A newly released audio recording reveals the impact of Gov. Susana Martinez pressuring police to more than a week ago to drop an investigation into a noise complaint after her Christmas party.
The audio recording indicates that police felt powerless to do anything after hotel staff asked officers to remove guests gathered in a hotel room. The recording, released Tuesday, was made by Santa Fe Police Sgt. Anthony Tapia’s belt recorder during the Dec. 13 incident at the Eldorado Hotel in Santa Fe.
Martinez can repeatedly be heard during previously released recordings of dispatch calls, and on the newly released recording, insisting there was no more noise, demanding to know who complained, and telling police they could leave.
“OK, so, obviously we’re not going to be able to move her,” Tapia tells a hotel security guard after his conversation with Martinez. “What can we do to resolve this?”
“I really don’t know what to do with the situation,” the guard responds.
The police officer leaves the guard with his business card.
“If issues keep coming up, give me a call. I’ll see if I can get a hold of her security detail, see if we can resolve anything,” Tapia says before leaving.
Democrats hammered Martinez following release of the Tapia recording. House Minority Leader Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, called her treatment of hotel staff and law enforcement “appalling.”
“When a governor so blatantly breaches the public’s trust, there may be no going back,” Egolf said.
Martinez apologized to New Mexicans for her actions on Friday (and, in the interest of disclosure, this journalist authored a commentary accepting the governor’s apology). But she also said she didn’t believe she abused her power.
Martinez spokesman Chris Sanchez didn’t respond to two emails from NMPolitics.net on Tuesday asking if the governor stood by her previous statement that she hadn’t abused her power.
Was Martinez intoxicated?
Martinez was quoted by KOB-TV in Albuquerque on Friday, when news of the incident at the Eldorado Hotel broke, as saying she consumed 1.5 cocktails over 4-5 hours before the incident with police. She was quoted by KRQE-TV in Albuquerque as saying she had one cocktail and was not intoxicated.
But Tapia’s recording indicates that the hotel security guard thought Martinez was drunk.
The security guard, while speaking with Tapia, says the incident was his first involving a high-profile hotel guest in the few weeks he had worked there.
Speaking about Martinez, he says, to Tapia, “I can tell she is…”
“Inebriated,” Tapia responds.
“Yes,” the security guard says.
It’s not clear from the audio whether Tapia agrees that Martinez was drunk.
After Tapia’s audio recording was released, NMPolitics.net twice asked Sanchez by email if the governor stood by her previous statement that she wasn’t intoxicated. Sanchez didn’t respond.
If Martinez was intoxicated when she pressured police to leave, her actions might have been less intentional. Were she sober, her actions could arguably be more concerning, as she would have been in full control when she used her position of authority to influence police.
Snowballs or glass bottles?
Tapia’s recording also includes Martinez saying someone in the hotel room where she and others were gathered had thrown glass bottles off a balcony hours before. But, Martinez said, that person had been kicked out of the room.
That contradicts what Martinez’s staff has previously said — that someone was throwing snowballs, not bottles.
Matt Ross, spokesman for the City of Santa Fe, told NMPolitics.net that police “conducted a sweep outside the building at street level to check for evidence of bottles.”
“At that time they did not see anything of that nature,” he said.
Sanchez, Martinez’s spokesman, said the governor, when speaking with Tapia, was “simply repeating the claim that was made to the front desk.”
“The governor later learned that they were snowballs,” Sanchez said. “Regardless, the governor apologizes for the conduct of her staff the night of the holiday party. She finds it absolutely unacceptable and plans to address this with her staff – which could include disciplinary action.”
The political fallout
Social media has been swamped with commentary about and memes related to the Dec. 13 incident since news broke on Friday about Martinez’s encounter with police. And after Tapia’s recording was released on Tuesday, Martinez’s opponents hammered the governor.
“If Gov. Martinez thinks it’s necessary to fabricate stories about snowballs and beer bottles, how can we trust her statements about the serious issues facing her administration?” asked Joe Kabourek, Democratic Party of New Mexico executive director.
“Maybe if she had just admitted she was drunk this wouldn’t be such big news, again,” the left-leaning ProgressNow New Mexico wrote in an email to supporters. ProgressNow publishes the news website New Mexico Political Report, which first broke the story about the Dec. 13 party on Friday and posted the audio captured by Tapia’s belt recorder Tuesday.
The long-term impact of the incident isn’t clear. Much of the buzz on social media focuses on Martinez telling police she and others in the hotel room were just eating pizza and drinking sodas — not on her abuse of power.
On Monday — before the Tapia audio recording was released — KOAT-TV in Albuquerque reported that the situation was “unlikely” to affect Martinez much politically. Analyst Brian Sanderoff was quoted as saying Martinez typically moves on from such controversies.
In a news release, N.M. Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, also took a shot at some in the “Albuquerque media,” accusing them of minimizing “the seriousness of a negative situation involving this governor.” His words appeared aimed at least in part at the KOAT report.
“After all, the governor outrageously ordered an independent police agency to stop their investigation into her improper activities,” Sanchez said. “What’s worse, she vindictively wanted to know who complained about her party’s disturbance to the hotel front desk. We need an impartial media more than ever today.”