Video footage of an altercation between two Kit Carson Electric Cooperative board members shows the men shoving each other until one falls to the ground and the other punches him while he’s down.
That description comes from the Taos Police Department, which has obtained video of the Nov. 29 altercation between Chris Duran, 44, and Virgil Martinez, 62.
The dispute began during a closed session of the co-op board last week and became violent in the hallways of the co-op headquarters. It ended with Duran calling law enforcement to report the incident and Martinez driving himself to the hospital to have his lip stitched up.
No charges related to the scuffle have yet been filed. Both Duran and Martinez are claiming they were the victim of an attack, and both have retained lawyers.
The fracas came just one week before the co-op was expecting state regulators to make a decision on a yearlong investigation into a proposed rate increase. Co-op CEO Luis Reyes says the fight and the rate case are unrelated.
Police say they have yet been unable to find anyone who actually witnessed the brawl, but they did find a surveillance video.
TPD Lt. David Maggio told The Taos News the video was blurred “but you can see what’s going on.” He said the department would not release the video until an investigation was complete, but he did describe what the tape shows.
“It basically shows them out in the hallway pushing and shoving each other,” Maggio said. “Then Mr. Duran pushes Mr. Martinez through a doorway. [Martinez] goes to the ground, then [Duran] continues the aggression.”
Maggio said it appeared Duran was hitting Martinez while Martinez was on the ground.
The sergeant who responded to the incident had not yet completed a formal police report as of press time.
Emergency dispatch records and recordings obtained by The Taos News show it was Duran who called police at 11:39 a.m. to report the incident.
“I just got physically attacked and had a confrontation here at the Kit Carson Co-op,” Duran told a dispatcher.
“Who attacked you?” the dispatcher asked.
“Virgil Martinez,” Duran said. “Also he threatened to kill me after the altercation.”
“Do you need an ambulance, sir? Are you OK,” the dispatcher asked near the end of the call.
“No. No. I’m OK. Just a little bruised,” Duran responded.
Duran has said he was acting in self-defense when he hit Martinez and left him with a black eye and bloody lip.
In an email to Reyes that was leaked to the public, board member Bob Bresnahan said Martinez muttered “I will kill him” during the closed session and left the board room, followed by Duran. Bresnahan wrote that no other board members witnessed the actual fight outside the boardroom, and when they did leave the board room to break it up, Martinez was on his back and bleeding.
Bresnahan wrote that religious scapulars belonging to Duran were also found on the hallway floor.
The exact details of what happened in that hallway could be key to determining what, if any, charges are filed, said Maggio.
Maggio said the tape and injuries did not appear to warrant a felony assault charge. Instead, Maggio said authorities could determine that one of the men should be charged with misdemeanor battery.
Even in the case of a misdemeanor, the specifics of who-hit-who and why, could determine who is considered culpable. If law enforcement determines Martinez provoked the scrap and was the aggressor, Duran’s self-defense argument might hold up. Or authorities could determine Duran over-reacted and used excessive violence under the circumstances. Or police may conclude that no one is to blame.
Regardless, Maggio said whoever is determined to be the victim would have to be willing to press charges for the case to move forward.
The Taos News reached Duran by phone Dec. 6, but he referred all questions to his attorney, John Day.
Day said the law in New Mexico related to self-defense is well established. “Basically, the law is clear that you can defend yourself with force if force is used against you,” Day said.
In an op-ed sent to The Taos News, Duran claimed Martinez had a poor understanding of the energy industry and that his ignorance would cost co-op employees their jobs and reduce the utility’s reliability.
Duran wrote that Martinez had “slandered my name and reputation” and repeatedly threatened to kill him.
“This past week he acted on his threats to kill me with violence and physically assaulted me in our board meeting,” Duran wrote. “This unwarranted and unprovoked act of violence against me by a fellow board member left me little option other [than] to defend myself or be killed and physically assaulted.”
In an interview Dec. 6, Martinez said he has long been ostracized at the co-op, largely because of his opposition to the last two rate increases and his willingness to stand up for poor members of the community. Martinez was the lone “no” vote when the 11-member board acted to raise electric rates last year.
Because of his opposition, Martinez said fellow board members and co-op staff have singled him out, attacked his opinions, and fired his friends at the co-op.
Martinez said the scuffle Nov. 29 began during a closed-door discussion on financial issues. “It all boils down to the rates,” Martinez said.
An agenda from that meeting lists an executive session, but offers no details of what was to be discussed in private. A press release from the co-op stated that the impetus for the fight was related to a “personnel matter,” not the rate case.
Asked how the verbal altercation escalated, Martinez said he couldn’t remember. “I don’t know exactly what happened,” Martinez said. “I tell you one thing, when I went into that hallway, my intention was to stop the issue right there.”
Martinez said he also couldn’t remember if he threatened to kill Duran.
“I don’t know if I said that or what,” Martinez said.
Martinez declined to say whether he would press charges against Duran. He said he had no intention of resigning from the board.
Martinez has hired Taos attorney Alan Maestas to represent him in the case.
In addition to the criminal investigation, the co-op says it’s conducting its own internal investigation into the incident that will conclude after the police investigation is complete. The board held another closed-door discussion on its “code of conduct” for board members Dec. 5, but Reyes said trustees took no action.
Duran has made a written request that Martinez be removed from the board. It’s not clear if the board has the authority to remove a member. There is no mechanism for doing so spelled out in the code of conduct.
One woman who spoke at the meeting chided the board members for bringing shame on the utility.