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Thousands in NM turning in violators of health orders

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

The secret’s out.

New Mexicans have turned on their fellow Land of Enchantment residents in recent weeks, reporting those not wearing masks or physically distancing far enough, holding mass get-togethers or selling things on the sly. Thousands have reported businesses and individuals for violating New Mexico public health orders during the pandemic to the Department of Public Safety.

And now, there’s an effort by some, including a political blog and an Albuquerque radio host, to unmask these tattletales.

“Oh, so you want to dox?” Eddy Aragon, who hosts The Rock of Talk on KIVA, asked his Facebook followers on June 14, using a term for publishing identifying information of individuals and organizations on the internet.

Aragon then posted a smattering of emails that had been sent to the state Department of Public Safety reporting businesses that violated public health orders.

He referred to the informers as the “people who are the snitches (and) the tattletales on all the businesses in New Mexico” and said he was motivated to draw attention to businesses that were trying to hurt their competitors.

“It led to some unintended consequences, creating an anti-market approach,” Aragon said in an interview Monday. “It did the very ugly thing of competition turning on each other, in the name of the state and in the name of public health, to ruin each other’s businesses.”

Easy to report

The state government website has a portal where people can easily report noncompliance with the orders. A state senator was among those outed for making a report.

New Mexico Political Journal, a state politics blog, on June 14 posted an email that state Sen. William Soules sent to DPS’s COVID-compliance email address on April 21.

In it, the Las Cruces Democrat wrote that Miller Guns and Ammo in Las Cruces appeared to be violating the health orders.

“There are cars there every day. The sign on the door says they are open and their website says they are open,” Soules wrote. “Gun stores are not deemed to be essential and they should be following the governor’s orders.”

Soules didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Herman Lovato, a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety, said more than 9,000 messages have been sent to a DPS account for reporting businesses or other individuals for breaking public health orders put in place to slow the spread of coronavirus.

The health orders affect a wide range of businesses and services. For example, the orders prohibit most large gatherings, cap houses of worship at 25% of their capacity, close nontribal casinos and mandate that other businesses follow “COVID-Safe Practices,” according to the state’s website.

The emails the state received reporting violations of those orders are public record, and Lovato said the agency has gotten several Inspection of Public Records Act requests for the messages.

Citizen publishers

KT Manis, a Republican candidate and a businessman from Hobbs, has posted a large collection of emails to DPS on his Facebook page.

Manis, who is running for a seat on the Public Education Commission, said he was motivated to publish the records because small businesses have been hurt by the public health orders. He said a friend of his filed an IPRA for the emails.

In response to that request, the state has released complaints it received April 21-29. Manis then posted those documents on his Facebook page. He said he plans to post the additional records when the state releases them.

Concerns found in the documents ran the gamut, and they came from all over the state, according to a review of the records Manis published.

In Farmington, a woman – who signed her name but also wrote “**anonymous**” – reported to the state that her husband’s employer, a sign manufacturer, was skirting the shutdown order by keeping the fence around the property closed even though the employees were at work on the inside.

Some “new neighbors” on Raven Lane in Southwest Albuquerque were reported for their regular parties, as were hordes of fishermen on the Chama River near El Vado Dam. A “concerned citizen” in Moriarty turned in their family for moving ahead with plans for a funeral after a relative died.

Stop the funeral

“Please do what you can to stop this from happening,” the person wrote. “They all think the coronavirus is a Democrat hoax.”

Churches in different parts of the state were reported, as was a museum in Madrid.

“People are ringing the train bell in the museum!” the informant wrote.

Reaction to Manis’ post has been mixed.

“I’ve gotten reactions all the way from hate mail and death threats to people who are really happy to know who their accuser is,” Manis said in an interview. “When you are being fined and you are being charged with something, we should have a right to know who our accuser is.”

The email collection has apparently created some awkwardness. Many of the emails identify the tipster, who asks that they remain anonymous because they are afraid of retaliation.

Some of the tipsters are businesses reporting their competition for possibly breaking the rules, Manis said.

He said some of the outed informers have insisted they were framed.

Nora Meyers Sackett, a spokeswoman for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, said some businesses have been fined after not heeding several warnings.

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