ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – In a move described as a “significant surge of federal resources,” President Donald Trump and Attorney General William Barr announced the deployment of 35 more federal agents in Albuquerque under what is being called “Operation Legend.” President Trump made the announcement Wednesday saying Albuquerque needs help stopping and solving violent crime.
At a news conference from the White House, the President highlighted Albuquerque and Chicago as the two cities that will see expanded federal law enforcement presence under Operation Legend. The operation started in early July in Kansas City, Missouri, named after LeGend Taliferro, a four-year-old who was murdered in late June.
Highlighting Albuquerque, the President spoke of the unsolved 2019 murder of Jacqueline Vigil as one of the reasons for the federal deployment. There were 82 murders in the city last year, which is believed to be the highest in Albuquerque’s history.
Vigil is the mother of two New Mexico State Police officers who were at the White House Wednesday for the announcement. Trump accused local leadership of being either “too proud” or “too political,” to ask for help solving the city’s crime problem.
“Other cities need help, they need it badly, they should call, they should call, they should want it, they’re too proud or they’re too political to do that, one of them is Albuquerque, New Mexico,” the President said. “Last fall, 55-year old Jackie Vigil was murdered as she was getting into her car to go to the gym.”
The President also invited Vigil’s husband to speak during the news conference. Sam Vigil described finding his wife shot in the front seat of her car. “That memory comes back and it haunts me,” Vigil said. “And Jackie, my wife, did not deserve to be killed that way, nobody does.”
Jacqueline Vigil’s November 2019 killing near Unser and I-40 remains unsolved. In the eight months since her death, Albuquerque Police haven’t made any arrests in the case. The FBI announced Wednesday it is now offering up to a $25,000 reward for any information leading to the identification and arrest of any suspects in the case.
Federal Department of Justice officials said the additional 35 federal agents headed to Albuquerque will come from the FBI, ATF, DEA, and U.S. Marshals Office. U.S. Attorney for New Mexico John Anderson said they will arrive in the coming days, and they will be temporary agents. It’s unclear exactly how long they’ll be in Albuquerque.
Anticipating the announcement, several Albuquerque city officials and other groups denounced the operation, raising concerns about federal law enforcement’s recent response in Portland, Oregon. Federal agents were sent there to protect federal property. They are said to have picked up and detained protesters in unmarked cars in recent weeks in Portland amid months of demonstrations in response to the death of George Floyd.
Anderson said Operation Legend is completely different from the federal presence in Portland. “What is happening in Albuquerque is a targeted law enforcement operation directed at violent crime and gun violence,” Anderson said. “It is not in any way directed at policing protesters or infringing on anyone’s constitutional rights. It is not about protecting courthouses. It is not about protecting buildings.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico said the federal government presence worries them. ACLU New Mexico Executive Director Peter Simonson said he’s not convinced that the additional federal agents will perform legitimate law enforcement.
“My concern, I think it’s born-out by the Portland experience, is that these officers are really not being sent to protect public safety, but ultimately to engage with protesters,” Simonson said. “You can’t be naive about what’s motivating the President under these circumstances, nothing he does cannot be read in the context of how it will benefit him politically,”
However, Republican Party Chairman Steve Pearce said he supports the effort, pointing to crime in the city of Albuquerque. Pearce called recent remarks by Albuquerque city officials denouncing the federal surge “irresponsible.”
“(Crime) has not stopped, in fact, is has gotten worse, so New Mexico is not the same as Portland, it’s much worse,” said Pearce. “New Mexico and Albuquerque, per say, are leading the nation in violent crimes, so to compare to them to Portland from that end, says that New Mexico should be more concerned.”
Attorney General William Barr revealed Wednesday that a recent surge of 200 agents in Kansas City, Missouri has resulted in 200 arrests over the past two weeks. Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham also announced that her office and the Attorney General are preparing to “actively monitor” for any civil violations during the federal surge.
Bernalillo County Sheriff Manny Gonzales was also at the White House on Wednesday. In a statement, Gonzales says in part: “Today’s announcement speaks for itself, special agents will combat Albuquerque’s out of control crime crisis.”
‘Operation Legend’ brings with it a large amount of money for law enforcement in here in Albuquerque. The DOJ is making more than $1.5 million available for BCSO. Nearly $10 million will be available for APD to use to fund the hiring of 40 officers.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham issued the following statement:
If the Trump administration sincerely wishes to assist local law enforcement in our state in their regular community-policing activities, in data-driven crime-fighting initiatives, in protecting the public safety and welfare of New Mexicans, we would welcome the conversation. If the Trump administration wishes to antagonize New Mexicans and Americans with authoritarian, unnecessary and unaccountable military-style ‘crackdowns,’ they have no business whatsoever in New Mexico.
An exercise meant only to escalate tension in New Mexico communities would be flatly unacceptable. If federal forces violate the rights of any New Mexican, if federal forces overstep their authority in any manner whatsoever, if there is any manner of clandestine authoritarian attempt to usurp local or state law enforcement operations in our state, the Attorney General and I will not hesitate to litigate against the federal government and hold the Trump administration accountable to the fullest extent of the law. My administration stands ready to provide whatever resources the Attorney General would need to execute accountability measures and to assure civil rights are upheld. We will continue to act every day in the best interests of New Mexicans and to support meaningful public safety efforts all across our state.Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, (D) New Mexico
Attorney General Hector Balderas issued the following statement:
It is very disturbing that public safety operations would be politicized to score cheap points, and on the front lines, law enforcement must work closely together to protect all members of our community. We will actively monitor this situation to ensure there are no civil rights violations in our community.Hector Balderas, New Mexico Attorney General
Bernalillo County District Attorney Raul Torrez issued the following statement:
There is no excuse – and no legal authority – for the abusive misconduct we
are witnessing on the streets of Portland. When masked federal agents grab fellow citizens off
the street and detain them without probable cause, they are violating their oath to uphold the
constitution and bringing dishonor to all those in federal service who place their lives on the line so that we can live in a free society.
As a former federal prosecutor, I have a deep appreciation for the important but constitutionally limited role that federal law enforcement plays in our society. I also believe that our federal partners have already made and will continue to make an important contribution to reducing violent crime on the streets of our community. However, in light of the President’s alarming and somewhat confused statements about the purpose behind deploying additional federal agents to communities like ours, I have asked the United States Attorney for the District of New Mexico to certify in writing that any additional agents limit their enforcement activities to their traditional role of investigating organized crime, high-level drug trafficking and gun violence. I have also made it clear that should any federal officer exceed their statutory authority and engage in activities that are constitutionally reserved for local law enforcement, that I am prepared to go to court to challenge such activity.Raúl Torrez, Bernalillo County (2nd Judicial) District Attorney
Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller released the following statement:
Our hearts are with Mr. Vigil, his family and every family who has been victim to gun violence–a decade-old problem that remains our top priority. Unfortunately, look at the President’s own words: he’s ready to incite violence in Democratic cities as a re-election strategy built on gaslighting immigrants and people of color. We always welcome partnerships in constitutional crime fighting that are in step with our community, but we won’t sell out our city for a bait and switch excuse to send secret police to Albuquerque. Operation Legend is not real crime-fighting; it’s politics standing in the way of police work and makes us less safe.Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller
Chief of Police for the Albuquerque Police Dept. Michael Geier released the following statement:
Contrary to claims by politicians in Washington. D.C., Albuquerque has been keeping overall violent crime flat and has reduced homicides thus far this year. We have made reducing gun violence a top priority and have worked with our community to make the city safer. While we welcome any assistance and additional resources to address violent crime, the President promised help in the past and has not yet followed through. We are still waiting on the $10 million Operation Relentless Pursuit funding that was promised last year to help us with our goal to hire more officers and to bring in additional federal law enforcement agents to assist us in our crime fighting efforts. While I will try to remain optimistic, I won’t hold my breath until we see all this actually come to fruition.Chief of Police for the Albuquerque Police Department Michael Geier