Tuesday, December 8, 2009

State Police Investigate Lawmaker Altercation

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
December 9, 2009

State police are investigating an altercation that allegedly took between two legislators at the state Capitol last week.

State Rep. Patty Lundstrom, D-Gallup, on Friday reported to police that state Rep. Sandra Jeff, D-Crownpoint, confronted her by a third-floor elevator as she was leaving a meeting of the Indian Affairs Committee, yelled at her and called her “some pretty rough names,” then punched her in the arm to make her point.

Both lawmakers serve on the committee, which meets during the interim when the Legislature is not in session.

Jeff couldn’t be reached for comment Tuesday.

State police spokesman Lt. Eric Garcia said Tuesday that police have taken a “partial statement” from Lundstrom and have not yet interviewed Jeff.

“Regardless of their place positions, we are going to conduct a thorough investigation,” Garcia said.

Lundstrom said Tuesday that she hopes not to have to resolve the matter in criminal court. “If there’s a way we can solve it internally, I’d prefer that,” she said. She said she’s going to talk with the Legislative Council today to see if she can file a complaint to the Legislature’s Ethics Committee — which hasn’t met in more than 10 years — to investigate the incident.

Garcia said even if Lundstrom doesn’t press charges, police still intend to complete the investigation.

Investigators spent part of Monday at the Capitol looking at security tape. But Garcia said there is no view of the small room area directly in front of the private elevator used by legislators, where the incident allegedly occurred.

Sen. Nancy Rodriguez, D-Santa Fe, a committee member who was at that meeting, said Tuesday she had spoken with Lundstrom moments before the incident allegedly occurred.

Rodriguez also said she spoke on the phone with Lundstrom several minutes later as Lundstrom was driving back to Gallup. It was then Lundstrom told her that Jeff had punched her on the arm three times right before the elevator doors opened. Rodriguez said she encouraged Lundstrom to call police when she got home, which Lundstrom did.

“I was in shock,” Lundstrom said. A member of the Legislature since 2001, Lundstrom said, “Nothing like this has ever happened to me before.”

The committee on Friday discussed a capital outlay bill carried by Jeff, a first term legislator. Rodriguez said Lundstrom and other committee members had expressed some concerns about the bill — mainly because there’s no money for new capital outlay projects because of the state’s revenue shortage.

Both Lundstrom and Rodriguez said the discussion of Jeff’s bill never became heated. “It was a cordial, kind of boring meeting,” Lundstrom said.

Rodriguez said she hopes for some kind of disciplinary action. “It’s not acceptable for a legislator to initiate an altercation just because you disagree with someone,” she said.”