Tues: NMSU preaches anti-hazing message as school year begins, Judge sets “Rust” court date, + More

New Mexico State preaches anti-hazing message as student-athletes return for fall season — Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

Top administrators at New Mexico State University wanted to find just the right wording to announce that they were pulling the plug on the men’s basketball season following reports of alleged hazing involving team members.

It was a busy afternoon in February — Super Bowl Sunday, in fact — as university officials traded emails and made suggestions before dropping the bombshell that the season was finished. They wanted the message to address the safety of students as well as the integrity of the university. And time was of the essence.

“We don’t want our student athletes to hear this via media,” wrote Ann Goodman, the dean of students.

A review of hundreds of emails obtained by The Associated Press through a public records request provides insight into the damage control undertaken by New Mexico State University after news broke about the hazing allegations. It capped an already difficult season that had been marred by a deadly shooting on a rival campus after an Aggies basketball player was ambushed in retaliation for a brawl that broke out in the stands at a football game weeks earlier.

More than 2,400 pages of documents released by the university also show the disappointment and anger of fans and alumni over what many referred to as a “black eye” for the school. They also reveal the flurry of requests from reporters seeking interviews and the pitches from experts to hold training sessions for student athletes on preventing hazing, sexual assault and other misconduct. School staff also discussed creating a seminar for students, similar to one offered at Colorado State University.

The emails include reports from a media consulting group that tracked mentions of the battered school as administrators shared posts about other universities that were dealing with their own scandals, including Harvard’s women’s hockey team, though they preceded the more recent hazing scandal at Northwestern University.

Advocacy groups have been pushing for federal legislation for years, saying hazing is a nationwide problem, but it has been difficult for them to cite data since there are no national reporting requirements.

At NMSU, law firms were hired to conduct independent investigations into the shooting and hazing allegations, and to take an in-depth look into the athletics department.

The discussions among NMSU administrators also provided an acknowledgement that they needed to do more to educate students on where they could report potential violations and misbehavior. They hired a noted expert to present a hazing prevention symposium this fall for “a deeply discounted rate of $5,700,” updated the student handbook and put up posters in team locker rooms, with the names and phone numbers of officials who can be contacted, including Athletics Director Mario Moccia’s.

Moccia, who inked a contract extension that included a raise two months after the hazing allegations surfaced, outlined steps the school is taking to bombard students with more information this fall.

In his first interview since the allegations were made public, Moccia told The Associated Press that he hopes the efforts work.

“But ultimately, it’s up to the individual how much they will consume,” he said. “Just like homework, you can’t do the reading for them.”

The university also created an anti-hazing working group and is making its way through a list of 20 action items to address the concerns of state higher education officials.

Alumni and fans emailed Moccia and other school officials after the news broke, suggesting that the problems needed to be fixed quickly. In one email, Moccia summarized the reviews that were underway, saying none had yielded “any smoking guns.”

“The university did the most drastic thing that was possible,” Moccia said, referring to the cancellation of the season and the hiring of a new coaching staff.

Former head coach Greg Heiar and his lawyers have said he was made the scapegoat for hazing and other problems that Moccia and other administrators chose to ignore. The school disputed those claims in filings in an arbitration case.

The documents released by the university did not include any emails sent or received by Heiar regarding the team’s problems, bolstering the coach’s claims that he was kept out of the loop.

The New Mexico attorney general’s office continues to investigate, and records show that the university paid $8 million to settle the lawsuit involving two basketball players who said they were sexually assaulted by teammates.

New Mexico is one the few states without an anti-hazing law. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham plans to ask lawmakers during the 2024 legislative session to consider making hazing a crime.

Los Angeles-based attorney James DeSimone said there’s often a cone of silence that surrounds hazing due to shame or embarrassment felt by victims or even denial among perpetrators or bystanders. Another challenge, he said, is that such behavior is allowed to happen over time, creating a cycle of abuse.

“Instead of a culture where abuse is tolerated and condoned, you know, you really have to create a culture where people have respect for each other,” said DeSimone, noting that it starts with coaches setting expectations for players.

DeSimone’s firm is working on a case involving a University of California, Riverside student who died in 2018 while pledging for a fraternity. He said all universities should have liaisons who are trained to spot abuse and report it.

Having played baseball for the Aggies for two years and then in the minor leagues for the Detroit Tigers, Moccia said he never witnessed behavior in the locker room like what the former NMSU players described to law enforcement.

“Never in my life,” he said. “So yes, it was kind of like an atomic bomb, you know, when these allegations came to light. And I understand, it’s unbelievably disturbing. We certainly feel tremendously for the individuals that were involved.”

Still, Moccia is confident following the review of an out-of-state law firm that interviewed dozens of student-athletes, coaches and faculty. He recited the findings word for word, saying the misconduct was limited to the men’s basketball team and was “a significant departure from the norm” for student athletes and coaches at the university.

A separate review by a New Mexico law firm included several recommendations.

The changes are a work in progress, Moccia said.

“I think in this world you could always do something more,” he said. “However, I think we’re doing about everything we can humanly possibly think of to educate our student athletes on where to go on a myriad of issues that might crop up.”

Manager with Colorado cannabis business is tapped to lead New Mexico’s team of marijuana regulators — Associated Press

A manager with one of Colorado’s largest cannabis companies will serve as the next director of New Mexico’s Cannabis Control Division.

New Mexico announced the hiring of Todd Stevens on Monday, saying he has years of experience working in Colorado’s marijuana industry. He most recently served as the manager of training and development at Native Roots Cannabis Co.

Stevens’ appointment follows a year of turnover at the division and comes as regulators try to ramp up enforcement against non-compliant businesses. Most recently, a state district judge granted the division’s request to halt operations at an Albuquerque business that regulators claimed was unlawfully selling out-of-state cannabis products and manufacturing extracts without a proper license or permit.

Stevens said in a statement that he wanted to help the industry become an economic driver while protecting consumer safety.

“In the past year, New Mexico has established a thriving new industry, licensed more than 2,000 cannabis businesses, and held those businesses to the high standard that comes with an adult-use cannabis market,” he said.

During his time in Colorado, Stevens was part of the design and development of training and recertification for more than 200 retail employees and oversaw operations at five dispensaries.

Trial scheduled in 2024 for movie armorer in fatal shooting of cinematographer by actor Alec Baldwin — Associated Press

A New Mexico judge has set a 2024 starting date for the trial of movie armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed in the fatal shooting of a cinematographer by actor Alec Baldwin during a rehearsal on the set of a Western film.

State district court Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer on Monday scheduled the trial to run from Feb. 21 through March 6 in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The first day begins with jury selection.

Gutierrez-Reed has pleaded not guilty to charges of involuntary manslaughter and evidence tampering in the fatal shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins during a rehearsal on the set of “Rust” on Oct. 21, 2021.

An attorney for Gutierrez-Reed has described the fatal shooting as a tragic accident and says the film’s armorer committed no crime. Gutierrez-Reed is currently the sole criminal defendant.

Prosecutors are weighing whether to refile a charge against Baldwin after receiving a new analysis of the gun fired at Hutchins. Special prosecutors dismissed an involuntary manslaughter charge against Baldwin in April, saying they were informed the gun might have been modified before the shooting and malfunctioned.

Baldwin has said he pulled back the hammer — but not the trigger — and the gun fired, fatally wounding Hutchins and injuring director Joel Souza.

In March, “Rust” assistant director and safety coordinator David Halls pleaded no contest to a conviction for unsafe handling of a firearm and received a suspended sentence of six months of probation. He agreed to cooperate in the investigation of the shooting.

Defense attorneys said they plan to present evidence that Gutierrez-Reed asked Halls to call her back into rehearsal if Baldwin planned to use the gun. They say that didn’t happen before Hutchins was shot.

The filming of “Rust” resumed this year in Montana, under an agreement with the cinematographer’s widower, Matthew Hutchins, that made him an executive producer.

2 teens arrested, 2 sought in a drive-by shooting that mistakenly killed a 5-year-old girl — Associated Press

Four teenagers have been charged in a drive-by shooting that mistakenly killed a 5-year-old girl as she slept inside a trailer home in southwest Albuquerque last week, authorities said Monday.

City police said the girl wasn’t targeted and a teenage boy living in the trailer with his grandmother had a feud since middle school with one of the charged teens and the dispute had escalated.

“We do not believe that this shooting was random,” said Cecily Barker, a deputy chief for the police department’s investigative bureau. “We determined early on that a teenager who lived at that residence was the target of the shooting.”

Two boys, ages 15 and 16, are in custody while two brothers, ages 15 and 17, still are being sought in the murder case, police said at a news conference.

The Associated Press is not naming the four teens because they are juveniles.

Police said the teens were in two stolen vehicles that entered a mobile home park around 6 a.m. on Aug. 13.

They say several gunshots were fired from at least one of the vehicles toward a trailer where Galilea Samaniego was sleeping with her two sisters.

Police said Samaniego was struck in the head by a bullet and later died at a hospital.

Barker said police were able to “tie cases to several incidents that involve the same juveniles.”

The four suspects have been charged with an open count of murder, conspiracy, shooting at a dwelling or occupied building, shooting at or from a motor vehicle, and unlawful taking of a motor vehicle, according to police.

Authorities said a fundraiser has been arranged for Samaniego’s burial services.

Tribal courts across the country are expanding holistic alternatives to the criminal justice system — Hallie Golden, Associated Press

Inside a jail cell at Laguna Pueblo in New Mexico, Albertyn Pino’s only plan was to finish the six-month sentence for public intoxication, along with other charges, and to return to her abusive boyfriend.

That’s when she was offered a lifeline: An invitation to the tribe’s Healing to Wellness Court. She would be released early if she agreed to attend alcohol treatment and counseling sessions, secure a bed at a shelter, get a job, undergo drug testing and regularly check in with a judge.

Pino, now 53, ultimately completed the requirements and, after about a year and a half, the charges were dropped. She looks back at that time, 15 years ago, and is grateful that people envisioned a better future for her when she struggled to see one for herself.

“It helped me start learning more about myself, about what made me tick, because I didn’t know who I was,” said Pino, who is now a case manager and certified peer support worker. “I didn’t know what to do.”

The concept of treating people in the criminal justice system holistically is not new in Indian Country, but there are new programs coming on board as well as expanded approaches. About one-third of the roughly 320 tribal court systems across the country have aspects of this healing and wellness approach, according to the National American Indian Court Judges Association.

Some tribes are incorporating these aspects into more specialized juvenile and family courts, said Kristina Pacheco, Tribal Healing to Wellness Court specialist for the California-based Tribal Law and Policy Institute. The court judges association is also working on pilot projects for holistic defense — which combine legal advocacy and support — with tribes in Alaska, Nevada and Oklahoma, modeled after a successful initiative at the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes in Montana.

“The thought and the concept will be different from tribe to tribe,” said Pacheco. “But ultimately, we all want our tribal people … to not hurt, not suffer.”

People in the program typically are facing nonviolent misdemeanors, such as a DUI, public intoxication or burglary, she said. Some courts, like in the case of Pino, drop the charges once participants complete the program.

A program at the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe in Washington state applies restorative principles, and assigns wellness coaches to serve Native Americans and non-Natives in the local county jail, a report released earlier this year by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation outlined. The Muscogee (Creek) Nation in Oklahoma has a reintegration program that includes financial support and housing services, as well as cultural programming, career development and legal counsel. In Alaska, the Kenaitze Indian Tribe’s wellness court helps adults in tribal and state court who are battling substance abuse and incorporates elements of their tribe’s culture.

“There’s a lot of shame and guilt when you’re arrested,” said Mary Rodriguez, staff attorney for the court judges association. “You don’t reach out to those resources, you feel that you aren’t entitled to those resources, that those are for somebody who isn’t in trouble with the law.”

“The idea of holistic defense is opening that up and reclaiming you are our community member, we understand there are issues,” Rodriguez said. “You are better than the worst thing you’ve done.”

The MacArthur Foundation report outlined a series of inequities, including a complicated jurisdictional maze in Indian Country that can result in multiple courts charging Native Americans for the same offense. The report also listed historical trauma and a lack of access to free, legal counsel within tribes as factors that contribute to disproportionate representation of Native Americans in federal and state prisons.

Advocates of tribal healing to wellness initiatives see the approaches as a way to shift the narrative of someone’s life and address the underlying causes of criminal activity.

There isn’t clear data that shows how holistic alternatives to harsh penalization have influenced incarceration rates. Narrative outcomes might be a better measure of success, including regaining custody of one’s children and maintaining a driver’s license, said Johanna Farmer, an enrolled citizen of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe in South Dakota and a program attorney for the court judges association.

Some tribes have incorporated specific cultural and community elements into healing, such as requiring participants to interview their own family members to establish a sense of rootedness and belonging.

“You have the narratives, the stories, the qualitative data showing that healing to wellness court, the holistic defense practices are more in line with a lot of traditional tribal community practices,” Farmer said. “And when your justice systems align with your traditional values or the values you have in your community, the more likely you’re going to see better results.”

While not all of these tribal healing to wellness programs have received federal funding, some have.

Between 2020 and 2022, the U.S. Department of Justice distributed more than a dozen awards that totaled about $9.4 million for tribal healing to wellness courts.

This year, the Quapaw Nation in Oklahoma started working on a holistic defense program after seeing a sharp increase in cases following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that said a large area of eastern Oklahoma remains a Native American reservation.

So far this year, about 70 cases have been filed, up from nearly a dozen in all of 2020, said Corissa Millard, tribal court administrator.

“When we look at holistic approaches, we think, what’s going to better help the community in long term?” she said. “Is sending someone away for a three-year punishment going to be it? Will they reoffend once they get out? Or do you want to try to fix the problem before it escalates?”

For Pino, the journey through Laguna Pueblo’s wellness court wasn’t smooth. She struggled through relapses and a brief stint on the run before she found a job and an apartment to live in with her son nearby in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Her daughters live close by.

She largely credits the wellness court staff for her ability to turnaround her life, she said.

“They were the ones that stood by me, regardless of what I was choosing to do; that was the part that brought me a lot of hope,” she said. “And now where I’m at, just to see them happy, it gets emotional, because they never let go. They never gave up on me.” ___

Associated Press writer Felicia Fonseca in Flagstaff, Arizona, contributed.

Tenor Freddie de Tommaso, a young British sensation, makes US opera debut — Mike Silverman, Associated Press

“British Tenor Saves Night at Opera,” proclaimed the Daily Mail.

The opera was Puccini’s “Tosca,” and the tenor was then-28-year-old Freddie de Tommaso, jumping in at London’s Royal Opera House when the scheduled singer withdrew after Act 1 because of illness.

That was nearly two years ago. Now de Tommaso has just made his U.S. debut at the Santa Fe Opera in the same role, appearing to enthusiastic applause on Aug. 12, five days after a bout of laryngitis forced him to cancel his first performance. His final performance is Saturday.

And he’ll return in the 2024-25 season for another debut, this time at the Metropolitan Opera, where he’ll again be Tosca’s lover, Mario Cavaradossi.

In an interview at the opera house here, de Tommaso reflected on his career so far and the “star is born” moment in London that first brought him headlines.

“So many people thought I was like an understudy or somebody they found walking down the street whistling ‘Tosca,’ and that wasn’t the case,” he recalled. In fact, he had been part of the second cast and was already scheduled to perform the role three nights later.

“But it was incredibly exciting,” he said, his animated tone reflecting his exuberant personality. “From the moment I put my costume on until I took my bow two hours later, it felt like about 90 seconds.”

De Tommaso’s exposure to opera began while he was growing up in Tunbridge Wells, where he sang in his school choir. His mother took him to performances and his Italian-born father, who ran a restaurant, serenaded diners with Luciano Pavarotti recordings.

Once he decided to study singing seriously, he applied to the Royal Academy of Music. Mark Wildman, who became his teacher, remembers hearing him audition.

“My first impression of his voice was that it was a robust but rough-hewn diamond of a baritone voice with a surprisingly easy top for one so young,” Wildman said. “He looked like a singer: big broad shoulders, barrel-chested, together with a very strong physique and a voice that matched.”

That easy top got easier and higher as de Tommaso’s studies progressed, and Wildman eventually suggested his pupil might actually be a tenor.

“I well remember his face lighting up as if he’d just received his most desired present on Christmas Day! And there was no holding him back,” Wildman said.

De Tommaso immersed himself in recordings of great tenors and borrowed what he could: Franco Corelli (“so virile”); Mario del Monaco (“The dramatic aspect”); Carlo Bergonzi (“I don’t think you’ll hear any more elegant singing”); Giacomo Lauri-Volpi (“His high C was literally huge.”)

“So I kind of made a trifle of singers,” de Tommaso said, a joking reference to the traditional English dessert in which a chef embellishes sponge cake with whatever ingredients he likes, from fruit to jelly to custard to cream.

DeTommaso’s breakthrough came at age 23 when — on a lark, to hear him tell it — he entered the 2018 Tenor Viñas International Singing Competition in Barcelona. He ended up winning three awards— the first prize, the Verdi Prize and the Domingo Prize.

The response was immediate. “It was mental, actually,” de Tommaso said. “I remember afterwards being in the hotel in Spain and getting all these emails and Facebook messages from agents. Who are these people, I thought naively.”

Among those listening in Barcelona was Peter Katona, casting director for the Royal Opera.

“I was quite startled when I heard him,” Katona said. “It was immediately clear that he was above everybody else in terms of vocal quality. Often with young singers, there’s something that is not quite there. With him, you could just lean back and enjoy his singing.”

Now at 30, he’s in demand at all the major European houses.

“It’s almost a little frightening that everything has been going so well for him,” Katona said. “With such a special talent one is always wary that he can pick the wrong role, overstretch. So far he hasn’t put a foot wrong.”

For the coming season he has two new roles: Pollione in Bellini’s “Norma” at Milan’s La Scala and Gabriele Adorno in Verdi’s “Simon Boccanegra” in Vienna.

And after his Met debut, he’ll be a frequent return visitor to the New York house. Peter Gelb, the company’s general manager, called him “part of a new wave of powerhouse tenors … that we hope will become Met mainstays of the future.”

At times de Tommaso finds it painful to turn down offers of new roles because they aren’t suited to his voice in its current stage. “I feel like a horse that’s ready to run, and when you’re called back, it can be a bit frustrating,” he said.

“One of the most important words I’ve had to learn to say is ‘”No,'” de Tommaso said, as he did when a German theater asked him to sing Radames in Verdi’s “Aida.” He told them simply: “It’s too early.”

Too early as well is the pinnacle of the Verdi tenor repertory, the title role in “Otello.” It’s his dream to tackle it in “maybe five to 10 years.”

But sparingly. “These little bits of flesh, they can only take so much punishment for so long,” he said pointing to his vocal cords. “And if you’re singing the most dramatic parts like Otello, you can’t keep it up forever. I would quite like to sing until I’m 55 or 60.”

With all the pressures of a blooming international career, de Tommaso still marvels at the opportunities coming his way.

“What a job I have!” he said. “Just going around the world to places like Santa Fe, one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.” He rattled off the list of other spots where he’s performed this summer: Verona, Italy; Verbier, Switzerland; Peralada, Spain.

In Santa Fe, de Tommaso has been spending much of his time between rehearsals and performances playing golf.

“I’m not very good, but the reason I like it is my life is so hectic, and when you play golf you can’t think about anything else but hitting that ball,” he said. “Everything else takes a back seat just for the three hours.”

With such a crowded schedule, de Tommaso said his manager has to remind him that he needs to take the occasional vacation. “After five or six days I get itchy feet,” he said.

Still he has managed to carve out time for his wedding next month to soprano Alexandra Oomens, who was a fellow student at the Royal Academy.

They’re flying to Mauritius for their honeymoon, but even that has been tweaked to accommodate his career.

“We were originally going to go for two weeks,” he said. “But then I got a job, so we’re only going for 10 days.”

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