4 Investigates: Justice in Gallup

4 Investigates: Justice in Gallup

It may be hard to find justice in Gallup in part because it’s hard to find people to work at the district attorney’s office. 4 Investigates spoke to several sources and poured over public records to confirm the office has routinely operated with fewer than half the nine prosecutors budgeted.

GALLUP, N.M. — For all of Gallup’s Old West allure, it can be hard to find justice there. In the past several months, 4 Investigates uncovered two vehicular homicide cases that have languished without being prosecuted.

Jeulina Livingston, whose daughter Raven died in a 2017 crash, recalled learning a judge had dismissed the case for lack of evidence at a preliminary hearing. She went to talk to District Attorney Bernadine Martin and her chief deputy DA Mandana Shoushtari, where she said she was promised the case would be appealed or refiled.

“The day I found out, I went over there and I got to see her, and I was just screaming, shouting, and crying to her. And I said, ‘This is not fair. This is not fair to me. It’s not fair to my family.’”

It may be hard to find justice in Gallup in part because it’s hard to find people to work at the district attorney’s office. 4 Investigates spoke to several sources and pored over public records to confirm the office has routinely operated with fewer than half the nine prosecutors budgeted.

This summer, six positions were vacant. Early this fall, DA Martin apparently lost a trial attorney but had hired two prosecutors. This week, only Martin and her chief deputy were listed as working attorneys.

More state records show a contract attorney, Brandon W. Vigil, has picked up some of the slack. Outside prosecutors are expensive, though, and since Martin took office, New Mexico taxpayers have contracted to pay Vigil more than $335,000. Currently, court records show Vigil primarily handles DWI cases for the district attorney.

Outside legal contracts have caused Martin some pain. Earlier this year, the State Ethics Commission told the DA she hadn’t been following the procurement code by putting those services out for bid.

While families have complained about Martin’s lack of action, this spring, the DA filed charges against a judge. The dispute limited the number of judges available to handle what cases prosecutors were able to file and threatened to further slow the crawl of justice.

Martin’s office accused Magistrate Judge Brent Detsoi of illegally acting as a magistrate when he’d been disqualified. Detsoi said he’d already acted on an issue in the case and thus could not be disqualified. When a special prosecutor looked at the charges weeks later, he dismissed them.

Martin’s office had routinely excluded Detsoi from cases, forcing the workload onto other magistrates in Gallup. The DA believed Detsoi had unfairly ruled against her office several times and excusing him from cases was her right. A couple weeks after she filed charges against Detsoi, the chief judge for the 11th Judicial District asked the Supreme Court whether the excusals were excessive. Chief Justice Shannon Bacon issued an order forbidding Martin’s office from excusing Detsoi until further notice. Months later, the Supreme Court has not changed its position.

Detsoi’s attorney said the judge would not comment on the dismissed charges.

After years of prodding, one family 4 Investigates profiled was able to get Martin to hand their case to the Attorney General’s Office.

Dan McCormick’s mother and stepfather were killed in October 2020, when a semi driver slammed into their SUV at highway speeds as they and others slowed for a construction zone.

“I sympathize with their frustration,” Deputy Attorney General Greer Staley told KOB. “I know that sometimes the wheels of justice turn much slower than families want.”

The attorney general cannot generally take cases at the office’s discretion. Instead, district attorneys must send “declination” letters officially handing over a case. Martin had not done so despite repeated requests from McCormick and his wife, Katie.

“It seemed like maybe there was that that office was possibly overwhelmed, and I can’t speak to exactly what was going on within that office or caseload or anything like that. But it did seem like that was a potential,” explained Staley.

A spokeswoman for the office told 4 Investigates that prosecutors are waiting on further evidence in the case and the office has not decided whether to file charges.

For Jeulina Livingston, who was promised charges would be refiled against the driver who allegedly caused her daughter’s death, time is running out. The six-year statute of limitations expires in two months.

Note: Hours before this story was set to air, District Attorney Bernadine Martin sent KOB a statement. It is reprinted in full below. However, it incorrectly refers to the Livingston case as still in intake. Martin’s office filed charges against the driver – Timothy Martine, Jr. – in late 2021. A judge dismissed them when several police officers did not show up to testify. Martin’s chief deputy DA told the judge she planned to appeal the decision.

As for the McCormick’s October 2020 case, Martin initially refused to send it to the AG’s office. Late this summer, she reversed course and agreed to let the attorney general decide on prosecution.

“The lack of professional employees in Gallup/McKinley County is not new. Our hospitals lack doctors and nurses. Our schools lack teachers so your focus on my office is biased. Since the COVID pandemic, it is not ‘news’ that many individuals chose to not return to work—this is nationwide and affects commerce in general. Further, there is a statewide shortage of prosecutors in New Mexico (and quite possibly in New Mexico government in general).

“I can’t say why I don’t have a full staff of attorneys. I can’t say that there ever was a full staff of attorneys here. I have advertised for prosecutors since I began my term as district attorney in 2021. I have an established prosecution policy that must be followed which is based on the pursuit of justice. This policy has resulted in a great number of DWI convictions as well as drug trafficking convictions (we have our share of meth and fentanyl issues).

In your last broadcast, you focused on two (2) INTAKES (cases that were not yet filed) where you unfairly portrayed the work done by this office. I have a committed support staff and few attorneys; however the work is getting done. I have had attorney inquiries, but housing seems to be a major problem in Gallup—and housing is easier found in Santa Fe, Albuquerque and Las Cruces.

With regard to Magistrate Detsoi, I choose to abide by my ethical obligations thus will not discuss the magistrate’s issues; I will abide by the standards of the profession.”