Feds to meet with Albuquerque black leaders after controversial ATF operation

The acting U.S. attorney for the District New Mexico, James D. Tierney, has agreed to meet with black leaders in Albuquerque after an investigation into a controversial 2016 ATF sting operation.

New Mexico In Depth reported Tierney agreed in a July 11 letter to meet with leaders from the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and from a grassroots group called the Sankofa Men’s Leadership Exchange.

The groups’ leaders had requested a meeting with Tierney after a New Mexico In Depth report found that a 2016 ATF sting operation had led to the arrest of 28 African Americans out of a total of 103 people arrested.

In a city where only 3.3 percent of the population is black, Dr. Harold Bailey, president of the Albuquerque NAACP chapter, said in a July 5 letter that the operation’s “arrest ratio seems alarming.”

The Sankofa Men’s Leadership Exchange echoed Dr. Bailey’s sentiments in a July 6 letter, asking Tierney for a meeting and to contact the group’s leader, Patrick Barrett.

NMID’s investigation into the sting found that the ATF targeted a poor, largely minority area in southeast Albuquerque. Many of those arrested were charged with drug crimes and some with gun-related offenses.

Another key finding in NMID’s investigation was that the sting led to the arrests of many low-level offenders and not the “worst of the worst” criminals that officials said they were targeting.

These findings led Dr. Bailey and Barrett to question the focus of the operation, which Barrett said “sent shockwaves through our community.”

“This matter is of the utmost importance to the Black community in Albuquerque,” Barrett said in his letter. “Our community here is small, and has been traditionally targeted by law enforcement and marginalized in the public school system.”

The Albuquerque Police Department, which worked with the ATF on the operation, has responded to questions regarding the sting by saying that the department “in no way targets any demographics in our community other than criminals.”

Barrett said that meeting dates have not yet been set with Tierney and hopes the prosecutor will meet with both the NAACP and Sankofa.

While Tierney has agreed to meet and listen to the groups’ concerns, he noted in his letter that he would not be able to discuss details of ongoing cases.

So far, 65 of the 103 defendants nabbed in the operation have pleaded guilty, 29 have been sentenced, and the remaining 38 have pleaded not guilty.