Police recordings haunt New Mexico governor

Police recordings haunt New Mexico governor

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SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — The woman who met police in the hotel lobby at 1:30 a.m. waved them off a complaint of rowdy behavior and demanded in a sing-song voice to know who called them.

Accompanied by her own state police detail, she scarcely needed to identify herself — but did anyway.

She was New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, the host of a hotel ballroom holiday party for staff members that spilled upstairs into a noisy fourth floor room and balcony, prompting complaints from other hotel guests.

Audio recordings of the awkward exchange between the governor and police are the latest difficulty to hit Martinez and could spell trouble for a rising star within the Republican Party.

"I went up there two hours ago and it was emp-ty, emp-ty," Martinez told a Santa Fe police commander, Sgt. Anthony Tapia, and a hotel security guard, pronouncing empty as if it were two words.

"But now the complaint is bottles are being thrown over the balcony and I am in there. There are no bottles being thrown over," she said, in audio captured by Tapia's belt recorder.

Tapia and the guard listened to Martinez, then stepped aside and agreed the governor was "inebriated."

They then puzzled over what to do.

"Obviously we're not going to be able to move her," Tapia said. "What can we do to resolve this?"

No police report or charges were filed, but political opponents are accusing the governor and former district attorney of bullying dispatchers and police while displaying an above-the-law attitude.

Martinez has said she had 1 1/2 drinks over the course of several hours at the party.

She apologized for the conduct of her staff and the way she herself talked to a hotel receptionist and police dispatchers. She said her staff may be disciplined but notes that they were hurling snowballs and not bottles.

After midnight on Dec. 13, the governor initially called police dispatchers from the front desk of the hotel lobby. The conversations were recorded and made public six days later.

In those recordings, Martinez told police to call off any response to noise complaints. She also demanded to know who lodged the complaint but was repeatedly rebuffed by a hotel clerk, radio dispatchers and a police commander.

"Tell me what room number," Martinez said. "Are they on the fourth floor? They're next door to our room? That area. Are they next door? I want to know who they are."

In another exchange, she told a desk clerk: "It's public record. Give it to me ... Oh, you can give it to the police but they won't tell you. You won't tell me? I'll get it from the cops."

Democratic state Sen. Michael Padilla said no one faults the governor for enjoying a holiday party.

"Have at it," he said. "But don't badger a hotel clerk, don't clog up a 911 line when there are serious calls. When a public safety officer is involved, any citizen of New Mexico should simply respond."

The hotel recordings have touched off a flood of social media posts criticizing the Republican governor for her response to the situation and threaten to turn Martinez into a political punchline.

A Twitter parody account, under the handle @SusanaPizzaMartinez, seizes on the governor's insistence that she and a small group of friends and family went upstairs after the ballroom gala to quietly eat pizza with Cokes.

In conversations with police dispatchers, Martinez invoked her job title at least twice.

In recent months, Martinez's political star has been on the rise as a Republican fundraiser and possible vice presidential running mate on the GOP ticket.

Republican strategist Hector Barajas calls her a "triple threat" who can attract Hispanic voters to the GOP ticket, a former prosecutor and a potential gatekeeper to key southwestern swing states like Colorado and Nevada.

At home in New Mexico, however, federal investigators have been circling the Martinez administration in recent months.

Investigators are looking into whether the state Taxation and Revenue Department may have conducted audits in retaliation against officials who ran afoul of the Martinez administration.

There have been no charges or formal allegations of wrongdoing.

Martinez also confirmed in November a federal investigation into fundraising activities by campaign consultant Jay McCleskey, who oversaw the governor's campaigns.

At the same time, New Mexico Republicans are relying on Martinez as they try to consolidate control over the state Legislature in 2016 elections, after winning a House majority in 2014 for the first time in 60 years.

Martinez spokesman Chris Sanchez declined to comment on how the hotel incident might affect the governor's goals.

University of New Mexico political science professor Lonna Atkeson said the governor may no longer get the benefit of the doubt from the electorate, as recordings of her conduct with police go viral online.

"For the public, there's always chatter about scandals, and you really see it through your own lens," she said. "Now with Martinez, you can hear it for yourself. It's a case where I can actually go listen to it and hear her tone."

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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