Many residents of Santa Fe wonder what “restorative justice” will look like for seven brazen lawbreakers who destroyed the Plaza obelisk.
They won’t learn much. The system is rigged for secrecy.
Even though the defendants were charged with felonies and lesser crimes for smashing the 152-year-old Soldiers’ Monument, they won’t face public scrutiny.
Restorative justice might not be blind, but District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies is keeping it a mystery.
She has entered into a process that will shut out almost everyone in Santa Fe while shielding defendants who broke laws with impunity.
The district attorney has contracted with a mediator, Debra Oliver, to select a total of eight community members and “harmed parties” to meet with the defendants.
Community members who want to participate must fill out a questionnaire to be considered. Oliver said the eight who are selected by her organization for mediation must sign confidentiality agreements.
Jurors in even the most gruesome criminal cases are free to discuss their verdict, if they want to. In contrast, this brand of restorative justice resembles those tawdry reality television shows with their confidentiality agreements for contestants.
“It’s a pre-prosecution diversion program. Everything that surrounds this process is confidential,” Oliver told me in an interview.
Part of her job is keeping a lid on the proceedings.
“We don’t even allow notes to leave the room,” Oliver said. “That’s the price of admission.”
It’s a fine system for the criminals. In no way will the process serve the public interest.
A brazen mob took over the Plaza, using ropes and chains to yank down the obelisk and smash the upper portion. The lawbreakers carried out their attack in the light of day, joyful at how easy it was.
A large contingent of Santa Fe police officers had mobilized to keep the peace. But the officers withdrew, turning over the Plaza to the mob, after a confrontation.
Mayor Alan Webber and police Chief Andrew Padilla said ceding the Plaza to criminals avoided further conflict, a decision that rankles everyone who believes police are supposed to serve and protect.
I wanted to apply to serve on the eight-member mediation panel in order to question the lawbreakers. The form on the district attorney’s website lacked basic information, so I phoned Carmack-Altwies’ office to ask for the deadline.
A perplexed operator didn’t know what I was talking about. Another employee promised I’d get a return call from someone knowledgeable about the application process. The workday ended without my hearing anything from Carmack-Altwies’ staff.
I called Oliver, identified by Carmack-Altwies as a contact person regarding restorative justice. Oliver was annoyed, saying it was the first time in 30 years as a mediator that she’d been “outed” by a client.
Oliver told me I had better submit my application in a day or two, as the eight community seats on the mediation panel were filling up.
Her application form contains a dizzying array of questions.
One asked if I was a direct descendant of the soldiers who were honored by the obelisk. Another was whether I had Native American ancestors who clashed with soldiers. Or was I someone who grew up in Santa Fe, “treasuring the Plaza and all its elements?”
Oliver said I’d have to sign a confidentiality agreement. She knew I wouldn’t.
My interest is informing people about these defendants and their deal with the district attorney. Beyond that, I want it in the open as to how much of the mediation bill the defendants are paying and whether the public is on the hook for any of the expense.
Oliver didn’t want to talk about her compensation.
“It’s complicated,” was all she’d say.
A public records request can answer that question. Restorative justice can bury many other details.
Had Carmack-Altwies proceeded with a typical prosecution of those who destroyed the obelisk, they would have appeared in a public courtroom. If they testified at a trial, they would have been subject to cross-examination.
A judge or jury would have listened to the evidence and rendered a verdict in open court.
But in opting for “restorative justice,” Carmack-Altwies played down the strength of her case.
“In New Mexico, a first-time nonviolent offender would likely not face jail time, even after a trial,” the district attorney wrote in a statement.
Her characterization is full of holes. The defendants weren’t peaceful protesters. They used violence to destroy a monument in a city park that is also a National Historic Landmark.
Beyond that, they coveted attention, claiming they were part of some noble cause because they wrecked a monument that they called politically incorrect. (At one time, a panel of the obelisk honored soldiers who fought “savage” Indians. Someone with a chisel removed the word “savage” in 1974).
Carmack-Altwies also claimed she couldn’t win convictions that carried jail time. If she really believed that, why did she overcharge the defendants with felonies for vandalism?
The criminals will receive light treatment — 40 hours of unspecified community service and a statement admitting to their crimes.
Carmack-Altwies, though, continues to insist they aren’t getting off easy.
She hasn’t made her case, not with the secret system of “restorative justice” and not to the public she’s supposed to serve.