Home News Local News The Record vault: Top local stories of 2017 Part 2

The Record vault: Top local stories of 2017 Part 2

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Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

The following is part two of a two-part series of some stories that made headlines in the Roswell Daily Record in 2017. For part one, click here.

July

70th UFO anniversary

Roswell UFO Incident had its 70th anniversary and the UFO Festival took place from June 29 through July 2.

The Roswell Incident, sponsored by the Daily Record took place from June 30 through July 2 in the K-Bob’s Steakhouse conference room. The Roswell Incident brought in UFO historians, journalists, investigators and others to debate and discuss the 1947 incident that put Roswell on the map.

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Special guests like Josh Gates, the host of the hit Travel Channel show “Expedition Unknown,” and Nick Pope, a former United Kingdom Ministry of Defense UFO investigator, attended the festival.

The International UFO Museum and Research Center hosted an event titled “70 Years Later: Modern Challenges to the Extraterrestrial Hypothesis,” and featured more than 30 presenters at multiple venues.

The seventh annual Roswell Galacticon was held June 29 through July 1 at the Roswell Mall with vendor booths, comic-book collectibles, artists, Cosplay, gaming, workshops, panels, and a Sci-Fi Film Festival and Steampunk Ball.

Rec center approved

By the minimal votes necessary, the Roswell City Council on Thursday night approved a $23 million bond to pay for a new recreation center and aquatics facility at Cielo Grande Recreation Area.

The City Council met the minimal threshold Thursday when it voted 8-1 to approve Ordinance 17-17, which authorizes the issuance of up to $23 million of gross receipts tax improvement revenue bonds to fund the recreation and aquatics center, which were approved by the City Council in February.

The bond sale is projected to generate $20 million of net proceeds to construct the new recreation center and aquatics facility.

No one spoke for or against the bond issuance during a public hearing Thursday night, or for or against the amended tax increase ordinance, in an anti-climatic ending to more than a year contentious debate regarding the new recreation center and aquatics center being built to replace the closed Yucca Recreation Center and Cahoon Park Pool.

The new single-story recreation center, which will include a multipurpose room, a group fitness room and two full-size gyms that can be accommodate indoor soccer or be subdivided by into four smaller basketball courts, will replace the Yucca Recreation Center, which was closed by the city on Dec. 24, 2015, due to flooding and other problems with that historic structure built in 1911 and renovated in 1940 and 1972.

The aquatics facility, also on pace to open in the fall of September 2018, will include an eight-lane indoor pool of 25-yard long lanes and seating for about 200 people, an outdoor large open swim area with a large tube slide, and an outdoor toddler section with shaded structures. It will replace the Cahoon pool, built in 1938, which the City Council decommissioned in April 2016.

Some urged the city to forgo building an outdoor pool at Cielo Grande Recreation Area and instead reopen Cahoon Park Pool. City councilors Juan Oropesa and Steve Henderson have also said they would have preferred a general obligation bond paid by property taxes and placed on ballots for voters to decide, as opposed to increasing local sales taxes, to fund the new recreational complex.

August

Nicole Austin resigns

Roswell Independent School District board president Nicole R. Austin resigned less than six months after joining the board. Austin released a statement through the school district announcing her decision to resign, citing a need to balance the priorities of her life.

“The three priorities in my life are my faith, my family, and my career,” the statement read. “I have found that I cannot give the time and effort needed to be an effective board member and remain dedicated to my priorities. Because of this, I must step aside.”

Austin is an executive vice president and chief lending officer with Pioneer Bank in Roswell, but she once worked as a teacher and coach.

On Aug. 28, Kathleen Pittman was chosen as a successor to Austin. A retired associate professor from Eastern New Mexico University, Pittman took an oath of office on Sept. 13. When asked why she wanted to serve on the school board, Pittman, a 1963 graduate of Roswell High School and former schoolteacher in Alabama, said she felt she could make a contribution.

PETA’s zoo offer

The city of Roswell has turned down a $10,000 donation from an animal rights organization to build a new mountain lion exhibit at the Spring River Park & Zoo, saying a wider overhaul of the zoo is needed after a thorough study.

In April 2017, the People for Ethical Treatment of Animals Foundation offered the city, on behalf of an anonymous benefactor, $10,000 to build a new, naturalistic mountain lion exhibit, in exchange for the city releasing the zoo’s two black bears, Sierra and Ursula, to a reputable animal sanctuary. PETA also offered to pay all costs associated with the transfer of the two bears.

The People for Ethical Treatment of Animals Foundation has offered to pay all costs associated with the transfer of two black bears at the Spring River Park & Zoo to a reputable animal sanctuary. PETA says some of the animals at the zoo are going insane, with bears, mountain lions, bobcats and a coyote all repeatedly pacing back and forth in extreme distress and frustration.

City attorney Aaron Holloman said the city-owned zoo is beloved in the Roswell community, and it is governed by the laws and rules of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Recognizing the dated infrastructure of the zoo, Holloman said there have been regular USDA inspections and animals receive treatment from certified veterinarians.

The cougar exhibit offered by PETA was unfounded since City Manager Joe Neeb said a new cougar exhibit has not been approved or funded by the City Council.

Neeb said the offer was declined to bring the issue to the community for future discussion in order to create a master plan that can be enjoyed for generations.

PETA continued to contend that an epidemic of suffering exists at the Spring River Park & Zoo, with obese animals trapped in archaic concrete dungeons that afford no space for them to engage in natural behaviors. PETA says some of the 136 animals at the zoo are going insane, with bears, mountain lions, bobcats, and a coyote all repeatedly pacing back and forth in extreme distress and frustration in their cramped concrete pits and tiny cages.

September

Coaches fight

The former Mesa Middle School assistant football coach who says he lost his coaching job after a fight with the head coach has been charged in Roswell Municipal Court in the aftermath of the fight.

A summons was issued Wednesday to former assistant coach Thomas K. Davis on charges and battery and disorderly conduct for his alleged actions during the Sept. 5 fight at Mesa Middle School with the school’s head football coach, Gabriel Flores- Delara, who is also a teacher at Mesa Middle School.

Davis, an African-American, says the fight was sparked by the repeated use of the N-word by the team’s football players.

His initial hearing in municipal court is set for Oct. 12.

Davis told the Daily Record Wednesday afternoon he plans to dispute the charges.

“I’m going to seek legal advice, I’m going to hire me an attorney,” Davis said. “I’m not going to admit that I did something that I didn’t do. That was an altercation between people. When you’re in an altercation, aren’t two people supposed to be reprimanded?”

Davis admits to throwing about 15 punches in the fight that took place behind the middle school after a night game at DeBremond Stadium against Berrendo Middle School. Davis said he threw the first punch, after he says he was head-butted by Flores-Delara. Davis said he is not a troublemaker, that he just spoke up about the use of the N-word by students, particularly a slang variation of the slur that Davis says has become widely used by today’s students.

Davis said the charges of battery and disorderly conduct are a form of retaliation for speaking up about the everyday, casual use of the racial slur, and lack of consequences for students who say it on school grounds.

October

Hagerman chief charged

Court records chronicle the alleged sequence of events that have led to the former Hagerman police chief possibly facing the rest of his natural life behind bars on child molestation charges instead of a living comfortable retirement on a taxpayer pension, and even possibly running for mayor of Hagerman.

According to the criminal complaint filed against Cassius “Cass” Mason III, he provided a teenage girl in Hagerman with a secret cellphone for illicit purposes, shared lewd messages with her, and enticed the 15-year-old girl to perform sexual acts on him while he was in his Hagerman Police Department cruiser.

Mason, who retired from law enforcement July 28, is charged with three third-degree felony counts — criminal sexual contact of minor, causing or permitting child to engage in sexual exploitation, and child solicitation by electronic communication device and meets with child.

Mason was arrested Thursday by the Chaves County Sheriff’s Office. He arraigned Friday before Chaves County Magistrate Judge E.J. Fouratt, who sat Mason’s bond at $100,000.

November

Shooter’s parents file lawsuit

Parents of Mason Campbell, the seventh-grader that opened fire with a sawed-off shotgun in Berrendo Middle School’s gymnasium, injuring two students on Jan. 14, 2014, have made allegations against the state agency that’s kept the now 16-year-old in custody.

Mason was adjudicated in Chaves County District Court on July 2, 2014, as a delinquent offender for three counts of aggravated battery and one count of unlawful carrying of a deadly weapon on school premises.

The court ordered Mason be transferred to the legal custody of the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department until the age of 21, unless sooner discharged.

As Campbell remains in physical custody within a CYFD facility in Albuquerque, his parents, Jim and Jennifer Campbell, have continually raised concerns against the CYFD’s alleged lack of medical attention and overall concern to their son, citing civil rights violations and several breaches of statutory duties by the state agency.

Described as “total and abject failures” in a civil complaint filed by Ruidoso attorney Gary C. Mitchell, the Campbells’ attorney mentions instances of the CYFD allegedly not being able to follow guidelines recommended by expert doctors, not rendering proper medical or mental care and not allowing proper family contact or counseling.

According to the complaint, Mason had a mental disorder or a developmental disability, and should have been placed in a residential treatment in line with the Children’s Mental Health and Development Act.

December

Johnny Gonzales dies

The holiday season was always a busy time for Johnny Gonzales. After organizing drives for Thanksgiving dinners, he turned his charitable enthusiasm to gathering Christmas presents for needy children. While the year’s various holidays kept him busy, distributing presents to wide-eyed children at Christmastime was perhaps his biggest reward, like he was a fun-loving kid himself — all over again.

On Nov. 25, at 2:30 p.m., Gonzales left his earthly home, his beloved family and a legacy of charity in Roswell that is sure to be remembered.

Gonzales’ health began to decline at the beginning of the year, but the golf-ball sized tumor on his liver was not discovered until Oct. 3, when he was diagnosed with cancer, already in stage four.

Sheriff’s union vote

On Dec. 8, 2017, Chaves County sheriff’s deputies voted to form a union. The sheriff’s deputies voted 24-4 to form a union under the umbrella of the International Union of Police Association, AFL-CIO, said Chaves County deputy Travis Hardy, the interim president of the nascent union.

An agreement outlining the parameters of the election — that was reached between Chaves County and an attorney for the International Union of Police Association, AFL-CIO, prior to Wednesday’s vote — excluded the county’s animal control officers from the collective bargaining agreement, while including sergeants.

Sheriff’s Office deputies, sergeants, detectives and animal control officers filed a petition on Sept. 20 with the Chaves County Clerk’s Office seeking the certification of the International Union of Police Association, AFL-CIO, as their exclusive bargaining unit.

Sheriff’s deputies will not be able to strike and will have to pay union dues of about $40 a month or more, Hardy said. It remains to be determined if all Chaves County sheriff’s deputies will be required to join the union. The collective bargaining agreement, which has yet to be negotiated by Chaves County and the Chaves County Deputies Association, could require all deputies to join the union and pay union dues.

Hardy said the impetuses for forming a union were concerns about officer safety on the streets, and concerns about having legal representation for officers. He said there are supposed to be a minimum of three deputies patrolling at any time, but absences from work sometimes result in fewer than three patrolling deputies.

The new union will be the first union of Chaves County employees. All probationary, confidential, managerial and supervisory employees of the Sheriff’s Office are excluded from the bargaining unit.

Hardy said he’s hopeful the Chaves County Deputies Association can grow to include Roswell police officers and firefighters.

Memory Lawn proposal

A proposal to assume management of Memory Lawn Memorial Park, now in a court-ordered receivership, was sent to a district court next week.

Joan Park, one of the original plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the former owners of the cemetery and a member of the Rescue Memory Lawn Memorial Park Alliance, said that she is familiar with what California businessman Henry Mayhew has suggested.

Park said she is in favor of what has been proposed at this point.

Mayhew said he is interested in large part because of his Roswell roots. He said he was born in Roswell at St. Mary’s Hospital, that his father attended New Mexico Military Institute and that his mother, grandmother, and aunt are buried at Memory Lawn. He said his idea is that he and some investors could set up a nonprofit organization to run the burial grounds just outside the city limits on East 19th Street. He estimates that it will take at least $100,000 to bring into well-maintained condition, including identifying each grave.

The hearing has been set for the 9:30 a.m., Dec. 18, before Judge Freddie Romero of the 5th Judicial District Court in Roswell.

The 40-acre cemetery is now under the control of receiver Robert Corn, Chaves County commissioner, and a former magistrate judge. The court ordered the cemetery into a receivership in 2010 after the civil lawsuit involving Parker and seven other named plaintiffs was filed in 2009. Corn became the receiver in 2011.

The lawsuit alleged that former owners Allen and Vivian Drake and their family business, Avidlo LLC, were not providing proper care for the grounds and burial sites and had unjustly enriched themselves using cemetery assets. The Drakes later declared bankruptcy.

The Roswell City Council recently considered assuming ownership of cemetery, where more than 2,000 people are buried and about 50 available burial plots remain. The council voted in April 6-4 against the motion that would have made the cemetery the second one owned by the city, as it already runs South Park Cemetery on South Main Street.

Task force approved

At the Roswell International Air Center, several firms are involved in aircraft maintenance, painting, storage and related work. The vision is for a regional independent air authority to develop the airfield and its surrounding land and facilities to encourage a range of commercial and industrial operations and investments.

The city of Roswell has cleared the way for a task force to seek legislation creating a separate governing authority for the Roswell International Air Center, envisioned as a way to boost economic development for the region.

The council rejected by a 9-0 vote a proposed amendment to the resolution that would have absolved the authority for liability, as is often given to governing bodies. Several speakers, including Hitchcock and councilor Steve Henderson, said the move would be premature and would unnecessarily complicate negotiations with legislators.

An authority is not commonplace, but there are precedents in other states, most notably at the former England Air Force Base near Alexandria, Louisiana, where an independent authority has turned the area into a multi-use residential, commercial and industrial development that now supports more than 7,000 jobs and had $7.1 billion in revenues and investments from 1992 to 2007.

Regional independent governing authorities in New Mexico that work toward a common purpose with numerous cities, counties, and agencies also exist.