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Forest Service Raid At Taos Draws Heavy Criticism; Ticket Quotas Questioned

Taos steeps

A so-called “saturation patrol” in the parking lot of Taos Ski Valley by U.S. Forest Service agents and drug-sniffing dogs has raised serious questions about what the motive was behind the late February raid.

 

The Forest Service officers issued five violation notices Feb. 22, for marijuana possession, one for illegal possession of prescription drugs and others for traffic or vehicle equipment violations. There also were verbal warnings for things like cracked windshields, said Robin Poague, of the Albuquerque office and special agent in charge for Forest Service’s Southwestern Region. No “traffickable amounts” of pot were found, he said.

 

“I do have concerns about the tone of the law enforcement activities up there,” Poague was quoted as saying in several news reports. “I think there were too many officers up there … We are taking a look at it and the unintended consequences of public perception.”

 

Initial news reports suggested that the operation came because of a shortfall of citation quotas set for U.S. Forest Service law enforcement agents by Washington officials. The Albuquerque Journal quoted a memo from the Forest Service’s head of enforcement that set a 100-ticket annual quota for agents and noted that less than one-third of the agents in the Southwest had met that target.

 

About two weeks later, the deputy director of law enforcement for the Forest Service issued a memo that denied that officers’ performances would be based upon a quota system.

 

Management at the northern New Mexico resort was upset over the action, especially since it came as the resort was holding a fundraising event to fight cancer at the time of the raid.

 

“The manner in which the mission was done was not done in a manner consistent with a great partnership,” said CEO Gordon Briner.

 

Chris Stagg, vice president and marketing director at the resort, cited complaints by employees and visitors, when he told New Mexico Watchdog, “They didn’t show respect to people. Clearly, I thought the officers, their demeanor was rude and out of line.”

 

Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson happened to be on the hill at the time of the raid, and the once-presidential candidate for the Libertarian Party didn’t mince words. “This is a police state,” said Johnson, an advocate for drug legalization, told The Journal. “These are jackbooted thugs."

 

Photo: As skiers challenge Taos steeps, drug raid in parking lot (Taos Ski Valley/Facebook)

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