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Local and State News

Latest New Mexico news, sports, business and entertainment at 6:20 a.m. MST


EUNICE, N.M. (AP) — State officials say they discovered a massive illegal dumping site in southeastern New Mexico while cleaning up a former limestone mining pit. The small plot of state trust land near Eunice hasn't been leased since the 1970s. Workers who were disposing of mine waste and reseeding the area found tons of trash and tires that likely had been buried there for decades. The New Mexico State Land Office says the additional work to clean up the dump bumped up the price tag for the project by $45,000. The office is seeking an environmental assessment and whoever is responsible for the illegal dumping.


ESPAÑOLA, N.M. (AP) — A New Mexico sheriff accused of showing up drunk to a SWAT standoff and trying to order officers away is no longer a licensed law enforcement officer in the state. The Santa Fe New Mexican reports the New Mexico Law Enforcement Academy Board members voted unanimously Thursday to suspend the certification of Rio Arriba County Sheriff James Lujan. A criminal complaint filed in March said Lujan, in plainclothes, attempted to take over the scene involving a barricaded subject in Española. The complaint also says he smelled like alcohol and appeared to have trouble keeping his balance.


RIO RANCHO, N.M. (AP) — A former police officer in New Mexico has been charged with second-degree murder after authorities say he killed a Latino detainee he had placed in a chokehold. State Attorney General Hector Balderas said Thursday he has filed the charge against former Las Cruces police Officer Christopher Smelser in the death of Antonio Valenzuela. Police say Smelser applied the chokehold after a foot chase in February when Valenzuela fled during a traffic stop. Smelser was initially charged with manslaughter and later fired. Smelser's attorney, Amy L. Orlando, called the new charge sad and suggested it was a political move meant to grab headlines.


ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The nation's top nuclear security official is in New Mexico to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the the world's first atomic explosion. The test is both revered for the scientific advancements it helped to usher in and vilified for the moral and diplomatic implications that still linger in its wake. Lisa Gordon-Hagerty, head of the National Nuclear Security Administration, says the Trinity Test in 1945 helped to avert wars and saved untold millions of lives over the years through advancements in nuclear medicine and science. For others, the atomic test in southern New Mexico and subsequent tests elsewhere have left a painful legacy. 


SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — People who have tested positive for COVID-19 in Arizona are being transferred to New Mexico hospitals because of staffing shortages and a lack of bed space, under a federal law that requires hospitals to accept patients from neighboring states if beds are available. New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said the transfer of out-of-state patients poses challenges as some hospitals in the state are at or nearing capacity levels. It is unclear exactly how many Arizona patients have been transferred to New Mexico. State health officials on Thursday reported an additional 300 cases, bringing the statewide total to nearly 16,140. The death toll stands at 562.


WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. (AP) — Residents of the Navajo Nation are being encouraged to refrain from traveling ahead of a weekend lockdown meant to help slow the spread of the coronavirus. Tribal President Jonathan Nez cited surges in cases off the reservation in making the request. He says the tribe has to keep its guard up. It reported 79 new cases of the coronavirus Thursday on the reservation, bringing the total number of people infected to 8,486. More than 6,200 people have recovered. The tribe also reported two additional deaths, which brings the toll to 407. 


RIO RANCHO, N.M. (AP) — Democratic U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small is maintaining a money edge in a critical U.S. House race in southern New Mexico that Republicans hope to recapture. Federal campaign records show the Las Cruces Democrats raised nearly $796,000 from mid-May to June 30 and had $3.9 million cash-on-hand. Her campaign coffer has more than 10 times the amount of Yvette Herrell, her GOP challenger. Records show Herrell raised more than $395,000 during the same period following a grueling GOP primary. The former state lawmaker reported having $379,000 cash-on-hand. Torres Small defeated Herrell by less than 4,000 votes in 2018 to flip a traditionally Republican-leaning district along the U.S.-Mexico border.


SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Water managers in Santa Fe say expected low flows along the Rio Grande will likely force the temporary shutdown of diversions as early as this weekend. Officials with the Buckman diversion project say the river's flow is expected to drop rapidly once the last of the water stored for irrigation in the Middle Rio Grande Valley has been used. They say river conditions at the Buckman diversion location north of Santa Fe will be monitored closely. If flows reach or go below 300 cubic feet per second, diversions will be temporarily halted.