The foundation of this story is basic New Mexico politics. An elected official in Rio Arriba County acting badly.
It starts with the conviction last week of Rio Arriba County Sheriff James Lujan for two felony counts for helping friend avoid arrest and pressuring one of his deputies not to tell other deputies about the incident. I won’t go into to any details, but you can look it up elsewhere if you’re interested in “politics as usual” in New Mexico.
But for Lujan, it was his second trial. The first, held in Rio Arriba County in the county seat of Tierra Amarilla, resulted in hung jury. The next trial was moved to Santa Fe, where the conviction was secured.
The decision to move the second trial to Santa Fe was made by District Judge Kathleen McGarry who granted a motion for change of venue. She noted that her decision was based in part on an “utterly inappropriate” outdoor cookout staged by Lujan supporters in the parking lot of the Tierra Amarilla County Courthouse during the trial. Tailgating during the trial as it were.
Those of us who are really old at this point may remember the June 5, 1967, raid on this specific Tierra Amarilla Courthouse that resulted in several days of chaos in northern New Mexico. The circumstances involved individuals who were charged with a takeover of the Echo Amphitheater visitors’ site between Espanola and Tierra Amarilla. They were scheduled for arraignment at the courthouse that day. Their actions were prompted by claims from a fiery Hispanic leader named Reies Lopez Tijerina that Mexican/Hispanic land grants in northern New Mexico were stolen by the federal government.
The takeover of the courthouse in Tierra Amarilla resulted in the state government moving in with heavily armed vehicles to secure the courthouse. A good colleague of mine from my journalistic past, Larry Calloway, was held at gunpoint in a telephone booth outside the courthouse that day when the raid took place. He was trying to phone in a story about the arraignments. Those who were charged were never arraigned. It’s a long interesting story that I may write more about in future blogs.
These things seem to only happen in New Mexico, which is why I love this state. But I doubt there were any tailgaters that day in 1967 — only angry and terrified individuals.