District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies on Monday defended her decision to divert nearly all the defendants charged in the destruction of the Plaza obelisk into a pre-prosecution probation program, calling the crime “a political problem that got forced upon the criminal justice system.”

Carmack-Altwies, in her first year as district attorney for a three-county area that includes Santa Fe, said the defendants, if convicted at trial, would not have faced serious punitive consequences, as their main crime was criminal damage to property, a fourth-degree felony.

In addition, the defendants have no previous criminal history and were first-time offenders, the district attorney said, adding the chance was “slim to none” any would face jail time for a low-level crime and “at best” would see 18 months of supervised probation if convicted.

“I wanted more than that,” she said Monday in an interview with The New Mexican editorial board.

Carmack-Altwies emphasized the charges against defendants Dylan Wrobel, Dawn Furlong, Lily Schweitzer, Ryan Witt, Melissa Rose, Lauren Straily and Zachary Young have been stayed, not dismissed, and their time in the probation program would last between six months and two years, including 40 hours of community service. All will have to write a letter admitting their role in the toppling of the 152-year-old landmark.

One defendant, Stephen Fox, is not part of the agreement.

In addition, Carmack-Altwies said the defendants’ participation in a restorative justice program would allow “harmed parties” — community members affected by the obelisk’s destruction — to address with the defendants “what the resolution should actually be” — including restitution or any other community service projects that might be appropriate.

The restorative justice approach, not a well-known concept outside criminal justice circles, has sparked debate in the community, but Carmack-Altwies vigorously endorsed the concept in this case.

“It’s supposed to bring both sides together and get everyone to come to a resolution or conclusion about what they should do as part of their punishment. And it is a punishment,” she said. “It’s not punitive, necessarily, in that it’s not jail. But it is a punishment — they have to participate in this. And if they drop out and they don’t do it, then we lift the stay and prosecution keeps going.”

Carmack-Altwies said that while it will be difficult to identify the specific victims in the toppling of the obelisk on Oct. 12, anyone is welcome to present their grievances to the program’s mediator, Debra Oliver.

The obelisk, long a lightning rod for controversy among Native American activists and their allies, was felled on Indigenous Peoples Day by a group of protesters with chains and straps during a year marked by contentious conversations about the role and accuracy of public art and monuments in Santa Fe. The suspects in the case were arrested in the months after the monument came down.

Since becoming district attorney, Carmack-Altwies said defense attorneys presented ideas about potential resolutions in three meetings before the announcement.

“I came away from it thinking this was best way to extract the most payback, if you will, to the community,” she said. “Otherwise, if they were put on probation, they weren’t going to have to do anything except sit in their houses and not get in trouble for maybe six months. And I really felt like this was really a political issue — that there needed to be a response that wasn’t just sort of, the sledgehammer of justice, which is, you can go to jail, the end. Because we weren’t going to get that, anyway.”

Some in the community have leveled withering criticism against the district attorney’s decision. Former City Councilor Ron Trujillo called it a “crock of crap” in an interview with The New Mexican last week. Others tied the move to the Mayor’s Office, though Mayor Alan Webber in an interview Monday said he played no role in developing the plea deal.

Carmack-Altwies said the decision is based on what she promised in her campaign for the First Judicial District Attorney’s Office last year — to reduce mass incarceration and expand diversionary programs. The obelisk case, though high-profile and emotionally charged, should be no exception, she added.

“If I start treating this case differently, then what’s to say that the next thing that comes along that’s high-profile, do I treat that differently? And then, where’s the justice?” she said. “I either have to treat these people exactly the way that I said I was, or I ran on nothing.”

This pre-prosecution diversion may not be used in every case of vandalism or property crime as it’s expensive and time-consuming, she said, but was something she felt would work in the obelisk case.

“We’re trying to thread that needle of helping to provide political and community healing while also making sure that those defendants face a punishment,” she said. “… It’s not punitive, but to face the understanding of what they did and and pay back the community in some way.”

Whether the defendants need to show remorse for their actions is yet to be determined. In their required written admission of participating in the destruction of the obelisk to the District Attorney’s Office, Carmack-Altwies said a show of remorse is not required, but may be in the remediation process.

“The hope is that there will be a remorse, if not for what they did, then at least how they did it,” she said.

Carmack-Altwies said she tried to “thread that needle of helping to provide political and community healing” while making certain defendants faced some kind of punishment and acknowledged what they did.

“Is it gonna make everyone happy? Are we gonna get paid back? Well, no,” she said. “But it wasn’t gonna happen on the trial path, either. And so, this was the scalpel that we were trying to use to create … to try to undo some of the harm.”

(47) comments

Mike Johnson

This DA should read what a constitutional law professor and expert has written about her, now the entire nation knows about the incompetence on NM's system of so-called "justice"....: ".....my objection is the statement that this is just a “political problem.” Would Carmack-Altwies have taken such a view if the statue involved a different symbol or figure? The concern is that prosecutors identify with some of these protesters or their causes. Short jail stints, even for a few months, can offer some deterrence and, more importantly, establish that this criminal conduct will not be tolerated. Even without such jail time, it was important for Carmack-Altwies to establish the clear criminality of such actions. Instead, she dismissed the conduct as political rather than criminal."

https://jonathanturley.org/2021/05/26/a-political-problem-new-mexico-district-attorney-gives-probation-to-all-rioters/

Khal Spencer

Turley essay is excellent. Thank you, Mike, for the link.

KT Rivera

This decision is so disheartening to the citizens of Santa Fe. Vandals will continue to be emboldened to deface and damage our beautiful the city with little fear of punishment or payment for full restoration. What DA CArmack-Altwies seems to forget in all of her rationalization of legal maneuvers, is that her main job is to prosecute for the protection of her district. What hope will Santa Fe have to crack down on the growing graffiti and destruction of historical areas & monuments if our DA will refuse to push for full justice. Santa Fe should be leading the way in the United States with strongest laws and punishments (not necessarily incarceration) in protection of this historic city. This will never happen if we cannot rely on a DA to properly perform the role to which they are elected.

Mike Johnson

[thumbup]Indeed, and now that the precedent is set that anything the criminals claim are "political" actions will be treated this way, as non-crimes with picking up trash on the medians as a consequence. These people will escape without anything on their records, not events 4th degree felony they are guilty of, that is wrong, and this is not justice.

Richard Reinders

IMO Webber set the ball in motion and got what he wanted and his army got off easy. Now they have tested the water what's next.

Peter Romero

This decision sets a very scary future in prosecution such lawlessness in our community. I cant see it getting better.

Vince Czarnowski

It's obvious this woman doesn't understand the concept of punishment for a crime. She is the type that will release shooters down the road just like in Chicago. This woman needs to be voted out .

Bob Res

WOW! 40 whole hours of community service AND they will have to write a letter admitting their role in the toppling of the 152-year-old landmark! Oh, the unfairness of it all!

Translation: more rewarding of aberrant behavior.

Angel Ortiz

Agreed 👍

Comment deleted.
Craig O'Hare

Really sad that you refer to DA Carmack-Altwies as a "carpetbagger", I presume because she's anglo and not hispanic. DA Carmack-Altwies has lived in New Mexico for a long time and went to UNM Law School. Disagree with her decision on this case all you want. That's understandable. But the "carpetbagger" accusation for those that live here but didn't happen to be born here has just gotten so tiring.

david cartwright

I hear Biden likes our DA so much that he as asked her to take over the prosecution of the mob that ransacked the Capitol earlier this year. You know, that political problem that was dumped on the court system. It's just some minor felony stuff with minor property damage. No need t worry.

Lupe Molina

The DA laid out her reasoning in a My View piece yesterday. It makes sense. That article currently has zero comments.

The property was federal. The federal government didn't want to prosecute the case. These were all first time offenders who weren't going to get jail time anyway. The DA does have to act within legal statues. So I get everyone's upset but you don't affect change by attacking the person who did the best with what she had.

DeeDee Downs

Agree ... and well stated. thank you

Mike Johnson

I am shocked that a person in charge of criminal justice in this area would say something like this: “a political problem that got forced upon the criminal justice system.”, and like this:"...helping to provide political and community healing..." and like this: " It’s not punitive, but to face the understanding of what they did and and pay back the community..." All this shows this person has no clue what is a crime and what is politics. It shows, like a typical political hack, she sees everything as politics, even when a serious crime of destroying public property and attacking and disobeying police occur. What planet does she live on? She has no idea what justice or a crime looks like, and should not be in charge of such things. She thinks she will force these people to see the error of their ways, and that is enough, ha! These people know they have conned the system, got away with a felony, and face no punishment at all. What signal does that send to criminals who endorse a political cause?

Katherine Martinez

Very weak and timid. Pathetic.

Khal Spencer

The DA defends her actions in this piece, if you missed it.

https://www.santafenewmexican.com/opinion/my_view/da-lays-out-case-for-restorative-justice/article_278dc036-bccd-11eb-aec2-bbeb9a7de9c1.html

John Cook

That's right, Khal. She makes a strong case for her decision in this case. She is doing what she said she would do during the election and she has strong reasons.

Prince Michael Jauregui

Carmack-Altwies desperately attempts to deflect her epic dereliction-of-duty by claiming a brazen and blatant crime was " a political problem that got forced upon the criminal justice system."

Based upon her own words, however unwittingly, she set a legal precedence: Now, every defense attorney in the county representing a criminal with an impoverished or broken-home background -among others- may now call for immediate dismissal of charges due to the fact that their crimes was, " a Societal problem that got forced upon the criminal justice system". Not unlike the D.A.'s reasoning, absurd.

Be sure: History can confirm, if a single defendant charged in this arrogantly disrespectful act of vandalism against The People of Santa Fe had included a Hispano or Native American, the "Sledgehammer of Justice" would be wielded - as usual.

Without question, Mary Carmack-Altwies can best serve the local citizens with her immediate resignation.

Mike Johnson

[thumbup][thumbup][thumbup] Well said and exactly what should happen, show her the door people, who wants someone like this in charge of criminal justice in our county! “a political problem that got forced upon the criminal justice system.”, how clueless and arrogant can you get! There will be no justice with a person like this in charge.

paul pacheco

In the meantime, life long residents have had their plaza vandalized! Then this DA probably wants to run for election to the position! I don't think it's reelection since she wasn't even elected to begin with!

Lupe Molina

She definitely was elected. Not sure why the confusion.

Dennis Romero

She likely won’t be re-elected.

Lupe Molina

Not his point. And based on what? The folks who post here don't represent the majority of voters, not even close.

LeRoy Sanchez

Fir sure!

Dennis Romero

Like, my view is based upon the fact that the DA didn’t do her job.

Feel free to spout off on that.

paul pacheco

Wow, you sure post your many opinions here; maybe you should start a blog! Then no one would read the newspaper opinions! My mistake on her being elected. It should show you I didn’t voter for her. As for the folks who don’t represent the majority of voters; no, it was a lack of education, she should never have been elected. And as for this DA, just another politician with no knowledge of our heritage and values!

Lupe Molina

She made the right call. The cops made the right call by pulling back that day. Might be an unpopular opinion but, you know what, everyone's still alive.

Dennis Romero

Everyone is still alive, and this nonsense will continue until someone is hurt or killed. I guess that’s ok, right Lupe?

LeRoy Sanchez

Totally agree with you, Dennis.

Comment deleted.
John Cook

The DA did her job, exactly. In this country prosecutors are specifically ordered to do more than just seek convictions. They are tasked with 'doing justice'. You don't like her idea of justice. I do. Regardless of what either of us thinks, she did her job. She sought justice for the community as she sees it.

Comment deleted.
Lupe Molina

Yes, John. But its even simpler than that! There are rules with what you charge people with and the penalty the prosecutor could ask for. In this case, especially because the feds didn't even care to prosecute (!!!), she could only pursue a charge that wouldn't require jail time anyway. You cant charge someone with murder and try to get them life in prison for stealing a candy bar.

John Cook

Lupe, you are so exactly right. Everyone lived. It's so easy for the knee-jerk 'conservatives' to complain. But the police and, now, the DA made tough choices in a situation that isn't at all one side or the other. She has done well.

Khal Spencer

[thumbup]

Russell Scanlon

Exactly.

Khal Spencer

"a political problem that got forced upon the criminal justice system." Really??? How tone-deaf!

Well, I suppose the storming of the national capitol was "a political problem that got forced upon the criminal justice system" too. For that matter, were the bombings of abortion clinics, vandalism of fur farms, and burning of draft offices "political problems"? No. They were crimes.

I think the DA is on the right track in saying that she may extract more out of these defendants with this approach than with a traditional criminal justice approach. Its just that her quote seems to diminish the criminal act by giving it some sort of fig leaf of political respectability.

In a democracy or republic, we agree to live by the rules of using the political system to solve our problems. If people want to storm government buildings, trash monuments, or otherwise take the law into their own hands, we are on political thin ice. Frankly, I think the people who took down abortion clinics or released animals from fur farms could make a more compelling case for the immediacy of their actions than these people. Statues and monuments just sit there.

I trust the D.A. will do a good job on this, in spite of her initial comment. I wish her good luck but it means the perpetrators will have to 'fess up to doing the wrong thing, even if for the right reasons.

Comment deleted.
Paul Davis

So your proposal is? As the DA said: 4th degree felony, first time offenders ... do you suggest bending the normal outcome of such a case because you're upset about it?

John Cook

I agree, Khal, that people should not take the law into their own hands. It's also true that not all cases are equal. A small monument with a troubled history is different than the U. S. Capitol building. Your point is right in both instances but the two cases are not the same.

Khal Spencer

They are clearly not the same, but they are both a case of being unhappy with a political situation and taking the law into one's own hands. Its one thing to refuse to get up from a seat on the bus or at a lunch counter. Its another to engage in destructive actions. Or an attempted putsch.

John Cook

[thumbup]

Khal Spencer

Also, John, to address your comment in more detail. I did not mean there is equality between tearing down a statue or obelisk and trying to stage a coup d'etat. In the former, a lot of anger, physical destruction, a felony, but not an attempt to change our form of governance. In the latter, it was an attempt to circumvent a Constitutional order that has lasted 233 years; that is a grave act.

Fortunately, those attempting the coup d'etat were not organized enough to fetch pizza nor armed enough to actually make a credible battle out of it once law enforcement arrived in force, but that is a good thing. We may not be so lucky next time.

There needs to be justice in both cases but as we know, justice is another case of watching von Bismarck's sausage being made. Some outlets are calling 6 January an "insurrection" (NPR) and some a "riot" (NY Times) while some on the right are calling it Open House Day at the Capitol. But even though no one to my knowledge has been charged under the Insurrection Act, that doesn't mean Merrick Garland doesn't take this seriously. Its partly politics and partly what the Justice Dept. thinks it can make stick. Just like here in sleepy Santa Fe.

But I do think we all have to stay engaged with this issue and hold the appropriate people's feet to the fire, so to speak.

David Brown

Mary, It is called “you let em go free.”

John Cook

You might want to read the articles. She has sought and obtained justice. She did not dismiss the cases or let them go free.

Samuel Herrera

They will not have a criminal record dude. They cases will be dismissed after they complete the informal probation

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