While a number of law enforcement officers focused their attention on illegal fireworks in Valencia County last week, others concentrated their efforts on those using alcohol during public holiday celebrations.
A total of 14 citations were issued for drinking in public and open-container violations on June 29 and July 4 at the Independence Day celebrations in Belen and Los Lunas. The local underage-drinking task force conducted its latest operation in an effort to remind citizens that drinking in public is illegal.
“The public is still lacking awareness and understanding when it comes to drinking in public,” said Linda Rodriguez, coordinator of the local DWI program. “It seems to be that it’s a community norm — we’ve always done it and we’re going to continue to do it.”
According to state statute, it is illegal to consume or possess alcoholic beverages in open containers in a motor vehicle or to drink in public establishments (i.e. public events) unless the establishment is licensed to sell and serve alcoholic beverages.
Belen Detective Joe Griego said that, while at the Belen’s Fourth of July celebration, officers cited several people in the parking lot of Wells Fargo Bank for allegedly drinking alcohol while waiting for the fireworks. Four people were also arrested on outstanding warrants.
“We gave a total of 12 citations. The majority of the citations were for drinking in public,” Griego said.
Elvira Kanesta, 42, of Los Lunas, Thomas Morgan, 37, and Rudy Moreno, 44, both of Belen, were cited for allegedly drinking in public and were arrested on outstanding warrants. Jose Lugo, 37, of Meadow Lake, was charged with having an open container and arrested on an outstanding arrest warrant.
Herman Sisneros, 43, Michael McCartney, 50, Anita Carrillo, 25, all of Belen, were cited on charges drinking in public. Victor Carrasco, 29, Armando Gon-zales, 28, and Anthony Carrasco, 34, and Robert Chavez, 44, all of Los Lunas, were cited on charges of drinking in public. Sandra Dean, 52, of Los Lunas was cited for allegedly having an open container.
“We did have one individual who became very belligerent,” Rodriguez said. “He was upset by the fact that he was unable to drink his alcoholic beverage in public. The situation reached a level where the man attempted to reach for one of the officer’s badge.”
Rodriguez said the majority of the people they approached with open containers of alcohol and those drinking in public were very cooperative.
“In fact, we did encounter a group of four males who were drinking on their own private property, and we went up and identified ourselves and told them what we were doing,” she said. “Not only were they understanding and courteous, after we explained what our intentions were, they went ahead and put their alcoholic beverages in regular household cups.
“They didn’t want the public to perceive that they were drinking in public. They were very courteous about it, and that’s the type of behavior that we would really like to see, so the public will start to understand that there is youth and the public-at-large who are seeing this type of behavior.”
During the Los Lunas Fourth of July celebration, officers were again looking for those violating the open-container and drinking-in-public laws.
Elaine Garcia, 36, of Los Lunas was cited on charges of drinking in public and arrested on an outstanding warrant. Nicholas Garcia, 39, of Los Lunas, was also cited for allegedly drinking in public.
Both Rodriguez and Griego said one reason more people were cited in Belen than Los Lunas was because of the different setup of the respective events. Rod-riguez said people who went to the Los Lunas activity were more likely to walk from their vehicles to the park to see the fireworks, while many of those attending the June 29 event in Belen watched the display from their vehicles.
Clara Garcia is the editor and publisher of the Valencia County News-Bulletin.
She is a native of the city of Belen, beginning her journalism career at the News-Bulletin in 1998 as the crime and courts reporter. During her time at the paper, Clara has won numerous awards for her writing, photography and typography and design both from the National Newspaper Association and the New Mexico Press Association.