Pubdate: Sat, 01 Mar 2014
Source: Albuquerque Journal (NM)
Copyright: 2014 Albuquerque Journal
Author: Andy Stiny
Bookmark: (Johnson, Gary)


Agents, Drug Dog Ran 'Saturation Patrol' In Parking Lot

SANTA FE - One Carson National Forest employee has been called a 
Nazi, former Gov. Gary Johnson is on the warpath and there have been 
numerous other complaints because of a drug sweep by Forest Service 
agents at Taos Ski Valley last week.

In short, the agency is catching some serious grief for an operation 
in which four agents with a drug dog issued several citations and 
confiscated "possession amounts" of marijuana in a "saturation 
patrol" that included the ski valley parking area and nearby roads.

And the Forest Service is doing some serious backpedaling.

We've had "many, many complaints," said Kathy DeLucas, a Carson 
National Forest spokeswoman.

She said her office had no prior knowledge of the Feb. 22 operation 
and that the impetus for the sweep came from Forest Service law 
enforcement in Albuquerque. The ski valley operates on Carson 
National Forest lands.

Robin Poague of the Albuquerque office and special agent in charge 
for Forest Service's Southwestern Region said he's "not sure who 
actually made the decision" to conduct the drug sweep. That 
individual may be away on a training assignment, he said.

"I don't agree with the tone that was set by the officers there," said Poague.

Asked what he meant, he said, "I think there were too many officers 
up there. ... We are taking a look at it and the unintended 
consequences of public perception."

Poague described the operation as a "saturation patrol" and it was 
his understanding that, prior to the raid, "they had some issues up 
there," apparently some sort of altercation.

"I am definitely conducting an inquiry as to what happened up there," 
he added. He said he's aware of the number of complaints to the Taos 
office "and that's led to my concern."

"Our goal is that people have a safe experience on Forest Service 
land," said Poague.

Ski valley marketing director and vice-president Chris Stagg said he 
didn't witness the officers in action but employees and guests 
complained to him and other ski valley officials.

"They didn't show respect to people," said Stagg. "Clearly, I thought 
the officers, their demeanor was rude and out of line."

One consequence of all this, according to DeLucas, was that a Taos 
employee of the national forest "went into the grocery store in her 
Forest Service uniform and was called a Nazi. So it's affecting all of us."

Apparently, "there was a cancer fundraising event and youth event" 
going on at the ski valley when the officers and their dog made their 
appearance on a Saturday, she said.

"A father who had his 11-year-old daughter with him there said 
'Skiing is supposed to be fun,' but he was subjected to this," 
DeLucas added. She said she's forwarding complaints to Poague.

Johnson: 'Police state'

Former Gov. Johnson, who lives at Taos Ski Valley, said he was outraged.

He was on the ski hill the day of the drug sweep but didn't see what 
happened when the officers showed up.

"This is a police state," said Johnson, a former Libertarian Party 
candidate for president and advocate for drug legalization. "These 
are jackbooted thugs."

He wanted to know "who is ordering this and why?"

Johnson said he got firsthand accounts of the raid from a dozen 
people. He was told the officers had to muzzle their "dog because 
this dog even bit one of its handlers. This dog was in the face of 
young children."

Poague said the dog was a "drug and protection dog," and it sniffed 
vehicles for drugs and did not sniff people.

Five pot tickets

The Forest Service officers issued five violation notices for 
marijuana possession, one for illegal possession of prescription 
drugs and others for traffic or vehicle equipment violations. There 
also were verbal warnings for things like cracked windshields, said 
Poague. No "traffickable amounts" of pot were found, he said.

Stagg said the Forest Service raid had stirred up bad feelings 
similar to those stoked by a State Police drug task force roadblock 
at the ski valley in the 1990s. Skiers and visitors on their way to 
the valley on NM 150 were subjected to drug dog searches.

That event was condemned by the then chief of the New Mexico Tourism 
Department, the late Michael Cerletti. A travel writer from the East 
who got caught up in the roadblock alleged that he was intimidated 
into making "a contribution" to a local crime fighting group.

Current tourism secretary Monique Jacobson, who is originally from 
Taos, could not be reached for comment Friday afternoon.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom