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Editorial: U.S. attorney took a big bite out of crime for NM

U.S. Attorney Damon P. Martinez tendered his resignation Friday, ending 34 months of admirable service as our district’s top federal prosecutor.

He was one of 46 U.S. attorneys around the country U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions asked to resign last week.

Martinez, like all 93 U.S. attorneys, is a political appointee, so it’s not unusual to be replaced when a new administration moves into the White House. In 1993, for example, Attorney General Janet Reno demanded the resignations of all 93 U.S. attorneys in the early days of the Clinton administration. Other administrations have spread out their requests for resignations over several months to ensure continuity.

Prior to Sessions’ request last Friday, 47 U.S. attorneys had already stepped down.

Martinez, an Albuquerque native and graduate of St. Pius X High School, has two bachelor’s degrees, a master’s in business administration and a Juris Doctorate from the University of New Mexico. He was a judge advocate in the U.S. Army Reserve until 2009, when he transferred to the New Mexico National Guard. He has been a federal prosecutor since 2000, when he started in the Las Cruces branch office as a special assistant U.S. attorney. He was nominated for U.S. attorney by President Obama in November 2013, confirmed by the Senate and sworn in as U.S. attorney for New Mexico in May 2014.

During his tenure, Martinez focused on targeting the state’s “Worst of the Worst” offenders, making them a priority for federal prosecutions. He and his prosecutors have partnered with state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies to identify the most dangerous repeat criminals in our communities and build federal cases against them. It’s been an effective strategy because certain crimes carry much longer prison sentences in federal, as opposed to state, courts.

Successful prosecutions of career criminals include: Thomas Martinez, a one-man crime wave who racked up multiple robberies, three carjackings in one day and a home invasion before he was arrested. He was sentenced to 27½ years; Gabriel Mirabal, a crack dealer who got 36 years; and Elias Atencio, who robbed four Santa Fe businesses in 12 days and was sentenced to 20 years.

Those same community partnerships have yielded prosecutions against drug dealers through the New Mexico Heroin and Opioid Prevention and Education Initiative, also known as HOPE. As part of that program, federal prosecutors target heroin and opioid trafficking suspects. It’s an important initiative because of the state’s high rate of opioid-related addiction and overdoses.

And just recently, his office has agreed to certify four attorneys from the local district attorney’s office as federal prosecutors so they can file cases in federal court.

Martinez also oversaw the Department of Justice’s investigation and settlement agreement with the city of Albuquerque over the Albuquerque Police Department, whose officers had been involved in 24 shootings over a four-year period. The DOJ found that APD had a pattern of violating people’s rights through the use of excessive force. The department is undergoing a yearslong reform effort that is being overseen by a federal judge.

New Mexicans owe Martinez a debt of gratitude for his accomplishments toward making this a safer place to live. We wish him luck in his future endeavors which, we hope, will keep him in his home state.

First Assistant U.S. Attorney James D. Tierney will serve as Acting U.S. Attorney until a new U.S. Attorney is nominated by President Trump and confirmed by the Senate.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.