ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The topic of the Albuquerque Public Schools public forum was community engagement.
But just prior to the meeting, an APS board member and member of the public engaged in a confrontation that led to a police report being filed.
Board member Kathy Korte filed the report Tuesday after she and local blogger Mark Bralley had an altercation before the start of the meeting.
No charges were filed.
Both parties say they were the victim in the incident, which happened when Bralley tried to take pictures of Korte, and she pushed back against his camera, calling him a “stalker.”
Bralley, who is a retired Albuquerque police officer, now identifies himself as a photojournalist, and posts on a blog called “What’s Wrong with This Picture?” Bralley said Korte’s handling of his camera legally constitutes a battery, although he does not intend to bring charges.
“This is not a matter in which there were blows thrown. What it was is a physical censorship,” Bralley said. “I see it more as a civil battery than a criminal battery, although as a police officer I could easily make the case for a criminal battery, but I don’t want to go there.”
Korte said she felt threatened by Bralley, and that he was pushing his camera into her face when she pressed back against it. She said she requested that APS police take an informational report because she wants the incident to be documented.
“If I’m feeling threatened again, if I’m with my kids or at a school event, I need this documentation to show there is a pattern of behavior here,” she said.
The confrontation between Korte and Bralley began when Bralley’s associate Ched MacQuigg was barred from attending the meeting at district headquarters Monday. Email records show MacQuigg received an email inviting him to the meeting on how best to engage parents and community members in the educational process.
MacQuigg and Bralley both have blogs and frequently work together.
APS has a standing ban against MacQuigg, who has been an outspoken critic of the district for years and has unsuccessfully run for the school board several times. He was banned from board meetings in September 2010 after he repeatedly disrupted them and made APS staff feel unsafe, according to the letter the district sent to him.
MacQuigg recently attended two community forums about bullying without incident, but those forums were held in school buildings, not at APS headquarters.
MacQuigg is part of a community group that has been advocating for APS to establish a citizens advisory council to foster public involvement. In an email dated Oct. 2, APS director of board services Brenda Yager wrote to MacQuigg, saying, “This is a forum that your group might be interested in participating in as well.” The email then gives the particulars of the meeting. The subject line is “You Are Invited.”
APS spokeswoman Monica Armenta said the email was a form invitation that went out to hundreds of people who have attended APS community meetings in the past few years or filled out comment cards. She said it was not a personal invitation.
MacQuigg and Bralley were stopped at the door of APS headquarters because of the standing ban on MacQuigg. MacQuigg said he was “totally surprised” that he wasn’t allowed into the meeting, given the nature of the email he had received.
When MacQuigg said he had been invited, an officer went to find out whether he should be allowed in, and asked Korte since she was the only board member who had arrived. Korte told the officer that to the best of her knowledge, MacQuigg was not allowed into any meetings at City Centre.
While MacQuigg waited outside, Bralley went into the board room to ask Korte why she wasn’t letting MacQuigg inside. Both Bralley and Korte say Bralley started asking Korte about her decision to ban MacQuigg, Korte said she didn’t want to talk to him and Bralley moved to take a picture of her.
Here the accounts diverge somewhat. Bralley said Korte moved closer to him, in order to grab his camera.
“She closed about five feet on me and grabbed ahold of the lens,” Bralley said.
Korte said this is untrue. She said Bralley was holding the camera very close to her face, and all she had to do to grab the lens was hold up her hand. She also said she felt threatened by how close Bralley was to her.
Bralley contends he was trying to exercise his right to take pictures of Korte, as an elected official at a public meeting. Korte said he did not act like a professional.
“An honorable photojournalist would not behave that way with their subjects, period,” she said.
Other APS staff intervened, and Bralley eventually left, although not before asking to talk to the most senior APS police officer on staff and questioning whether police had legal cause or authority to make him leave.
The meeting went on as scheduled, and about 90 community members attended.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal