RIO RANCHO, N.M. — Bill King, son of late New Mexico Gov. Bruce King, was arraigned Monday in Sandoval County Magistrate Court for letting his cattle eat lawns in Rio Rancho.
The cattle rancher is charged with two misdemeanor crimes, each punishable by 364 days in prison, a $1,000 fine or both. He pleaded not guilty to both.
The charges stem from an ongoing problem with roaming cattle in Rio Rancho’s Northern Meadows subdivision, which abuts the fields where King grazes the animals.
Rio Rancho police filed the charges after numerous residents’ complaints that the cattle wander into their driveways and backyards and destroy their lawns, leave cow pies on the sidewalks and damage their vehicles.
King is accused of two separate violations, “permitting livestock to trespass upon cultivated fields and gardens” on June 6 and “permitting livestock to run at large in town” on June 13. A trial date had not been set.
King contends the laws were not interpreted correctly by police.
“Those laws were passed in the early days when big ranchers were running cows into homesteaders’ fields,” he said.
He said he would be in violation of those particular laws only if he had intentionally herded the cattle into the subdivision.
New Mexico is considered a “fence out” or a “free range” state, which means it’s not the livestock owner’s responsibility to keep his or her fences in good repair. Instead, property owners who want to keep livestock off their land must put up and maintain their own fences.
“They’re supposed to fence you out,” King said. “If you’re still pushing your cows in there, then you’re creating a misdemeanor. … We’re trying to keep them out (of the subdivision). Believe me.”
He said part of the problem is that people cut the fences and run ATVs or other recreational vehicles in the open range where he runs his cattle. Not only that, but people have gone onto the land and shot at least six animals, leaving the carcasses to rot, he said.
Vandals have also burned one of his water trucks and a grader, torn down a water tank and “cut up any metal they can find,” he said.
“It’s pretty scary,” he said.
Mike Lizzi, president of the board of directors for Northern Meadows Property Owners Association, said there were some 15 head of cattle in his neighborhood as recently as Sunday night.
Residents are tired of having the animals roam the neighborhood, he said.
“It’s unfortunate that the law has to get involved to get some type of responsible attitude and some type of resolution,” he said. “Hopefully this results in a solution.”
Lizzi has said the estimated property damage to the neighborhood is in the tens of thousands of dollars.
As far as the damage to King’s property and to the fences, Lizzi said he doesn’t believe his neighbors are responsible.
“In my heart of hearts, I don’t believe that one of our residents would do some sort of vandalism on that land,” he said. “If it is, then Mr. King has every right to pursue them (legally).”
Rio Rancho Mayor Tom Swisstack said he, King and the residents have tried to come up with a solution. The problem, he said, is that fencing out the cattle would be expensive.
A solution King proposed at one point was that he pay for the labor needed to fence in the livestock and that the people in the subdivision pay for the material. Swisstack said he didn’t think that was fair.
“I don’t think we can expect our citizens to pay for it,” he said.
The city simply doesn’t have the money to pay for a fence either, he said.
The city has tried blocking off certain areas, but the barriers get broken down, he said.
Swisstack said he, too, has seen evidence of vandalism, and of people shooting guns and running four-wheelers in that area.
“We didn’t come up with any particular solution,” he said. “It’s sad and it’s tough.
“There’s no easy answer.”
Pointing out that he is not a lawyer, Swisstack said the “open range” rules have been tested and upheld in court on numerous occasions.
“Open range is pretty much the rule,” he said.