out for diversionary programming. We have reached a resolution after months of careful investigation and negotiation between defendants, their attorneys, and my office that ensures justice while working toward community healing.”
Among those critics is a former city councilman for the city, Ron Trujillo, who described Altwies’ legal course of action “a crock of crap,” the newspaper reported.
“What a crock of crap that these people who were involved in vandalizing city property technically get off with a slap on the wrist,” Trujillo told the paper last week. “All this time there was talk about justice, justice will come, these people will be held accountable. Where’s the accountability? They’re not being held accountable.”
Trujillo roundly denounced the destruction of the obelisk and has criticized the removal of a statue of Don Diego de Vargas, a Spanish conquistador, from a park in downtown Santa Fe. He says that Altwies’ decision means that the rioters won’t be held responsible for their alleged criminality by the justice system.
Virgil Vigil, the president of Union Protectíva de Santa Fé, reportedly the oldest Spanish fraternal group in the country, agreed with Trujillo.
“It’s a shame that we have people that commit crimes, and they have no punishment for them. They’re criminals,” he told the paper.
Both men blame Mayor Alan Webber, who a year ago called for the removal of the obelisk and two other monuments in the city that had become controversial. The obelisk, in particular, had been deemed a racist relic over inscriptions that noted it was, in part, dedicated to the “heroes” who died fighting “savage Indians.”
After Webber’s call to have the obelisk taken down stalled, protesters themselves tore it down, according to reports.
In reference to Altwies, Vigil cited what he sees as differences in perception regarding monuments and local lore. “These out-of-town transplants don’t care about our people or our culture,” he said.
In a statement regarding the seven defendants, Webber said that the arrangement holds them “accountable for restitution to the community, so justice is served.”
“It also engages all parties in a process of restorative justice that aims to heal wounds and reconcile grievances,” he added, according to the paper.
Chief Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Padgett Macias added that since the defendants were first-time non-violent offenders, they likely wouldn’t be facing any jail time anyway.
“Here we actually have a creative and innovative resolution that looks at the historical trauma — we’re not disregarding that — and tries to reconcile that historical trauma but also address the actual harm that was caused by the manner and method by which the defendants removed the obelisk,” she told the paper.
“The defendants have agreed to participate fully, which includes acknowledgment of their actions, and participation in any resolutions that arise as part of the restorative justice process,” the DA’s press release added. “Should any of the defendants fail to participate fully, or complete the terms of the program, their cases will be placed back on the court’s docket for prosecution.”
The community service commitment is six months and must be completed within two years, the statement noted further.
The defendants were charged with felony destruction of property worth more than $1,000.
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