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Top prosecutor in busy New Mexico district aims for justice

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A prominent defense attorney who has taken the reins of the district attorney's office in New Mexico's busiest judicial district vowed Wednesday to be relentless in his pursuit of justice as the Albuquerque metro area struggles to stem violent crime.

Sam Bregman was flanked by other state and federal law enforcement officials during his first news conference as Bernalillo County's top prosecutor. He told reporters that like other residents, he's "sick and tired" of the crime problem.

"Some people are scared and it doesn't have to be that way," he said, repeating that his top priority would be to make Albuquerque as safe as it can possibly be.

The new DA was appointed to the post by Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to fill the vacancy created by the election of Raúl Torrez as the state's new attorney general. The governor cited Bregman's extensive experience as a litigator and said he will bring fresh perspective to the job.

Bregman has represented clients in some of the most-watched court cases in New Mexico. In 2016, he served as one of the defense attorneys in the trial of two Albuquerque police officers charged with murder. The trial ended with a hung jury. He also has represented people who have accused law enforcement of misconduct, including the family of a 75-year-old woman who was shot and killed by Las Cruces police.

He once served as prosecutor in the Second Judicial District before going into private practice. He said he understands how hard prosecutors work and didn't want to sit on the sidelines any longer.

Bregman said he has no plans to seek election to the office after his two-year appointment is up — and that it will be liberating to make decisions and not have to worry about political considerations or about starting a campaign next year.

"I don't have that problem. I can just focus on getting things done and that's what I'm really looking forward to," he said.

Bregman is taking over at a time when criminal justice and public safety reforms are again expected to be big part of the agenda as lawmakers meet later this month for a 60-day legislative session. Pretrial detention will be among the topics, and the prosecutor said he would advocate for changes.

He said he has "strong feelings" that some defendants should remain in custody pending trial based on the crimes they have been accused of committing, suggesting that in some cases there are no reasonable conditions of release that can guarantee the community's safety.

Bregman was joined by members of the FBI, U.S. Marshals Service, the U.S. attorney's office in New Mexico, the Albuquerque Police Department and the Bernalillo County Sheriff's Office. The officials vowed to work with new the district attorney and across jurisdictions.