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.

Ringside Seat is an opinion column about people, politics and news. Contact Milan Simonich at or 505-986-3080.

(25) comments

Russell Scanlon

I know this is understandably a sensitive issue for people (and a good way to tar and feather a mayor whom you don’t like during a campaign season) but there are simply way too many other important things—like rampant crime and police shootings-to spend four or five columns on this. And if there were as many “leftists” as some people claim, we would already have universal health care.

Khal Spencer

Good morning, Russell.

I think it is all part of a bigger picture of people of various political stripes thinking that things are spinning out of control and there is nothing they can do about it.

The connection between catch and release and the recent police shootings is one example. The guy shot in Albuquerque trying to steal the bait car had a pretty impressive record, including a trail of past felonies such as FIP, car theft, and trying to shoot his girlfriend's father. Yet he was sprung loose as late as May or June. Nothing I can do about it except expect yet more of the same due to the conflicts between due process, presumption of innocence, judges not wanting to keep dangerous folks behind bars, and violent offenders being kicked loose on the street.

I do think that is a more critical issue of life vs. death, but on the same coin is a secretive judicial process that seems to reward violent protestors. And a "what did he know, and what did he do about it?" question about the Mayor. Well, at least we don't have a CHAZ, Santa Fe style...

Now, let me go hug my dog...and I do support universal health care, if it includes competent psychiatric help for those who need it.

Russell Scanlon

Yes—God bless dogs as our love for them is one small shining light of humanity.

Look—I’m a “liberal” but I have no tolerance for a system that allows repeat offenders back on the street. And I know I am not the only one. It clearly needs to be fixed, but aside from issues with the legal system we are talking about systemic problems with the education and poverty, which everyone talks about and does absolutely nothing, and of course, meth.

As far as the obelisk—I think the protestors should be punished but no one is going to agree on what is suitable punishment. And I still believe that, given the overall tension of an unusually hostile political season, that things could have gotten far, far, worse and more tragic and destructive that day. Of course, you can’t run a campaign on what didn’t happen. But we did notice that immediately after the obelisk was pulled down every single road to the plaza was blocked, presumably to keep out the vigilantes. Good move.

Khal Spencer

All good points.

I saw that show of force as I was on my bicycle and discovered the plaza area was sealed off and then I saw the mess in the Plaza. Wasn't sure the mass of enforcement was political or actually aimed at preventing further violence. But at that point, the horses had long left the barn. Seems if that many cops had been there early in the day, we would still be discussing what to do with the obelisk. But as you say, one cannot run history in reverse. Unless, of course, you are Peabody and Sherman.

Andrew Lucero

Ruling By Decree, Erasing History, now we have Secrete Tribunals… Boy, Santa Fe is sure starting to look and feel a lot like Stalinist Russia.

Russell Scanlon

With all due respect sir, voter suppression seems a lot more “Stalinist” to me—and it ain’t the “left”that is trying to do that.

Barry Rabkin

For me, 'restorative justice' would be fining these defendants enough money to rebuild the obelisk and put it back where the original was placed.

Joe Brownrigg

Then you do not know what "Restorative Justice" is. Please look it up!

mark Coble

Yes, hard slap on wrist!

Khal Spencer

Restorative justice is not precisely defined. Its more along the lines of whatever the community decides is restorative.

mark Coble

Too logical sir.

Joe Brownrigg

My comment was to Barry, Mark...not to the article.

Mike Johnson

Well said Mr. Rabkin.....[thumbup][thumbup]

Lee DiFiore

What is it with the DA's in Santa Fe? With each one you mumble "it can't get any worse", then it does. [angry]

Joe Brownrigg

This is NOT "Restorative Justice." One could make a case for this process, but to characterize it as "Restorative Justice" is a first class felony. (Of course, some of the responses to Milan ALSO are first class...)

John McDivitt

[smile] I'm beginning to like Milan more and more! Great article.

Mike Johnson

More proof this is just another left wing/socialist, soft-on-crime ruse by this incompetent DA. It's all about politics, no justice will be served here, by design.

Prince Michael Jauregui

Seven -mostly Female- Caucasians commit felony crimes and a given a free-pass from a Caucasian female "District Attorney"? Be clear: This is NOT "Restorative Justice", rather, a shamelessly blatant case of wholly-corrupted, double-standard American "Justice".

This latest sickening spat upon -both- true Justice and all Hispano and Native Americans cannot go unanswered.

Stefanie Beninato

Actually one of the women was alleged to have native roots and so I guess her daughter does too--facts are important.

Prince Michael Jauregui

Absolutely Ms. Beninato, facts are important.

And water, is wet.

Khal Spencer

Wow. An actual star chamber trial!

When can we petition to recall this worthless DA?

Mike Johnson


Stefanie Beninato

I wonder how Debra Oliver got chosen. She is a sole proprietor and has no "organization." Although mediation is a confidential process--this is not a mediation. This is a restorative justice process. We should look to So Africa and other countries that have successfully used this process---I am pretty sure it is not confidential. IMHO each session should be publicly observed even if the participation is limited. After all we are talking about a COMMUNITY monument. The lack of publicity about the process indicates a total lack of transparency, however. And Milan, you should know by now that DAs pile on charges so they have leverage in plea bargaining.

mark Coble

AG Hector Balderas and our DA are for criminals first. Any arrests of high level drug lords, ever? Why not? Mayor caved, gave in, to leftists and the disregard of law. Corrupt courts go right along protecting their PERA retirements by not applying the law equally.

Richard Reinders

Kangaroo courts are back, make it up as you go along.

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