Sheriff's visit to Trump White House draws ire - Albuquerque Journal

Sheriff’s visit to Trump White House draws ire

Bernalillo County Sheriff Manuel Gonzales, left, with Attorney General William Barr at a press conference last year. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/ Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

State and local leaders reacted with swift condemnation Tuesday to reports that President Donald Trump may send federal forces to the Duke City.

Sheriff Manuel Gonzales, meanwhile, headed to the White House, ensnaring himself in the controversy.

Gonzales is scheduled to meet with Trump Wednesday – a visit that is being condemned by Sen. Martin Heinrich, who is calling for his resignation, and other fellow Democrats.

On Monday, CBS News reported it had obtained a memo from the Department of Homeland Security saying it plans to deploy officers to a number of cities, including Albuquerque, Kansas City and Chicago, to assist local police departments.

Mayor Keller and Albuquerque Police Chief Michael Geier prepare to address the media at a news conference last year. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)

The news set off a firestorm among city and state leaders, who expressed concern that the federal officers were being sent here to quell protests and would use violent tactics that have been shown in news broadcasts from Portland, Oregon.

Mayor Tim Keller and Police Chief Michael Geier condemned the idea of federal forces coming to the city and questioned whether the move is a political stunt.

But one Department of Justice official told the Journal the planned dispatch of federal resources is aimed at combating violent crime and not an attempt to crack down on protests.

Regardless, Sheriff Gonzales is being slammed by several local officials ahead of his visit to the White House to meet with Trump. A news release from the BCSO said the meeting was to discuss the sheriff’s office “success combating Albuquerque’s crime crisis” as part of a joint operation.

But Sen. Heinrich blasted Gonzales, tying his visit to the Portland events. He called for Gonzales to resign, saying he doesn’t represent Bernalillo County, and needs to step aside to “make room for someone who will make maintaining the peace and promoting the safety and protection” of residents a top priority.

“Instead of collaborating with the Albuquerque Police Department, the Sheriff is inviting the President’s stormtroopers into Albuquerque,” Heinrich wrote in a statement. “If we can learn anything from Portland, it’s that we don’t need this kind of ‘help’ from the White House. The President is currently using federal law enforcement agents like a domestic paramilitary force. That’s precisely how fascism begins and none of us should ever encourage or accept it.”

In response, BCSO sent a statement saying “Senator Heinrich couldn’t be more … out of touch with the local social problems and the great work being done by our deputies and the other first responders.”

“The citizens of Bernalillo County deserve to live in safety,” Gonzales wrote in a statement. “Many cities including Albuquerque continue to see levels of extraordinary violence. As the constitutionally elected sheriff, I seek to ensure that no citizen is excluded from the peace and security that should be enjoyed by all Americans.”

Several national news outlets have reported – and shown video of – federal officers confronting protesters in Portland. The agents have been reportedly pulling protesters into unmarked vans to detain them.

Overall, most demonstrations in Albuquerque have remained peaceful. Following one protest, vandals rushed through Downtown setting fires in trash cans and breaking windows. And last month, a demonstrator was shot during a confrontation with a counterprotester. There have also been a handful of times in which APD riot officers were deployed, and used gas and rubber bullets to disperse the crowd.

Operation Legend

The news that federal agents may be sent to Albuquerque broke the night before the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office announced Sheriff Gonzales will meet with President Trump and Attorney General William Barr.

According to a news release from BCSO, the meeting, which will be held on Wednesday, is to “discuss BCSO’s success combating Albuquerque’s crime crisis as part of Operation Relentless Pursuit.”

Few other details about the meeting were immediately available Tuesday, but an official with the Department of Justice who spoke with the Journal on background said the meeting isn’t related to “civil unrest” or situations like those happening in Portland.

Rather, he said, the Department of Justice will announce the expansion of an operation to combat violent crime in cities across the country.

“The DOJ is going to make an announcement some time this week about an expansion of Operation Legend,” the official said. “That’s an initiative to combat violent crime. Sheriff Gonzales’ appearance is related to Operation Legend.”

AG Barr announced the launch of that operation July 8. It is named after 4-year-old LeGend Taliferro of Kansas City, Missouri, who was shot and killed last month while he slept. The operation has sparked protests and concerns in Kansas City as well, according to local news reports.

According to a news release on the DOJ website, the operation will be “a sustained, systematic and coordinated law enforcement initiative across all federal law enforcement agencies working in conjunction with state and local law enforcement officials to fight the sudden surge of violent crime, beginning in Kansas City, Missouri.”

It’s unclear what would constitute a recent surge in violent crime in Albuquerque.

It’s also unclear how Operation Legend and its goals are different from another initiative the Department of Justice launched to fight violent crime last year.

In December, AG Barr announced Albuquerque was one of seven cities – Kansas City was another – that would receive an influx of grant funding and a surge of federal agents from the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the U.S. Marshals Service, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives as part of Operation Relentless Pursuit.

In April, the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office was awarded $1.4 million as part of that operation. The Albuquerque Police Department was awarded $9.7 million, but it is unclear if it will be able to receive that funding since the DOJ says provisions in the city’s immigrant-friendly ordinance are contrary to some of the grant conditions.

Focus on reform

The sheriff’s meeting with the president and the possibility of a surge of federal officers in Albuquerque drew condemnation within City Hall as well.

“Federal agents in Oregon are snatching protesters off the street without identifying their agency or establishing probable cause. It is an unconstitutional affront to representative democracy,” wrote City Attorney Esteban Aguilar Jr. in a statement. “These forces do not abide by the constitutional crime-fighting reforms implemented under the DOJ, and will break the trust APD and our community have invested years in rebuilding. We did not request this and do not need it. If the Sheriff really wanted to help, he would be here following APD’s lead, not in D.C. for a photo-op with Trump.”

Mayor Keller and Police Chief Geier both criticized the idea of federal forces in the city as political rather than “real” and “constitutional” crime-fighting police work.

“We will not sell out our own community, or our own police department, for this obvious political agenda; as they try to incite violence by targeting our city and our residents,” Keller wrote in a statement.

Geier pointed out that APD already coordinates with federal law enforcement every day.

“Contrary to the claims of the politicians in Washington, D.C., we came into long-standing challenges with crime in Albuquerque and have worked closely with our community to make the city safer,” Geier wrote in a statement. “Homicides are down this year and protests have been mostly peaceful in Albuquerque, and much less violent and destructive than other cities because of our focus on reform and community policing.”

Albuquerque Journal and its reporters are committed to telling the stories of our community.

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