Sunday, September 16, 2012

Juan Valdez 1938 – 2012

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

The man convicted of firing the first shot into a New Mexico State Police officer during the June 5, 1967 Rio Arriba County Courthouse "raid" in Tierra Amarilla, has died, August 25, 2012, of complications following two recent heart attacks.

Born May 25, 1938, Juan Valdez was 74.
I photographed Valdez, right, with back to camera, talking with Attorney Edwin L. Felter Jr., center, and Geronimo Bournda, left, during a recess in the trial of the shooting of Officer Nick Saiz, below right.

Valdez, a rancher from Canjilon, participated in the raid on the Northern New Mexico County courthouse, as a member of the Alianza Federal de Mercedes, also known as, the Alianza Federal de los Pueblos Libres, which translated means, the Alliance of free City States, a land grant movement, led by Reies Lopez Tijerina.

Upon entering the courthouse, Valdez was confronted by Saiz. Though Valdez pleaded not guilty, his friend, Bournda, testified he was the actual shooter, Valdez was convicted, but did not serve a state prison term, because he was pardoned by Gov. Bruce King. Valdez later admitted, in a book, Trespassers on Our Own Land, based on his family’s oral history, "It came down to, I shoot him or he was going to shoot me — so I pulled the trigger," Valdez. "Lucky for both of us, he didn't die."
The raid was an attempt to free other members of the Alianza, arrested a few days earlier at a gathering, declared illegal by New Mexico’s First Judicial District Attorney Alfonso Sanchez. The group also wanted to make a citizen's arrest on Sanchez, but did not locate him in the courthouse, where he was hidden.

The jailed members were freed during a court hearing held shortly before a group of about eight raiders, according to Valdez, or up to 30 by others, arrived at the courthouse.

Lt. Gov. E Lee Francis called out the National Guard to hunt down Alianza members. Francis was acting Governor because Dave Cargo was out of the state visiting in Michigan. In 1970, Cargo was also visiting Michigan when Francis called out the National Guard to retake a virtually empty Student Union Building on the University of New Mexico Campus after a protest in support of four Kent State students killed by Ohio National Guard, May 4, 1970. Twelve people were bayoneted and over 150 protestors arrested at UNM. Francis’ two calls for National Guard deployment are considered some of the most excessive uses of force in the state’s history.

The raid became international news and would have been an even bigger story had it not coincided with the Six-Day War, or the 1967 Arab-Israeli War.

Tijerina was charged with shooting and injuring Jailer Eulogio Salazar and false imprisonment of others in the courthouse, including Deputy Sheriff Daniel Rivera, who was badly beaten. Salazar was murdered before the trial began. Tijerina was eliminated as a suspect in the killing, which has never been solved.
New Mexico State Police Criminal Intelligence Unit Officer Robert J. Gilliland, left, who was the lead investigator of the courthouse raid, speaks with Special Prosecutor Jack Love during a break in the Valdez trial, in front of the Bernalillo County District Court.

Felter, now Senior Administrative Law Judge, Colorado Office of Administrative Courts, did not respond to a request for a comment, and former New Mexico District Court Judge Jack Love, could not be located. However, he posted a story on his site, "New Mexico Law and Society," June 07, 2005, “Convicted Courthouse Raiders Pardoned by Governors King and Apodaca.”

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