ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Bernalillo County’s top prosecutor is asking a judge to rule against the New Mexico Civil Guard (NMCG) militia group in an effort to end a nearly two-year old lawsuit against the militia. The outstanding lawsuit broadly seeks to stop the militia from acting in New Mexico anytime in the future as what prosecutors call “an unauthorized military or police force.”
In a new court filing, District Attorney Raúl Torrez is asking for the court to make a “default judgment” against the NMCG, citing, in part, newly obtained admissions about evidence in the case. If a judge rules in favor of the prosecution’s motion, a default judgment would put an immediate end to the lawsuit and likely carry penalties against the NMCG without the case even going to a civil trial.
Several armed members of New Mexico Civil Guard appeared at protests in Albuquerque in 2020, including a protest that lead to a shooting at the now-removed Juan de Oñate statue near the Albuquerque Museum. Following the shooting, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham criticized the NMCG’s presence at the protest, claiming the group was there solely to “menace” protestors.
“What we’re really trying to do is discourage organized groups of individuals from engaging in armed and unlawful militia activity that threatens the safety and well being of other people in the community,” Torrez said, speaking of the purpose of the lawsuit during an interview with KRQE News 13 Tuesday.
The request for default judgment comes after the DA’s Office attempted to interview the leader of the Civil Guard, Bryce Provance, in March. According to a news release from the DA’s Office, during the interview (what’s formally called a deposition in court), Provance in part, “admitted to destroying evidence pertaining to the group’s membership and activities.”
That evidence, according to Torrez, is central to the lawsuit. “If you think about it, what the [law]suit is about is recruiting, directly and training people to engage in activity that they’re not authorized to engage in,” Torrez said. “And so if you don’t provide basic information, we can’t get that kind of framework in place that we can present to a jury and make a case.”
A nine-minute video of the interview between Provance and staff working on the civil case is core to the latest motion. During the interview, Provance discusses destroying information related to the militia’s membership.
“The questions that you requested that I answer were about the New Mexico Civil Guard,” Provance said during the deposition. “And as founder of the organization, the Facebook organization, or gentlemen’s club, whatever you’d like to call it, I retained all documents.”
Provance continues, saying, “Since I was the last individual, I reckon, to be served with this lawsuit, I did not know about the provisions to retain any of the documentation. So, when I was forced from the New Mexico Civil Guard based on my past, I destroyed all documentation, shredded and burned all membership files, I shredded and burned anything regarding the structure of the New Mexico Civil Guard. I also poured bleach on the hard drive of my laptop and burned it.”
Torrez called Provance’s behavior in the deposition “bizarre,” noting Provance’s refusal at times to identify himself. During the interview, Provance also shared what he called “personal documents” with attorneys working on the case.
One of those documents included stick figures performing a sex act and a devil presiding over stick figures with the words “Georgetown Law.” According to a 2020 news release from the Bernalillo County DA’s Office, prosecutors within the office “collaborated with the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection (ICAP), based at Georgetown Law Center to formalize the charges against” the NMCG.
“The [law]suit is very specific, it doesn’t in any way infringe on an individual’s right to assessable, to address the government for grievances, to organize themselves,” Torrez said. “What it does do is it makes it very clear that you cannot hold yourself out as a policing force or an unlawful paramilitary group under New Mexico’s constitutional framework.”
Elaborating on what the outcome of the lawsuit could be, Torrez says it is different or separate from the 2nd Amendment Rights New Mexicans have and state law allowing for opening carrying of firearms. “What [citizens] don’t have the right to do is organize themselves into a unit that holds itself out as having some sort of policing authority, or militia-authority that naturally and under our constitution belongs to the National Guard.”
The new motion also asks the judge to require the NMCG to “show cause” or to prove in court why it shouldn’t be held in contempt for failing to comply with a court-ordered deposition. Provance terminated the deposition after nine minutes, according to the video recording provided by the DA’s Office.
It’s unclear when a judge could rule on the motion filed by the DA’s Office. Court records indicate 2nd Judicial District Court Judge Elaine Lujan is presiding over the case.
The DA’s office says Provance is convicted of burglary and armed robbery in Washington state.
A jury trial for the case is currently slated to take place in December 2022. A counter lawsuit filed by the NMCG against the Bernalillo County DA’s Office was dismissed in January 2021.
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