SANTA FE -- It took more than three years and a private citizen's lawsuit before state Attorney General Gary King released hundreds of emails that he wrote or received.

All of them involved King's aptly named animal cruelty task force. It killed thousands of chickens on ranches across New Mexico and reveled in publicity that the raids received.

As attorney general, King is supposed to champion requests from the public for government records. But when it came to releasing his own emails, he was as stubborn as any politician.

King's reluctance was understandable if you knew anything about the brutal pack of raiders who operated as the Attorney General's Animal Cruelty Task Force.

An Albuquerque woman named Marcy Britton filed a public records request for King's emails way back in June 2009. She said she was convinced that King's task force was trampling constitutional rights and running roughshod over ranches owned mostly by Hispanics.

King's raiders slaughtered roosters, hens and chicks under the claim that they were stopping cockfighting rings that had injected the birds with steroids.

"Truth is, they killed more chickens than cockfighting ever did," said Ronnie Barron, president of the New Mexico Game Fowl Association.

Now father and son ranchers in San Juan County are suing King and his task force in federal court. The ranchers say King's organization -- using police officers, sheriff's deputies, a helicopter and plenty of intimidation -- needlessly killed 730 of their chickens and smashed a thousand eggs in a raid four years ago.

King, a Democrat who is running for governor, declined to discuss that case because the lawsuit is ongoing.

Court records list the leader of King's animal cruelty task force as Heather Ferguson, who had no law enforcement training.

In one email to King, Ferguson was effusive about the attention she and King's raiders were receiving. "Over 300 roosters have been seized, and coverage should be on all 3 stations tonight starting at 5," she wrote.

In his own court affidavit, King said he was unaware of Ferguson's role in orchestrating raids, even though she was the public face of his task force.

Ferguson was director of cruelty campaigns for Animal Protection of New Mexico, a political ally of King's.

Though King is silent about the chicken raids, he is outspoken regarding his newest cause involving animals. He is aligned with Animal Protection of New Mexico in trying to stop horse-slaughter plants from reopening in America. A federal judge's order authorizing the businesses was appealed by King and other opponents.

King said horse slaughter was cruel and that it could contaminate food supplies because horses often are drugged. But what about the thousands of feral horses that roam the arid West, looking for food and water? These horses have received no drugs.

John Boyd, the lawyer who sued King in the email case, also represents the Yakama tribe, which supports horse slaughter plants as a sensible means of population control.

"Certainly the attorney general has not put any evidence into the record to substantiate claims of horse meat entering the (American) food chain," Boyd said.

He said the Yakama reservation had seen declines in deer, antelope and elk as the number of wild horses swelled to between 12,000 and 15,000. Boyd says these feral horses live in pain.

"They starve to death. They die of thirst. It's not the picture of wild horses that people like to imagine, manes flowing in the wind," he said.

As for the email case, Boyd will ask a state judge for summary judgment against King after a different case before the state Supreme Court is decided. That case is to determine if public officials who withhold emails are subject to fines.

For King, the email lawsuit will keep alive his raiders' destruction of chickens and eggs, even as he fights lawful businesses from slaughtering horses for food.

 

Milan Simonich, Santa Fe Bureau chief of Texas-New Mexico Newspapers, can be reached at 505-820-6898. His blog is at nmcapitolreport.com.