Agent promises answers in controversial NM ski resort drug sweep

ANSWERS EXPECTED: An internal review of a controversial drug sweep at the Taos Valley Ski resort is expected in a matter of weeks. Photo courtesy of Taos Ski Valley.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

SANTA FE, N.M. — The special agent in charge of the U.S. Forest Service’s Southwestern Region says he’s confident an internal review will answer most questions surrounding a controversial drug sweep that saw four armed Forest Service law enforcement officials and a drug-sniffing dog descend on the Taos Ski Valley resort last month.

“I’m not going to micromanage this,” said Special Agent Robin Poague on Wednesday of what he’s calling an “after-action review” of the operation held on Feb. 22. “I want it to be genuine and authentic and be useful for us and look at what happened up there and address those concerns and find out what’s reality and what’s not.”

Speaking by telephone from his office in Albuquerque, Poague told New Mexico Watchdog the review is headed by a Forest Service patrol captain based in Arizona who will go to Taos next week along with three other Forest Service officers to conduct in-person interviews. Poague said he didn’t have a specific date for the completion of the review, but predicted it would be wrapped up in a matter of weeks, not months.

“Obviously, there are some people who are very upset about what happened on that day,” Poague said.

That’s an understatement, especially when it comes to former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson.

An avid skier and resident of Taos, Johnson told New Mexico Watchdog two weeks ago that “people here are 100 percent pissed off.”

Poague has said the sweep came after Forest Service officers had received reports of DWI offenses and alleged sales of Molly, a drug similar to Ecstasy, in the area surrounding the resort.

The operation commenced on a busy Saturday on the slopes.

Officials at the resort said four officers wearing flak jackets and side arms — along with the canine — approached people at the ski area, the parking facility and surrounding roads. Not much was found — citations and warnings ranged from “possession amounts”of marijuana to cracked windshields were issued — but the operation alienated a number of locals who said the officers’ actions were heavy-handed.

When asked Wednesday if the operation, which the Forest Service described as a “saturation patrol,” was coordinated with state or local Taos law enforcement, Poague said, “That’s one of the things we’re going to look at in the after-action review.”

“We’ll see what happens with this,” Johnson said Wednesday. “We’ll give them the benefit of the doubt about this after-action review. Robin Poague says he’s not going to micromanage the investigation. I think what he needs to do is manage the situation on the ground.”

Portions of the Taos Ski Valley sit on U.S. Forest Service land and the resort has worked as partners with the Forest Service since it was founded in 1954.

Earlier this month, Gordon Briner, the chief operating officer at the resort, said the incident “was not done in a manner consistent with a great partnership.”

“We’re not just looking (at what happened) Feb. 22,” Poague said. “If we need to make some adjustments in the way we’re conducting our law enforcement activities up there, I expect that to be a product of the after-action review.”

Contact Rob Nikolewski at rnikolewski@watchdog.org and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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