Visitors to a Taos ski resort were surprised by a random "saturation" patrol by the Forest Service, apparently without probable cause for any individual suspects.
“I could not be more upset about this,” Gary Johnson, former New Mexico governor and Taos resident, said. “Somebody needs to lose their job."
According to KOAT-TV, four National Forest Service police officers and a drug-sniffing dog recently performed the search at the Taos Ski Valley Resort. The four officers cited several people for possessing marijuana, driving recklessly and having cracked windshields.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration website says saturation patrols involve "an increased enforcement effort," targeting a specific area, to identify and arrest impaired drivers. "Multiple agencies often combine and concentrate their resources to conduct saturation patrols."
But several residents said they weren't happy about National Forest Service police officers executing this search, and some believe the body and car searches violated rights.
"There's a little bit of overreach and mission creep and all that stuff," Marcus Sanders, Taos radio host, said. "It's real, it's happening."
Johnson didn't hold back any emotion, calling the officers "jack-booted thugs."
"This is really, really, really bad ... this is a total waste of taxpayer dollars,” said Johnson. “We're U.S. taxpayers. We own the forest service. Why are we subject to this? Why? I want to know.”
According to the U.S. Forest Service, officers said they often see people driving dangerously in the Ski Valley area, speeding, drinking and using drugs, and the saturation patrol was designed to catch those people breaking the law and putting others in danger.
We’ve had “many, many complaints,” said Kathy DeLucas, a Carson National Forest spokeswoman told the Albuquerque Journal.
DeLucas said her office had no prior knowledge of the Feb. 22 operation and the impetus for the sweep came from Forest Service law enforcement in Albuquerque. The ski valley operates on Carson National Forest lands.
The special agent in charge for Forest Service’s Southwestern Region told the Albuquerque Journal that he’s “not sure who actually made the decision” to conduct the drug sweep.
According to KOAT-TV, the forestry officials said they have no other patrols planned at Taos Ski Valley or any other ski resort, and the February patrol had nothing to do with meeting “ticket quotas.”
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