SANTA FE — Dr. Patricia Norris, a veterinarian who helped kill hundreds of birds during raids on New Mexico ranches, is scheduled for a state hearing next week on allegations that she slaughtered healthy animals under the guise of stopping cockfighting.
Norris was part of New Mexico Attorney General Gary King's Animal Cruelty Task Force, which has become the target of civil lawsuits at both ends of the state.
With assistance from sheriff's deputies, task force members raided private ranches and killed roosters, hens and chicks on suspicion that they were part of cockfighting rings and had been contaminated with steroids.
Ron Barron, president of the New Mexico Game Fowl Breeders Association, filed complaints with the state Board of Veterinary Medicine alleging that Norris violated professional standards and ethics by killing healthy birds during illegal raids.
The Board of Veterinary Medicine is scheduled to take up the complaint against Norris on June 14.
Norris, 52, declined to comment on the allegations against her. But she questioned how there could be news coverage of her case, saying complaints against veterinarians are coded by the board to conceal the names of those accused of misconduct or malpractice.
Norris now works as the veterinarian for the Dona Ana County Sheriff's Office. She also practiced in suburban Albuquerque when the raids occurred in 2008 and 2009.
Barron said it took four years to persuade the veterinary board to put aside political favoritism for King and his cohorts and investigate Norris' conduct.
"This case is the biggest cover-up this state has ever seen," Barron said.
King, a Democrat who is running for governor, did not respond to a request for comment.
Barron's complaint to the veterinary board focuses on Norris killing birds in three raids, two in Chaparral and one near Bloomfield.
The Bloomfield raid in 2009 targeted father and son ranchers, Reyes and Mario Marin. They say Norris and others on the task force killed about 700 of their roosters, hens and chicks. The raiders also destroyed the hens' eggs.
King last month filed an affidavit in response to a federal lawsuit in which the Marins seek money for their losses.
King said that he knew nothing about the conduct of a task force member named Heather Ferguson Greenhood, who led the raids, or about mass killings of birds that were never tested for steroids or health problems.
"I did not have any knowledge at the time of the alleged raid on the Marins' ranch that Ms. Ferguson or the task force had violated or were violating anyone's constitutional rights," King wrote in his affidavit.
In their lawsuit, the Marins say that Norris lied to San Juan County sheriff's deputies to obtain search warrants for the raid. They said Norris falsely claimed that the Marins had unlawful pharmaceutical substances on their property that would "support federal felony charges."
The Marins say they were threatened by King's task force with bills of more than $4,000 a day for housing and feeding birds that were confiscated. Under this coercion, they say, they authorized the task force to kill all their birds.
They said Norris "portrayed herself as the state forensic veterinarian," then "unlawfully and maliciously directed and participated in the massacre."
Norris and others on the task force killed the birds with injections of poison, deaths that were extraordinarily painful and unnecessary, Barron said.
In his complaint to the veterinary board, Barron said the task force killed another 1,280 roosters, hens and chicks at the Chaparral ranches of Rachelle Crockett and Graciela Salinas.
None of the birds underwent any tests, so neither Norris nor the full task force had proof that the birds had consumed steroids or other drugs that could contaminate the food chain, Barron said.
All of those whose properties were raided said they were law-abiding private citizens not involved in cockfighting, which New Mexico outlawed in 2007.
Barron said his theory is that the attorney general's task force targeted mostly Hispanic ranchers, relying on stereotypes that they were using their birds for illegal fights.
John Boyd, an attorney for the Marins, said Norris and other task force members trampled the rights of people who were running lawful businesses.
He said King, Norris and others publicly presented themselves as people intent on helping animals, but the facts show otherwise.
"I continue to be dumbfounded that something called the Attorney General's Animal Cruelty Task Force went about massacring perfectly healthy poultry," Boyd said.
Barron said poultry in New Mexico is classified as livestock. He said raids by King's task force should have been coordinated with the New Mexico Livestock Board, which was founded in 1887 and has 60 inspectors whose mission is to keep animals free from disease.
Barron said he was convinced that King knew of the raids long ago because ranchers had complained of the intimidation tactics used by Norris, Ferguson and others on the attorney general's task force.
Milan Simonich is the Santa Fe bureau chief of Texas-New Mexico Newspapers. He can be reached at 505-820-6898. His blog is at nmcapitolreport.com.