AG to examine if Youngblood used position to sway officer in arrest

May 24, 2018 GMT

The New Mexico Attorney General’s Office will review a Republican legislator’s arrest on suspicion of drunken driving after the state Democratic Party questioned whether the lawmaker had inappropriately used her official status to influence police.

Albuquerque police arrested Rep. Monica Youngblood early Sunday at a DWI checkpoint after several field sobriety tests.

An officer said he smelled alcohol on the legislator, but Youngblood denied drinking that night and refused to take a breath-alcohol test.

The tough-on-crime lawmaker also told officers she was a state representative and said numerous times that she had supported police as well as sponsored bills to protect them.

“Attorney General Balderas is deeply concerned when any public official invokes their position during a criminal investigation, and therefore the Office of the Attorney General will appropriately review this matter,” James Hallinan, a spokesman for the Democratic attorney general, said in a statement.

The Attorney General’s Office is responsible for enforcing the state Governmental Conduct Act, which makes it a crime for public officials to use their offices to obtain personal benefits.

Video of Youngblood’s arrest released Tuesday showed the lawmaker repeatedly mentioning her work as a legislator.

“I literally fight for you guys,” she said.

To be sure, Youngblood has won a reputation as supportive of law enforcement, backing a proposal to reinstate the death penalty as punishment for killing a police officer or a child. She has been an ally of Republican Gov. Susana Martinez.

She also sponsored a bill that allows ride-booking services such as Uber and Lyft to operate in New Mexico. (Police officers said they had encountered 20 ride-booking vehicles with passengers during the same checkpoint where Youngblood was arrested.)

Youngblood has not responded to emails seeking comment and has not been reachable by phone. Meanwhile, the lawmaker appears to have taken down her official Twitter and Facebook accounts.

But some colleagues cautioned against hasty condemnations.

“Monica Youngblood is a valued colleague who is going through a difficult time,” House Republican Whip Rod Montoya of Farmington said in a statement Wednesday. “My thoughts and prayers, along with those of House Republicans, are with her.”

Montoya said strengthening DWI laws remains a top priority for House Republicans.

Youngblood has sponsored some such measures, including an unsuccessful proposal that would have prohibited the release of people suspected of aggravated DWI, like herself, on their own recognizance — as she was.

Montoya said “anyone who is found guilty of driving under the influence must be held accountable for their actions, regardless of their position or title,” but added that Youngblood has maintained she is innocent.

“We should allow more facts to come out, avoid a collective rush to judgment, and I believe it is premature to further comment on this situation,” Montoya said.

Quietly, however, some Republicans have expressed frustration.

Youngblood has represented her northwest Albuquerque district since 2013, and her seat likely would have been on the safer side for Republicans heading into this year’s election.

She faces a Democratic challenger, and now the GOP may have to devote more resources to holding on to the district if she decides to stay on the ballot.

If Youngblood withdraws from the race after the primary election June 5, the party could replace her on the general election ballot in November.