Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Remembering a Previous Call of the House

What the heck ... Here's a reprint of a story I wrote in 2004 about then Rep. Benjie Regensberg, who was missing during a call of the House.

No criminal charges ever came out of the case. But Regnensberg was defeated in the 2004 Democratic primary.

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
February 17, 2004

Santa Fe police investigators can't substantiate a state legislator's claim that state police committed assault or battery on him in a violent confrontation late last week.

But it will be up to the district attorney's office to determine whether Rep. Benjie Regensberg, D-Cleveland, committed battery on the officers who were sent to fetch him for a vote Friday night, Santa Fe deputy police chief Eric Johnson said Monday.

As is normal police procedure, because accusations had been made against their own officers, state police asked another police agency -- in this case city police -- to investigate.

Johnson said his detectives finished their investigation Monday after interviewing Regensberg, the officers involved and other witnesses.

Regensberg apologized on the floor of the House on Monday for the incident. "I've never been so humiliated as much as I was humiliated ... that night when I was brought to the state Capitol half naked and handcuffed, " Regensberg said of the Friday night incident.

The second-term Mora County lawmaker also called upon the House to clarify a rule that calls for state police to use any means necessary to return representatives to the Capitol when there is a "call of the House."

"Some of these rules are ridiculous, " he said.

And, in an interview after his statement on the House floor, Regensberg stood by his charge that he acted only in self-defense after police began roughing him up.

Regensberg said he received two fractures in his right arm during the incident. He wasn't wearing the sling Monday that he wore Saturday, though his arm and thumb were bandaged.

State police went to Regensberg's room at Camel Rock Suites at the request of House Speaker Ben Luján, D-Nambé. When they arrived, police said Regensberg "became combative" and "started a scuffle." Eventually the officers subdued the representative and took him in handcuffs to the Capitol, where Luján excused him from the vote on a nursing-home-bed surcharge.

"State police have always assisted in returning representatives to the floor of the House, " Public Safety Department spokesman Peter Olson said in a written statement. "Never has any representative refused or acted with violence until Feb. 13, 2004."

Regensberg -- wearing a necktie depicting a lone black sheep in the midst of a flock of white sheep -- also claimed Monday that his opposition to some of Gov. Bill Richardson's legislative proposals might have been behind his alleged mistreatment. "My beliefs are different from a lot of people here, " said the conservative Democrat.

A Richardson spokesman said that charge was "laughable and absolutely false."

Santa Fe-area District Attorney Henry Valdez said Monday that his staff will review the police report and decide whether to press charges. Johnson said the paperwork should be completed and in the DA's hands by the end of the week.

Under the state Constitution, legislators are immune from arrest during a session except in cases of "treason, felony and breach of the peace." Though handcuffed, Regensberg was not arrested or charged with any crime.

While state police said Regensberg appeared to be intoxicated, the lawmaker denied he'd been drinking and told The Associated Press he'd taken a breathalyzer test at St. Vincent Hospital.

Johnson verified Monday that Regensberg did take such a test. "He requested it himself, " Johnson said. The state representative apparently passed that test.

Several of Regensberg's House colleagues -- from both sides of the aisle -- signed a large card for him that read "Welcome Back Benjie."

But Rep. Ron Godbey, R-Cedar Crest, said: "I refused to sign it. I don't think bad behavior should be rewarded. I think elected officials should be held up to higher standards."