Ryan Laughlin & Megan Abundis
Updated: July 14, 2020 07:41 AM
Created: July 13, 2020 04:21 PM
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.- The Bernalillo County district attorney filed a lawsuit Monday against the New Mexico Civil Guard, a group that has showed up at protests in military-like uniforms, carrying guns, and telling people they are there to protect property.
"When you have self-appointed police officers and military units out there advancing their own form of justice, there is no democratic accountability," District Attorney Raul Torrez said.
The lawsuit asks a judge to order the New Mexico Civil Guard to stop representing itself as a police force.
"What is affected is their ability to organize, train and operate as an unlawful group," Torrez said.
The 39-page civil lawsuit names more than a dozen members of the group - pointing out one is a member of the "Proud Boys," a designated hate group. Another has a tattoo of a swastika, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit also claims the group's "presence fostered and encouraged violence by counter-protestors." It specifically mentions Steven Baca, who is accused of shooting someone at a protest of a Juan de Oñate statue, and is not affiliated with the group.
New Mexico Civil Guard leader Bryce Provance said in a KOB 4 phone interview that city leaders are trying to divert the blame away from law enforcement over how the protest was handled that night.
"They are deflecting," he said. "The mayor and deputy chief ordered their officers not be in an area so that violence could be carried out against property against counter protestors and it backfired. Somebody got shot, and then we had to disarm the shooter, form a perimeter around him and hold him until police arrived and because of the mayor and deputy chief's ineptitude, they are going to deflect and try and charge us and sue us whatever they are going to do."
Torrez says the group still has the right to assemble, and still has the right to own guns and open carry in New Mexico.
However, he said they don't have the right to act as police.
"You don't have the right to act as an unlicensed and unlawful militia group," Torrez said.
Torrez said the lawsuit is the first-of-its-kind in the country, which means there are a lot of unknowns about jurisdiction, what role the federal government will play, and how it could impact other professional protective services. The DA's office teamed up with a legal group out of Georgetown that helped with litigation after the Charlottesville Unite the Right Rally turned deadly.
A local defense attorney described what to expect over the next couple months as this lawsuit plays out in court.
"It's going to be a battle," Britany Schaffer, an attorney. "It's going to be interesting to see whether there's going to be counter claims. I imagine we will see at least a couple motions as to the constitutional issues and probably a motion to dismiss just based on the novelty of it. There hasn't been a case like this in the country, so I think there's not going to be a lot of precedence. The court is going to be on their toes to see whether this type of relief is even allowed. I think given the statutes as to operating without any kind of legal authority, those will be pretty straight forward."
"They are holding themselves out to be this legal authority that they are not. That's clear from their mission statement, it's clear from their actions, and that kind of vigilante is not allowed in our society," she added.
The New Mexico Civil Guard issued the following response to the lawsuit on Facebook:
The Governor is again falsely accusing the NMCG, and threatening charges. She could not label us as racists and terrorists or tie us to the shooter who none of us knew and is now trying another tactic.
She is trying to deflect from the fact that on her watch and Mayor Keller’s police were told to stand down and a man was shot. More individuals would have been hurt if we had not been there to do what APD wanted to do but the mayor and deputy chief ordered them not to. By ordering police to let protesters tear down statues and destroy property they made that situation violent if one cruiser would have been there there would have been no blood on the streets that day.
KOB 4 reached out to the militia's lawyer, but he declined to comment because he hadn't read the lawsuit in its entirety.
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