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Judge dismisses case involving Santa Fe obelisk protester

Santa Fe Police attempt to remove activists from the area around an obelisk that had stood at the center of Santa Fe’s downtown plaza for more than 150 years. Protesters successfully tore down the monument. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE — One of the people charged in connection with the uprising at an Indigenous Peoples Day rally during which a 152-year-old monument was toppled is off the hook.

Sean Sunderland, 24, who was facing charges of criminal trespass and resisting an officer, had his case dismissed last week due to a Santa Fe police officer’s failure to attend a court hearing. The case was dismissed with prejudice, meaning his charges cannot be refiled.

A spokesman for the city of Santa Fe said late Monday that the officer hadn’t been served with the subpoena.

“There is an inquiry into the circumstances and whether the judge can be petitioned to reconsider the dismissal,” spokesman David Herndon said.

Sunderland was one of two people charged Oct. 12 after protesters clashed with police officers on hand to protect the 33-foot obelisk.

The obelisk, which stood at the center of Santa Fe’s historic Plaza, was originally dedicated as a “Soldiers’ Monument” honoring Union troops who fought Civil War battles in New Mexico. It once bore an inscription honoring those who fought battles against “savage Indians” and has been viewed by many as a symbol of oppression of Native Americans.

Sunderland’s charges were dismissed Dec. 28 because Santa Fe police officer Jesse Campbell failed to show up to a court hearing, according to the court order.

SFPD Deputy Chief Paul Joye said Monday afternoon that the department is looking into the matter to see what happened.

“If it’s our error, then we’re going to own it,” he said.

First Judicial District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies said SFPD was prosecuting the case because Sunderland was facing only misdemeanor charges. She said the DA’s Office offered to help with the prosecution, but SFPD didn’t accept.

Sunderland’s attorney, Kitren Fischer, moved to dismiss the case after SFPD failed to show up for the hearing and Santa Fe Magistrate Donita Sena agreed to do so.

Fischer said he was fully prepared to fight the charge.

“Mr. Sunderland was engaged in constitutionally protected acts when he was arrested by Santa Fe Police on Indigenous Peoples Day. Mr. Sunderland was arrested prior to the toppling of the obelisk – he was never charged with conspiracy or destruction of property,” Fischer said in an emailed statement. “He was charged with misdemeanor trespassing while standing in the plaza with hundreds of other people.”

Sunderland was accused of knocking officers off another demonstrator, Dylan Wrobel, after protesters breached a police barricade intended to protect the monument.

Wrobel was charged with battery on a peace officer and resisting arrest.

Four other people were later charged with criminal damage to property and conspiracy for their alleged part in tearing down the obelisk, using ropes and chains. Their cases are still pending.

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