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13 arrested in City Hall sit-in

SANTA FE, N.M. — One woman chained herself to an art case.

Others strung up crime-scene tape and shouted that the police chief should be fired.

It all happened inside the mayor’s suite on the top floor of City Hall on Monday, triggering the cancellation of the City Council meeting scheduled to start two hours later, which was to include discussion on a variety of bills centered on the Albuquerque Police Department.

Mayor Richard Berry was out of town, but his top administrator, Rob Perry, watched and later confronted protesters as they continued their sit-in.

The demonstration ended with the arrests of 13 people charged with criminal trespassing, unlawful assembly and interfering with a public official or staff. One person, University of New Mexico assistant professor David Correia, was charged with a felony for allegedly pushing a member of the mayor’s security detail.

Police quickly cut the chains that protester Nora Tachias Anaya had looped around a display case.

“All we asked is to talk to the mayor,” she said just before officers cuffed her with plastic ties.

The confrontation came four days after an autopsy report revealed police had shot a homeless man in the back in March. The shooting of James Boyd, who struggled with mental illness, triggered protests throughout the spring after police released video of officers firing at Boyd after he appeared to have agreed to surrender.

“We want answers,” Mary Jobe, whose fiance was also fatally shot by police, said in an interview. “We’re tired of the mayor hiding from us.”

The sit-in lasted about 90 minutes and triggered a lockdown of City Hall.

City Council President Ken Sanchez issued a statement saying the council meeting was canceled. He said that because City Hall had been locked down, holding a meeting would violate state rules that guarantee people can watch public meetings. He said he also had safety concerns.

Gilbert Montaño, the mayor’s chief of staff, said he expected councilors to meet later this week or next to take up Monday’s agenda, which included a tax increase for mental health and homeless services and legislation to overhaul civilian oversight of APD.

Members of the Coalition Against Police Brutality and the Answer Coalition, among other groups, who were gathered outside at the entrance to City Hall blasted the mayor for not meeting with them.

“We need answers and the police chief and the mayor does not give them to us – they hide, they hire people to do their talking for them. Where was the mayor for eight days after James Boyd was shot? He couldn’t face anybody because he’s a coward,” said Mike Gomez, father of Alan Gomez, who was fatally shot by police.

Police shot Boyd during a standoff in the Sandia foothills on March 16. Berry was out of town for a few days, and his first publicly reported statement on the incident was on March 24.

It was the third disruption at City Hall in a month. In early May, protesters tried to serve a “people’s arrest warrant” on Police Chief Gorden Eden during a City Council meeting, and they took over the council chambers to hold their own meeting as the chief and city councilors left.

Protesters later held a silent demonstration during a council meeting. Several signed up to speak during the public comment portion of the meeting, then stood quietly when it was their turn to address the council. Security escorted them out.

Protesters and the mayoral administration offered different explanations for how Monday’s protest started.

Montaño said Correia pushed his way through the interior door as other people were going in. Correia “rammed through the door and pushed one of our officers,” Montaño said.

The mayor’s suite, on the 11th floor, features a public lobby, with two aides behind a counter to greet visitors. A glass door prevents people from entering the mayor’s suite of offices without permission. Usually, the aides will press a button to unlock the door when people arrive.

Inside the mayor’s suite is a complex of individual offices and conference rooms. The protesters held their sit-in amid a reception area just outside the mayor’s individual office, where he has his own desk and conference table.

Barbara Grothus, one of the people arrested, said protesters didn’t have to force their way into the mayor’s suite. “There was no lock,” she said. “We just opened the door and walked in.”

Montaño said Correia was charged with battery on a police officer. Correia has led other demonstrations at City Hall over the past month. He said some of the tactics are modeled on historic demonstrations by land-grant and Chicano activists. The university has issued statements saying Correia does not represent UNM.

Monday’s sit-in led to an odd scene. Perry, the mayor’s chief administrative officer; Montaño; and a few police officers watched as protesters read from letters they’d intended to deliver in person to Berry. At one point, protesters sat quietly on the floor and read from a U.S. Department of Justice report that found APD had a pattern or practice of violating people’s civil rights.

The door to Berry’s individual office was closed, and a security guard stood watch.

Perry engaged protesters and appeared to use his cellphone to film them. “Did you force your way through that door?” he asked at one point.

Later, he urged them to leave peacefully. “You’ve made your point,” he said. “Why don’t you take off?”

Protesters responded that they weren’t leaving until the mayor came out to talk to them.

Montaño, at one point, said Berry wasn’t present, though he didn’t mention that the mayor was out of town. It wasn’t clear whether the protesters heard Montaño or simply didn’t trust him. Several kept asking if the mayor was shut in his office or if he’d escaped out a back door.

A police van that took arrested protesters from City Hall to the Public Safety building was met with a small crowd shouting messages such as “no justice, no peace” and “killer cops.” A cordon of police made a barrier between them and the van as the arrestees were led in.

Afterward, Montaño said the mayor welcomed civil, productive comment from the community. Berry was in New York on Monday for a conference, he said. Montaño said the arrests came only after protesters made it clear they weren’t leaving unless forced.