*Editor’s note: This article has been corrected to clarify that the ordered early release of some prisoners has not yet been rescinded.
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) — The race for the governor’s office is in full swing in New Mexico, and that means more TV ads hoping to catch your attention and win your vote. A newer ad from Republican candidate Mark Ronchetti highlights New Mexico crime by using his family’s own experience as an example.
So what’s the context? KRQE News 13 is looking into the gubernatorial candidates’ political advertisements over the next several months in the run-up to Election Day to help voters get the full story.
First off, the suspicious persons report at Ronchetti’s house did happen, according to police records. Through a public records request, KRQE News 13 obtained a copy of notes associated with Albuquerque Police’s response to a northeast address in 2012. The record is often called a “Computer Aided Dispatch” or CAD log.
The emergency call happened just over a decade ago. At about 9:30 p.m. on June 19, 2012, Ronchetti’s wife, Krysty, called 911. The police log indicates that she heard someone attempting to open their front door and heard someone at the door from the house to the garage.
As described in the campaign ad, the police log notes that Krysty told police she got a loaded gun from the closet. Police notes indicate she then waited in the upstairs bedroom with her kids.
No one got into the bedroom. Police officers eventually made contact with Krysty and the CAD log makes no further mention about what happened. Records indicate the event was over by about 10:27 p.m., roughly 30 minutes after police arrived.
While police records corroborate the story, as mentioned, the events happened in 2012. That’s well before Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s administration began in 2019. Still, Ronchetti’s campaign team says the story highlights the ongoing issue of safety, or lack thereof, in New Mexico.
“We would like to clarify that we have never cited this incident having happened during Michelle Lujan Grisham’s administration,” Ryan Sabel, the communications director for Ronchetti’s campaign, told KRQE News 13. “In the ad Mark is simply sharing his family’s personal story with crime that many people in the state of New Mexico can unfortunately relate to.”
Debate over qualified immunity
Ronchetti’s ad also claims that Lujan Grisham has “made it easier to be a criminal than a cop.” The video highlights a headline from the Wall Street Journal: “New Mexico Makes It Easier to Sue Police.” That article is referencing the fact that in 2021, New Mexico enacted a law that effectively prevents police from using qualified immunity as a legal defense against civil lawsuits.
In general, qualified immunity helps protect police from personal lawsuits claiming that the police violated someone’s rights. It does not shield police from all civil and criminal allegations though (for example, qualified immunity doesn’t protect officers that violate clearly established constitutional rights.)
However, qualified immunity does offer some legal protection for people acting as an employee of the government. Take the case of Boback Sabeerin, who was convicted of vehicle identification number (VIN) switching-related crimes. Sabeerin brought a lawsuit against the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) detectives involved in the case, claiming that they unlawfully searched his property. The APD detectives used qualified immunity as a defense. In April 2022, a federal circuit court affirmed a decision saying the police officers were protected from being individually accused.
Proponents of removing qualified immunity argue that limiting when government officials can use the legal defense helps hold the government accountable and helps protect citizen’s rights. Opponents argue that limiting the defense can cost taxpayers and leave police officers vulnerable to individual lawsuits.
New Mexico isn’t the only state that has recently done away with or limited qualified immunity. Colorado limited how police officers could use the defense in 2020, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. When signing the law removing qualified immunity in New Mexico, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham said it’s “not an anti-police bill.”
Ronchetti’s ad goes on to say that Lujan Grisham has “released criminals from prison early.” And this is true, but there’s more to the story about why it happened.
The early releases began in 2020, when COVID-19 was beginning to spread across New Mexico. In April 2020, the Governor ordered the release of some prison inmates in an effort to cut down on the virus’s spread, and that order remains in effect until rescinded.
Lujan Grisham ordered that only prisoners who were already scheduled to be released in the next 30 days be released early. And they went into parole right away. The order also stipulated that sex offenders, firearm users, intoxicated drivers, domestic abusers or people charged with assaulting police were not eligible for early release.
KRQE News 13 reached out to the state’s public safety department to learn how many inmates have ultimately been released early under Lujan Grisham’s executive order. However, the department said the data was not immediately available, and would take some time to provide.
Editor’s Note: This story is the first in a series of fact checks. In an effort to ensure voters get the full story, KRQE News 13 will fact check and provide context for each TV ad used in the race for the Governor’s office. The series will only look at ads from the candidates, not ads from political action committees, and will dive into ads run between September 5, 2022 and the November election.