The First Judicial District Attorney’s Office has dropped more than 30 counts of illegal trapping against a Chimayó man after a Magistrate Court judge found the state Game and Fish Department had failed to serve the man with a search warrant and then failed to save evidence needed to prosecute him.
Santa Fe County Magistrate Donita Sena excluded the missing evidence from the case, leading Assistant District Attorney Allison Schumacher Smithkier to write in a motion Oct. 4, “Without this evidence the State cannot prove this case. Therefore, the State dismisses this case without prejudice based upon the suppression of evidence.”
The case began in February after Game and Fish officers charged Marty Cordova with setting an illegal snare trap at Santa Cruz Lake that killed an 8-year-old heeler mix owned by Dave Clark of Española. The death of the dog, Roxy, gained media attention and prompted the introduction of an anti-trapping measure nicknamed “Roxy’s Law” in the 2019 legislative session. The bill didn’t pass.
Cordova’s lawyer, Yvonne Quintana, said “the evidence-gathering process violated the defendant’s … rights to be free of unlawful searches and seizures.”
She made several motions to the court regarding evidence-handling errors by the Game and Fish Department — “deleting photography, disposing of certain evidence with regard to how they processed and gathered it for the search warrants they executed.”
Among the missteps was the department’s failure to preserve “bags [of evidence] obtained from the defendant’s home freezer,” according to court documents.
Game and Fish spokeswoman Tristanna Bickford declined to comment on the case, saying, “It’s ongoing litigation and I can’t comment at this time.”
Jessica Johnson, chief legislative officer of the nonprofit Animal Protection of New Mexico, said the court’s decision reinforces the need for stricter, clearer laws about trapping on public lands.
“To us, it seems trapping is not well regulated if such an egregious case like this cannot be prosecuted,” she said. “Here we have a case where a guy clearly violated a law, set a snare that killed a dog. They caught the guy and then they are not able to successfully prosecute him — apparently because Game and Fish spoiled the case and evidence.”
The decision comes as the Game and Fish Department is proposing a new trapping rule to go into effect in 2020, which would include a mandatory trapper education course for anyone purchasing a license and a minimum trap-setting distance of a half-mile from designated trailheads and picnic areas, among other locales.
Johnson said the proposed rules would only impact “about 0.5 percent of public lands open to trapping now. That’s clearly not adequate to keep people safe and stop the exploitation of our wildlife for private and commercial profit.”
Her group, which supported the bill that would have created Roxie’s Law, will not push to reintroduce it during the 2020 legislative session, which is only 30 days long and will focus on the state budget. “I’m expecting Roxie’s Law to come back in the 2021 Legislature,” Johnson said.