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OUT WEST ROUNDUP | Nebraska advances execution plans despite secrecy concerns

Author: Associated Press - June 29, 2018 - Updated: July 5, 2018

This June 20, 2014, file photo taken by an automatic trail camera provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service shows an adult female grizzly bear in the Cabinet Mountains, part of the Rocky Mountains, located in northwestern Montana. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via AP, File)This June 20, 2014, file photo taken by an automatic trail camera provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service shows an adult female grizzly bear in the Cabinet Mountains, part of the Rocky Mountains, located in northwestern Montana. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via AP, File)


State advances execution plans despite secrecy concerns

LINCOLN, Nebraska — State officials are forging ahead with plans to execute Nebraska’s longest-serving death-row inmate without disclosing where they obtained lethal injection drugs, despite a judge’s order last week to identify their supplier.

The Nebraska attorney general appealed the judge’s ruling as it pushes in a separate case to set a July 10 execution date for Carey Dean Moore.

State officials are scrambling to execute Moore before their supply of a key execution drug expires in August, while simultaneously fighting a legal battle that could force them to reveal who gave them the drugs.

Gov. Pete Ricketts’ administration also has sued the Legislature to block a subpoena that would force the state corrections director to testify about Nebraska’s execution protocol.

Ricketts and Attorney General Doug Peterson have said the state is long overdue to execute Moore, 60, who has spent nearly four decades on death row for the 1979 shooting deaths of two Omaha cab drivers. But a leading death penalty critic contends state officials want to execute an inmate before the November election — and before they’re forced to disclose how they obtained their drugs.

“If they got these drugs in a legitimate way from a legitimate provider, then all they’d have to do is ask for another batch,” said Sen. Ernie Chambers, of Omaha. “If everything was legitimate, the supplier would say, ‘Sure, coming right up.'”

Ricketts and Peterson have denied the allegations, saying they’re trying to carry out the will of voters.

Nebraska’s last execution took place in 1997, using the electric chair, and the state has failed to carry out any others because of legal challenges and lack of access to the required drugs.


Researcher attacked by grizzly to stay on career path

HELENA, Montana — A researcher who was recently attacked by a grizzly bear says that her recovery has been slow, but the encounter has done nothing to change her mind about her career path.

Amber Kornak, 28, was conducting research for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service alone in the Cabinet Mountains in Montana when the attack happened on May 17. She was collecting bear hair samples for a genetic study, and because she was alone, she would frequently blow a whistle and clap her hands as she worked to alert any bears of her presence.

Even so, she managed to get within 12 feet of a grizzly without either knowing the other was there because of the sound of water runoff from a nearby a creek, rain and wind, according to a Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks investigation.

“We spooked each other,” Kornak told The Associated Press. “I got down on the ground and pulled out my bear spray. He bit down on my skull, and I just reached over with my left arm and sprayed him and he was gone.

“The bear spray saved my life,” she added.

Kornak spent a week in the hospital and has since been recovering at home. Far from dissuading her about her career choice, she said the attack just reinforced her goal of becoming a wildlife manager specializing in bears.

Montana wildlife officials said the bear acted defensively, and not like a predator, so there will be no repercussions to the bear.

Kornak said she agreed with that conclusion.

“He was just doing what bears do. I don’t think there’s anything that needed to be done,” she said.


Copper mine planned for monument shrunk by Trump

The red sandstone vistas in Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument may soon be criss-crossed with dump trucks after a Canadian mining company announced plans to begin operations on land cut from federal protection by President Donald Trump.

Vancouver-based Glacier Lake Resources Inc. announced last week it had acquired a former copper mine on land formerly contained in one of the two national monuments that Trump shrunk last year, a move that was bitterly contested at the time by environmental and Native American groups.

“Surface exploration work will start this summer on the Colt Mesa property and drill permitting will be initiated shortly,” Saf Dhillon, president and chief executive officer of Glacier Lake Resources, said in a statement. The company plans to mine copper, cobalt and other minerals from an area about 200 acres in size. The mine was last used in 1974, according to the company.

Already, some fresh stakes and a new metal gate have appeared in the area known as Circle Cliffs, which is popular with hikers, climbers and other who come to explore the area’s scenic canyons, said Colter Hoyt, a backcountry guide. Mining equipment for the project would reach the site via roads that travel through the park and nearby narrow canyons, he said.

Heather Swift, a spokeswoman for the Interior Department, said the monument had been “right-sized” to protect resources, while restoring much of the excluded lands to multiple use.

The Trump administration announced in late 2017 that it would reduce the 1.9-million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, created by President Bill Clinton in 1996, to about 1 million acres. It also announced it was shrinking the nearby 1.4-million-acre Bears Ears National Monument to about 220,000 acres.

The land should be in the hands of the state instead of being under the federal government’s control, Trump said at the time. Many Utah Republicans have opposed the monuments as federal land grabs.

The move in Utah represents “the largest rollback of public lands protections in history,” said Dan Hartinger, national monuments campaign director for the Wilderness Society, one of several environmental groups suing to block the move.

New Mexico

Suit accuses state police chief of lewd conduct

ALBUQUERQUE — A New Mexico sergeant and two former colleagues claim in a lawsuit that State Police Chief Pete Kassetas engaged in lewd behavior, including sending an inappropriate photograph to a high-ranking female state official.

A lawsuit filed in state court also accuses the Department of Public Safety under Republican Gov. Susana Martinez of refusing to address the chief’s “discriminatory and retaliatory treatment” of employees who reported concerns about other officers’ misconduct.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified compensation for what Sgt. Monica Martinez-Jones, former Deputy Chief Michael Ryan Suggs and former Lt. Julia Armendariz described as distress and mental anguish from a hostile work environment.

A Martinez administration spokesman said the lawsuit contained “ridiculous allegations that are completely removed from the truth.”

The allegations against Kassetas include instances in which pulled down his pants and showed his behind to staff in Ruidoso after drinking on the job and sending a deputy cabinet secretary “a picture of a man’s testicles” last year.

The lawsuit also claims Kassetas had showed leniency toward men in the department who were arrested while off duty, while denying women promotions.

One officer charged in a sexual assault in Colorado was given a five-day suspension, while another officer charged with battery in Rio Rancho got a two-day suspension, according to the lawsuit.

Ben Cloutier, a spokesman for the governor, said an investigation into allegations involving state police that were brought to the Department of Public Safety is already underway.

Schools grapple with effects of housing shortage

CARLSBAD, New Mexico — A housing shortage in southeastern New Mexico’s oil patch is an obstacle to recruiting educators and retaining students, the superintendent of Carlsbad Municipal Schools said.

Superintendent Greg Rodriguez told members of the state Legislative Finance Committee that the district’s academic achievement was lacking.

While the district is expecting up to 200 new students for the next school year, the recent oil and gas boom in the area has caused a shortage in housing, Rodriguez said. The shortage doesn’t just affect students and their families, but also teachers, he said.

“A problem is housing. If we had more housing, we’d have more families and more students,” Rodriguez said. “When I hire a teacher, I ask will they have a place to live. Most of the time, the answer is no.”

Recognizing the superintendent’s concerns at the meeting, Republican state Rep. Cathrynn Brown suggested the shortage could be mitigated by providing apartments for teachers.

Associated Press

Associated Press