Police bodycam shows violent encounter in Las Cruces
A police officer and a man accused of shooting his wife exchanged gunfire in the middle of Espina Street. A few minutes later, a police K-9 and several police officers detained the bloodied man and charged him with attempted murder.
A new video, obtained by the Sun-News via a public records request, shows what happened in between. While the man was partly surrounded by a half dozen rifle-wielding officers, Las Cruces police unleashed a police K-9 onto Julian Valenzuela before moving in to arrest the man.
Valenzuela, 34, is charged with one count of attempted murder, four counts of abuse of a child, and one count of shooting at or from a motor vehicle.
The video is gruesome — all of us in the newsroom agreed. It was partially redacted by the City of Las Cruces when it was released to us. We had a conversation about whether it should be redacted further, because of its graphic nature. Ultimately, we decided not to. We released it exactly as we got it — except for a warning at the top of the video to let viewers know that what they’d see may be disturbing.
Public Safety Reporter Justin Garcia, who has been following this case since the incident March 4, said:
In every story you read in the Sun-News, you see the result of a thousand tiny decisions. For the Julian Valenzuela story, which featured a 9-minute video of police bodycam, you saw a few extra decisions we made. The day before the story published, several staff members and I debated the morality and ethics of showing that video. It is grotesque. There’s no doubt about that. But we asked ourselves, is there a value in showing it. The video reveals the dozens of choices that police made in the heat of the moment. You, as the public, get to be the judge. We ultimately decided that the news value outweighed the gore. Hopefully, y’all agreed.
New Mexico GOP leader Kimberly Skaggs, family accused in straw donor scheme
Two weeks ago, the executive director of the state Republican Party was accused of using a shell company to funnel campaign contributions in a special congressional election last year.
Kimberly Skaggs, named in the Federal Elections Commission complaint, is a Las Cruces resident who ran for state Senate in 2020 and later assumed leadership of the Doña Ana County GOP.
Also named in the complaint is her husband, Joseph Skaggs, an elected member of the Doña Ana County Soil and Water Conservation Board; and Teryl Jay Skaggs.
On Saturday, Kimberly Skaggs issued a brief statement responding to the complaint: “I want to assure you that these claims are false and that I have done absolutely nothing wrong.”
On Tuesday, she declined to comment further. The Republican Party of New Mexico did not respond to queries from the Las Cruces Sun-News. Reporter Algernon D’Ammassa, who has been covering the story, said:
Kim Skaggs, who currently heads the Doña Ana County Republican Party and is also the state party’s executive director, is relatively new to politics. We first interviewed her in 2020, when she ran for the state Senate, and our working relationship has always been cordial. So, when this Federal Elections Commission complaint naming her was publicized, I asked for an interview.
Initially, she said yes, but changed her mind. She did not tell us if this was on the advice of an attorney or the party leadership. She and her husband (himself a local office-holder) are accused of using an inactive company to funnel campaign donations to a Republican congressional candidate last year in excess of what individual donors are allowed to give.
Skaggs issued a public statement insisting she had done “absolutely nothing wrong” and has left the door open to talking to us about what happened, but it is not clear now whether she will tell her story first in an interview with us or in a legal filing.
Missing teachers on the first day of school?
With the extended balanced calendar that will be implemented for the 2022-23 school year at Las Cruces Public Schools, concerns came up at a recent school board meeting about the July start date and planned vacations.
During the meeting, Executive Director of Human Resources Sean Barham presented survey results with a projection of how many teachers are expecting to miss the beginning of the fall semester.
The balanced calendar, which has a start date of July 20 for kindergarten and July 21 for all students, was approved by the school board March 15, despite community pushback. Several called for the calendar to be postponed until the 2023-24 school year, as many families have vacations planned that would interfere with this early start date. The July start date is three weeks earlier than the original first day of school, which was Aug. 10.
The results of a survey show that 80 educators are not expecting to come in on July 21 — the first day of school for all students. Barham said 85 will not be in on July 22 — and 85 will not be in the week of July 25 to July 29.
Reporter Miranda Cyr, who covers education for the newspaper, told us:
I saw on the board agenda that there was going to be a “22-23 Instructional Calendar Update,” which I was definitely curious about. There was no further detail in the packet. Sean Barham, executive director of human resources, presented the numbers to the board and the superintendent. I think the numbers are slightly misleading in two ways, first because there’s often a good amount of teacher absences the first couple of days, but second because we don’t really know how far this survey reached, or the percentage of responses. I think it will be interesting to see if there are any other future projections.
Deuce Benjamin knows his father’s NMSU basketball legacy. Now he wants to create his own.
He’s not William Benjamin II, the second coming of his father, a hall-of-fame basketball player for New Mexico State University. He’s Deuce Benjamin I, the Aggie with a familiar name but a distinct game.
Just ask William Benjamin I.
“Deuce is his own guy. He’s a very good ballplayer. He’s by far better than me. And he’s gonna go on and do things at New Mexico State beyond what I did,” the elder Benjamin says about his son — the two-time New Mexico high school basketball player of the year who recently signed to play ball at his father’s alma mater.
On April 16, Deuce committed to NMSU, becoming the fourth member of NMSU head coach Greg Heiar’s first recruiting class. The incoming freshman will don a crimson and white Benjamin jersey more than three decades after his father did so from 1989-1992.
Sun-News Sports Reporter Stephen Wagner talked to father and son about Deuce’s decision:
Occasionally, as a reporter, you’re gifted with a story that writes itself. This was one of those stories.
Every well-versed New Mexico State basketball fan knows William Benjamin, the former Aggie who played a pivotal role on NMSU’s last Sweet 16 team in 1992. Originally from California, he played four seasons at NMSU before ultimately returning to the city to start a family and become a coach at Las Cruces High. And now, 30 years after NMSU’s infamous Sweet 16 run, his son, Deuce is committing to the Aggies with hopes of enjoying the same success his father did.
My first question was about the legacy Deuce wanted to leave: did he want to duplicate his father’s, or did he want to start his own? That question drove my reporting, but it led to a plethora of other questions — how was Deuce influenced by his father, if at all? What are the similarities and differences in their games? When did Deuce decide basketball was the sport for him? — and on and on and on.
I chuckled when the father-son duo joked about who would lock up who in a game of one-on-one, and I was shocked to learn the Benjamin household wasn’t covered in Aggie memorabilia. I’d always envisioned a framed NMSU jersey on the wall in the living room and games on the TV, but it wasn’t like that at all — it was just a house with two guys who love basketball.
Cannabis sales at pharmacy next to New America school denied
Across the street from the New America Charter High School, you can buy an alcoholic beverage at the Amador LIVE, and though anyone can legally obtain opiates with a prescription at the pharmacy next door, they won’t be able to buy cannabis there, for now.
That’s after the Las Cruces Planning and Zoning Commission sided with concerned school officials, residents and city staff Tuesday night by denying a request to allow Mesilla Valley Pharmacy to add cannabis to their lineup of healthcare products.
The pharmacy shares wall space with the New America School. While it currently dispenses prescription drugs to eligible patients along with selling cannabidiol (CBD) products, zoning commissioners decided during a public meeting April 26 that the sale of legal THC products within the pharmacy went too far, following arguments from concerned residents and school officials that there would be a negative effect on children.
However, a variance of 109 feet was approved by the zoning commission in February to accommodate another cannabis business planning to open near the New America School. That one is located at 100 South Church Street, in the vacant Casa de Alabanza building.
Michael McDevitt, who covers city and county government for the Sun-News, has been following these developments. He said:
Does the distance to a business selling a controlled substance affect its impact on students? That was the major question I was left with following the Las Cruces Planning and Zoning Commission meeting April 26.
Despite denying Mesilla Valley Pharmacy’s request for a 100 percent variance, the zoning board approved a prospective cannabis business just under 200 feet from the same school in February. That’s not even to mention the Amador LIVE, an establishment selling alcohol about as close to the school as the approved cannabis business.
Do buffer distances provide any tangible benefit? Or are they purely for virtue signaling? I can’t answer those questions yet, but while some argued that students who want to try to access drugs will be able to walk 200 feet to the approved cannabis business, the zoning board clearly believes locating cannabis sales directly next to a school is measurably different than cannabis sales located a one-minute walk away. But does that track on to actual behavior?
The pharmacy also provides a case I’ve not covered before — an existing business attempting to integrate cannabis into their product lineup — a product lineup that, might I add, already contains controlled substances. In this case, the pharmacists have argued that if anyone is ever approved for such a variance, they would be the most responsible party to operate this type of commercial business, having been educated on cannabis’ effects on the body. They stress they can educate folks who are interested in treating various ailments using cannabis but can’t ask their doctor. These are the questions and conditions the city council will need to cover when they hear this business’ appeal in the coming weeks and months.
On behalf of all of us at the Las Cruces Sun-News, thanks for reading this week’s newsletter!
Damien Willis is a Lead Reporter for the Las Cruces Sun-News. He can be reached at 575-541-5443, email@example.com or @DamienWillis on Twitter.