Santa Fe DA explains decision to offer plea deals in obelisk case


SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – We’re now hearing from the District Attorney that offered plea deals to the protestors who tore down the obelisk in the Santa Fe Plaza back in October. In an email to community members, she said no matter how you viewed the obelisk, the way it was torn down was a crime. She said the plea deals are not a ‘slap on the wrist’ but a way for meaningful justice.

“This is a way to get the most accountability and the most remorse out of these defendants. And like I said, the chances that they would’ve spent even 24 hours in jail were slim to none. That’s just the reality of our criminal justice system here in New Mexico and in the first judicial district,” Mary Carmack-Altwies, District Attorney for Santa Fe, Los Alamos, and Rio Arriba Counties said in an interview with KRQE.

Seven of the eight protestors charged for their role in toppling the obelisk were offered and accepted plea deals and will partake in a diversion program. It includes the defendants participating in a restorative justice process where they will talk with community members affected by the destruction of the obelisk.

“This is a good opportunity to bring all sides of the controversy together. People that believe the obelisk should still be there, people that believe it should be down, people that think it should’ve come down but not in that manner, and restorative justice is really bringing everybody to the table and these people will have to listen to how their actions affected other members of their community,” Carmack-Altwies said.

The defendants also have to complete an additional 40 hours of community service and write a statement to the D.A.’s office taking responsibility for their actions. Union Protectiva de Santa Fe is still is not satisfied with the deals. The group said it was created to “preserve the language and culture of Santa Fe for descendants of Spanish colonizers.”

“We’re not asking for jail time, community service is fine. But they need a record, they need to be held responsible for what they have done,” said Virgil Vigil, of Union Protectiva de Santa Fe. “We’re just asking for true justice, that’s all. we’re just asking for these individuals to not to be treated specially, which is what’s happening now.”

“Even if we’d gotten a conviction, which there were some legal concerns about, a judge would most likely have ended up giving them a conditional discharge and supervised probation for a lesser amount of time than we what we got out of our diversion program,” Carmack-Altwies said.

The District Attorney’s office is spending $1,500 of seed money to start the restorative justice process and find individuals who want to come to the table and talk with defendants about how they were impacted. The defendants will pay for the rest of the process which Carmack-Altwies said could be around $10,000.

“I want to encourage people to reach out and be a part of this so that we can all come to a better understanding and a better resolution for this,” she said. People can apply to be part of the process.

The charges of the seven defendants won’t be dismissed unless and until they complete the entire Diversion Program. According to court documents, they were offered the program since they do not have prior felony convictions.

The eighth and final defendant was offered a plea deal but did not have representation at the time, which Carmack-Altwies said complicated the communication and the process. The D.A.’s office has filed a motion to set a hearing to figure out who his council will be. As of right now, he will go to trial.

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