The District Attorney’s Office has reached an agreement with all but one of the protesters charged in connection with the October destruction of the Santa Fe Plaza obelisk that will allow them to avoid jail time.
In a move District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies said is designed to further reconciliation in the community, the defendants will be allowed to participate in a pre-prosecution diversion program that will include at least some community service.
“It was my promise upon assuming this position that our office would do our best to divert non-violent and first-time offenders from costly and unnecessary incarceration,” Carmack-Altwies said in a statement. “The Obelisk case defendants meet the criteria I set out for diversionary programming. We have reached a resolution after months of careful investigation and negotiation between defendants, their attorneys, and my office that ensures justice while working toward community healing.”
But for some Santa Feans, especially longtime residents who are Hispanic, the deal only sparked more controversy.
Former City Councilor Ron Trujillo, who has decried the destruction of the obelisk as well as the removal of a statute of Spanish conquistador Don Diego de Vargas from a downtown park, said the justice system failed to hold the protesters accountable for their crimes.
“What a crock of crap that these people who were involved in vandalizing city property technically get off with a slap on the wrist,” he said. “All this time there was talk about justice, justice will come, these people will be held accountable. Where’s the accountability? They’re not being held accountable.”
Virgil Vigil, president of Union Protectíva de Santa Fé, which is said to be the oldest Spanish fraternal organization in the nation, echoed the sentiment.
“It’s a shame that we have people that commit crimes, and they have no punishment for them,” he said. “They’re criminals.”
Vigil and Trujillo laid the blame on Mayor Alan Webber, who had called in June for the removal of the obelisk and two other controversial monuments in the city. The 132-year-old obelisk long had been a source of controversy and deemed racist over its inscriptions, which stated it was dedicated, in part, to the “heroes” who died in battle with “savage Indians.”
Efforts to remove the obelisk stalled after the mayor called for its removal, prompting protesters to take matters into their own hands and tear the monument down with a rope and chains on Indigenous Peoples Day.
The toppling of the obelisk exposed long-simmering racial tensions in the city, which seemed to resurface with Thursday’s announcement.
“These out-of-town transplants don’t care about our people or our culture,” Vigil said, referring to Webber and Carmack-Altwies.
In a statement, Webber said the agreement between the District Attorney’s Office and seven of the eight defendants holds those charged in connection with the toppling of the obelisk “accountable for restitution to the community, so justice is served.”
“It also engages all parties in a process of restorative justice that aims to heal wounds and reconcile grievances,” Webber said.
Chief Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Padgett Macias said first-time offenders charged with nonviolent offenses would not be facing jail or prison time associated with the crime of criminal damage to property over $1,000 “in this jurisdiction.”
“Here we actually have a creative and innovative resolution that looks at the historical trauma — we’re not disregarding that — and tries to reconcile that historical trauma but also address the actual harm that was caused by the manner and method by which the defendants removed the obelisk,” she said.
One of the defendants, Dylan Wrobel, had also been charged with felony battery on a peace officer. The city said in a news release the police department had been working with the District Attorney’s Office and “supports the resolution as agreed to in these cases.”
Other defendants in the agreement include Dawn Furlong, Lily Schweitzer, Ryan Witt, Melissa Rose, Lauren Straily and Zachary Young.
According to the District Attorney’s Office, the pre-prosecution diversion program will consist of a combination of community service hours and a “restorative justice” approach that will engage defendants and others to determine the next steps. The process will be led by Common Ground Mediation Services.
“The defendants have agreed to participate fully, which includes acknowledgement of their actions, and participation in any resolutions that arise as part of the restorative justice process,” the District Attorney’s Office news release stated. “Should any of the defendants fail to participate fully, or complete the terms of the program, their cases will be placed back on the court’s docket for prosecution.”
Exactly what the “resolution” will be remains to be determined.
“I guess ‘nebulous’ is a good word because it crafts itself” through the process, Padgett Macias said.
The District Attorney’s Office is poised to pay $1,500 in seed money for the restorative justice process, and the remainder will be paid by the defendants.
“The program will last a minimum of six months and must be completed within two years,” a news release states.
“Both the presence of and the toppling of the Obelisk left people within our community deeply hurting,” Carmack-Altwies said in the statement. “I am pleased that we are pursuing a method of justice that will begin to heal those wounds. This is a new and innovative way of dealing with harm in the community that will move us closer to reconciliation.”
Of the eight protesters charged with felony counts of damaging property worth over $1,000, only one, gallery owner Stephen Fox, is not part of the agreement with the District Attorney’s Office.
“That’s mostly because and kind of complicated by the fact that he doesn’t have counsel,” Padgett said.