Santa Fe District Attorney & Obelisk Defendants’ Attorney Speak Out on Obelisk & Restorative Justice

Social justice protesters worthy of compassion or domestic terrorists who deserve punishment? An obelisk that is offensive to many and revered by many others. Two perspectives on the same actions and the same statue. We offer the perspective of District Attorney and defense attorney and ask your views on the obelisk and the use of Restorative Justice as the court’s resolution.

Less is More: Before we begin our discussion of the obelisk toppling and the restorative justice process, a brief note that Part IV and the closing segment of our Less is More Conversations series will be aired on Saturday at 8:30 am on KSFR, 101.1 FM or streaming live from The final segment will focus on the myriad of policies and initiatives that could facilitate the transition to a sustainable economy and what a limited to no-growth future could look like. So, even if you haven’t been able to get your hands on Less is More, you can get a very good sense of what the book is about from the Conversation series and profitably participate in our Book Club Conversation on Tuesday, June 8.

  • Click here to get to the audio visual recordings of Part I, II, and III. This page will be updated on Saturday with a recording of Part IV.
  • Click here to register for the Book Club conversation on June 8. In many ways, Less is More provides an excellent conceptual framework for the policies Rethink Our Democracy will be researching and translating into a NM context. So please join us.

Today, we hear from the Santa Fe District Attorney and the defense attorney for the obelisk defendants. The media has been full of impassioned and often misinformed commentary on the act of civil disobedience and the ensuing legal process. We hope this post offers a more measured view about what transpired on October 12, 2020 and why a Restorative process is the best outcome. Indeed, the often vitriolic tone of commentary in the media underscores the need for a restorative process. Certainly, a single restorative justice process will not fully heal community wounds or achieve broad community understanding, but it is a start.

Retake and other social justice organizations have called for the use of Restorative Justice processes in a variety of offenses where historically incarceration has been employed. Incarceration is not intended to and can’t possibly achieve either healing or understanding. We hope that restorative process employed in relation to the obelisk toppling causes leaders in the NM criminal justice system to more readily utilize this kind of process as an alternative to punitive incarceration. As importantly, we hope that the process initiates a long overdue community conversation with the goal of achieving a balanced and deep understanding of our history and culture.

It is certainly true, that for a very significant proportion of the community reveres the obelisk and other monuments celebrating historic figures or events. They view the movement to remove these monuments as an affront to their history and culture. It is easy to understand that perspective. But would it not be better to place statues such as the obelisk in a museum with descriptions, video and artistic pieces placing those figures in balanced historic context, offering an Indigenous perspective on history, as well?

Maintaining these kinds of statues in public squares without offering contextualizing information conveys the message that the events or individuals represented in the statues are an expression of shared community values and perspective. It isn’t just the Indigenous community that is offended by this. But the divisions in our community will never be healed without a sustained community effort to achieve mutual understanding and respect. Could the restorative justice process described below be a step in that direction? Could a permanent museum exhibit contribute to achieving greater empathy and understanding? What do you think? Feel free to offer your comments below after reviewing the guest contributions from Jeffrey Haas and Mary Carack-Altwies.

The Defense Attorney’s View

For decades the obelisk that stood at the center of Santa Fe Plaza (located on ancestral lands of Tewa Pueblos), has been the subject of considerable debate and dispute. Even now months after the obelisk was toppled by over fifty protestors on Indigenous Peoples’ Day on October 12, 2020, and after the City of Santa Fe’s failure to remove the obelisk despite a June proclamation signaling a commitment to do so, the subject of how to resolve the cases of those few protestors charged in connection to this case, remains a deeply divisive issue.

While many in the Santa Fe community have celebrated the recent news that these cases, political and nonviolent in nature, are being resolved via an alternative conflict resolution process that values community and human relationships over property, it has also elicited heated critique from others, displaying an overall lack of understanding of the process.

As defense counsel on these cases, we herein seek to shed light on the context for and process by which the parties arrived at this Pre-prosecution Diversion Restorative Justice Agreement and what that process will require moving forward.

This past summer, in the wake of civil unrest due to racially motivated police violence throughout the country and the subsequent protest and removal of statues representing the Confederacy, slavery, or segregation in America, there was also a call for the removal of statues celebrating colonialism and violence against Indigenous peoples.

In Santa Fe, concerned parties including Indigenous organizations, local activists, residents, and others, made decentralized, ongoing calls for the removal of certain monuments, including the obelisk. The calls for removal of the Santa Fe Obelisk were not new. Erected in 1867-68 as a tribute to Union soldiers and to the “heroes” who died in battles with “savage Indians,” the monument’s use of the derogatory term “savage” in reference to Native Americans was long perceived as an affront to Indigenous Peoples of the region.

In 1973, after an unidentified individual chiseled the word out of the monument, the City Council voted unanimously to remove the obelisk, but when their decision encountered losing federal funding, the City Council rescinded its vote.

On June 18, 2020, Mayor Webber responded to calls for the monuments to be removed and signed an emergency proclamation titled “Civil Unrest from Institutional Racism” stating:

“Santa Fe has a long and complex history that includes “trauma, tragedy, and sorrow,” which was recognized by leadership from the Caballeros de Vargas, the All Pueblo Council of Governors, the City, the Fiesta Council, and the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, in a Proclamation dated September 7, 2018… There is currently civil unrest across the country and in the City of Santa Fe, due to historic trauma and institutional racism; certain monuments are displayed in the City of Santa Fe that depict historic figures and events that involve or depict events causing historic trauma and have led to present-day civil unrest…”

Mayor Alan Webber

The final toppling of the obelisk was the culmination of decades of frustration and varied attempts at removal. Contrary to popular perception, the defendants charged in this case – with little exception – are long-time residents of Santa Fe. As such, as community members and in light of the complex history that culminated in the toppling of the monument, this Pre-prosecution Diversion Restorative Justice Program is consistent with the direction of the community towards healing and reconciliation.

Pre-prosecution Diversion is specifically contemplated by the State of New Mexico for nonviolent offenses, such as these, and require full participation in and completion of the program before charges would be eventually dismissed. In this case, due to the complex historical and political nature of the case, the parties met on several occasions to outline the process that would best incorporate principles of restorative justice into the existing Pre-prosecution Diversion framework.

The process will be facilitated by Common Ground Mediation Services, with whom the State has contracted to provide mediation services in many cases and will bring together those who felt harmed by the loss of the obelisk with those who felt that the monument was harmful and emblematic of a longstanding, traumatic history.

The process will explore the nuances and complexities of the impact on the greater community, reflect on the history and shared values, and generate ideas about how to repair the harm and begin to heal the historical trauma experienced by the community.

While the DA’s office has provided seed money for an initial intake process, Defendants must cover all remaining costs and expenses and fund the program through completion. [See donation request after the commentary from the Santa Fe District Attorney.]

More and more, the people of cities around the country and the world are decrying the “broken,” punitive approach of the criminal justice system. The criminal justice system over-criminalizes and punishes even nonviolent felonies, but the system is not set up to allow for transformative change. Applying principles of restorative justice is not an easy process; it requires those that participate in such a process to be open-minded, to express thoughts and emotions, to be willing to set aside longstanding beliefs and engage in dialogue with others with deeply-entrenched positions.

While some would argue that Restorative Justice cannot be achieved within the confines of a punitive justice system, we must start somewhere. This process is one where we begin to reimagine conflict resolution and engender a mechanism that values human rights, addresses historical and cultural trauma, and values human relationship and community over inanimate property.

“Monument texts reflect the character of the times in which they are written and the
temper of those who wrote them… Attitudes change and prejudices hopefully dissolve,” are the closing words on the brass plaque near where the obelisk stood. It is time to set aside long-standing prejudices and work towards community healing. Santa Fe has taken the opportunity to embrace a time-tested model of justice and conflict resolution that is increasingly being used as a means for communities resolving disputes in a way that benefits the entire communities.

Jeffrey Haas, Attorney for Obelisk Defendants

Santa Fe District Attorney:
On the DA’s Decision to Use Restorative Justice

By now, you’ve probably read the articles about the agreement reached between all but one of the defendants in the Obelisk case and the District Attorney’s office to pursue a path of restorative justice.  Yesterday, the Santa Fe New Mexican wrote an editorial titled Punishment for Vandals? Yes, it’s Happening, saying that restorative justice “will demand much more of the defendants than a short trial and a probated sentence.”
Here are my thoughts on our decision:

The destruction of the Plaza obelisk was a crime. Criminals damaged public property and damaged the fabric of trust in our community. No matter what you believe about the obelisk, we will never forget the images of it being torn down in a way that was chaotic, violent and caused so many hearts to break.
Last week, after months of careful investigation and negotiation between the defendants, their attorneys and my office, a resolution was reached that, I believe, ensures justice for those who committed the crime, while working toward community healing — a goal we all share, especially now. The resolution is steeped in restorative justice — a method that holds offenders responsible for their actions and also provides opportunity for everyone affected by the crime to find resolution. To be clear, the defendants’ charges have not been dismissed and will not be unless and until they complete this six-month to two-year program.
Restorative justice is a new concept for our community, so I wanted to provide some background and context. The case of the destruction of the obelisk faced factual and legal issues because we do not have a New Mexico state statute that fully encompasses destruction of public property. The obelisk itself is actually federal property, but the federal legal system declined to prosecute this case.

In New Mexico, a first-time nonviolent offender would likely not face jail time, even after trial. To be clear, under our current system and laws, there was no good way to pursue, and win, jail time for the individuals who brought down the obelisk. Also, given the national conversation around reducing mass incarceration, this case is a prime example of a way for a community to move forward toward true accountability, rather than an ineffective and costly punishment that serves no one.

It was also my promise upon assuming this position that our office would do our best to divert nonviolent and first-time offenders from costly system processes and unnecessary incarceration, as our society is doing with much more frequency with low-level drug and other nonviolent crimes. The obelisk case defendants met the criteria I set out for diversionary programming. Given all of these factors, a diversion program was the best path forward to extract meaningful justice for our community.

Restorative justice does not mean the obelisk defendants are getting off with just a “slap on the wrist” as has been implied in some venues. The defendants are court-ordered to participate in this rigorous program and must face the consequences of their actions on a community stage. The charges have not been dismissed.

Over the course of six months to two years, the defendants must participate fully in the restorative justice program, for which they will pay, and will engage victims, community members and all those affected by the obelisk destruction to meet and discuss terms of reconciliation. This includes potential restitution, terms of community service and other ways they can help to resolve the harm they caused to the city and its residents.

Defendants are also ordered to complete 40 hours of community service and must acknowledge their role and responsibility in the destruction of the obelisk in a written statement to the District Attorney’s Office. If they do not complete the terms, the case will be put back on the court’s calendar for further prosecution.

The destruction of the obelisk was personal to all of us. The obelisk sits in the heart of the city and holds a history that is important, controversial and complex. It’s my job to ensure something like this never happens again. This is why restorative justice is so important because it both addresses the crime and engages community members to talk and seek a resolution that will help us all to move forward as a united city.

Mary Carmack-Altwies, Santa Fe District Attorney

Funding Needed for Restorative Justice Process

When I previously posted a request for donations to support the restorative justice process, I received a number of emails asking if the link to the UbuntuWorks Project was the correct link for making donations. I have confirmed that it is, indeed, the correct link and that donations made on that site will be used to cover Restorative Justice process. Below is a note from Jeffrey Haas, offering reasons to support this effort.

After several meetings between the Santa Fe County Prosecutor’s office and the defense attorneys representing those charged with toppling the Santa Fe Plaza obelisk on Indigenous Peoples Day, October 12, 2020, defendants have agreed to participate in a pretrial diversion restorative process using principles of restorative justice.

Each defendant will participate in a restorative justice program led by Debra Oliver of Common Ground Mediation Services. Ms. Oliver will be assisted by two additional facilitators. Defendants and their counsel believe Ms. Oliver and her staff will be fair mediators for the process. Charges will be dismissed for those defendants who successfully complete the program, involving personal intake interviews and subsequently facilitated dialogue with all parties of interest who are participating.

The overall cost of this program involving seven Defendants will be approximately
$10,000 of which the prosecutor’s office has agreed to pay $1,500.00 to cover the costs of the initial intake. The Defendants need to raise the rest.

We are asking you to contribute to this process and make up the difference ($8500.00) to support communication and understanding of the issues involved in why the 1866 obelisk, partially dedicated to battles against “savage Indians” has been historically offensive to Indigenous people as well as other groups. The Defendants individually are also paying a standard monthly administrative fee to participate in the pretrial diversion process.

We believe this process will benefit all New Mexicans as well as the defendants charged and will save hundreds of hours of court time, tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees and expenses, and when completed will allow the defendants to avoid the risk of criminal conviction and criminal records. It will also set a precedent for handling cases involving political action, such as the case here.

Please consider supporting this process. All contributions will be used to pay the cost of the restorative justice process and will be sent to Common Ground. You can contribute directly to this process by donating to: The UbuntuWorks Project, a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) nonprofit Donations are tax-deductible.

For more background on the events leading up to and including those on Indigenous
Peoples Day we are attaching the Defendants’ Joint Statement with regard to those events.

Jeffrey Haas, Attorney for Obelisk Defendants

In solidarity, hope and gratitude,

Paul & Roxanne

Categories: Social & Racial Justice & Immigration Reform

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2 replies

  1. It is in everyone’s best interest to have Restorative Justice become an active part of the Santa Fe and NM judicial systems. I hope that as it progresses, Mary Carmack-Altwies will never again refer
    to jail time as a “win.” It never is.

  2. This is why cities like Portland and San Francisco are going to hell.

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