State senator apologizes for interaction with NMSP officers

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

In this frame grab from a New Mexico State Police video, state Sen. Jacob Candelaria of Albuquerque speaks with NMSP officers called to his home after he received threatening phone calls. (Source: NMSP)

The state Republican Party released a New Mexico State Police lapel camera video Friday showing a distraught state Sen. Jacob Candelaria ordering three State Police officers out of his home, accusing them of not being “helpful” after he received profanity-laced threatening phone calls.

Candelaria, a Democrat who is running for reelection Nov. 3, told the Journal he had apologized for his behavior before the video was sent to the news media. He furnished a letter sent to top State Police officials that stated he “simply did not treat the officers with the necessary respect or decorum.”

In an interview with the Journal, Candelaria, who has been in office since 2013, questioned why the Republican Party would make the video public because it revealed the New Mexico town to which he and his new husband were fleeing for their safety after receiving the calls just after midnight Oct. 25.

“They put another target on us,” he said Friday. “The Republican Party has taken the video of what was the most traumatic and terrifying moments of my life, and turned it into a political hit.”

Sen. Jacob Candelaria

He said he wasn’t aware officers were recording the encounter.

The Republican Party, which lambasted Candelaria for his “tirade of abuse” aimed at the investigating officers, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Friday afternoon.

Candelaria said he received three anonymous threatening calls after his TV appearance on Oct. 24, in which he publicly criticized a protest against coronavirus restrictions outside the state Capitol because many attendees were not wearing masks or social distancing.

News of the threats made national headlines and he subsequently called for reforms to make police more responsive to threats against elected officials.

Candelaria, an Albuquerque attorney, said Friday he considered the phone calls threatening violence as “politically motivated” because of his politics, race and sexual orientation.

During the encounter with State Police, the video shows, Candelaria mentioned several times he was a state senator and informed the officers he had waited 13 hours for them to respond to his report of receiving the threats.

“I was told you were coming to help us leave town,” he said. “If you want to help us and watch us as we get in our car and go out of town to protect our lives, we can do that.”

One officer asks Candelaria to stop screaming, after which the legislator produced his cellphone and played a message left by the male caller.

The caller is heard saying, in part, “… you don’t know what it means to be an American … we’re going to get you out, one way or another … ”

“Is that a threat, gentlemen?” Candelaria asks the officers after turning off the recording.

“Sir, it’s how it can be interpreted,” one officer responds, after which Candelaria abruptly says, “Please leave my home, you are asked to leave, please all three of you, leave my home … I have asked the State Police to leave, they are not being helpful … ”

Candelaria said by the time State Police arrived, his law firm’s private investigator traced the calls and found the suspected caller had a criminal history and an outstanding warrant for his arrest.

The Republican Party news release blasted Candelaria as “an elitist” who “disrespected” State Police. Candelaria’s Republican challenger in the upcoming election, Manuel Lardizabal, is running a tough-on-crime campaign.

State GOP chairman Steve Pearce, in the release, stated, “Senator Candelaria’s childish and self-important behavior is unbecoming of the New Mexico Senate – a body meant to be mature and deliberative. He doesn’t deserve the honor of serving in any office of public trust. Senator Candeleria doesn’t deserve your vote on Tuesday to return to the Roundhouse.”

State Department of Public Safety spokesman Ray Wilson told the Journal Friday that the agency’s investigative reports and evidence in the case have been turned over to the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s office.

“Threats of violence are always taken seriously,” Wilson added.

During the videotaped encounter, one State Police officer is heard telling Candelaria that the suspect couldn’t be located at any of the addresses associated with him.

“So how is he going to be apprehended?” Candelaria asked.

“Well this is how we find them, sir, we have to go look for them,” said the officer.

“Please don’t talk down to me, officer, because I will get the governor on the phone or whoever because I don’t understand why this is my problem.”

“Sir, I am not,” the officer responded.

Candelaria’s apology letter said he was “wrong to redirect the terror and frustration we were experiencing on those individual officers,” who he said were “carrying out their duties professionally and who put their safety on the line every day.”

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