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Not all prison calls are listened to prior to inmates’ release

By T.J. Wilham

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    ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico (KOAT) — Just days before a Roswell man was released from prison, he called his girlfriend, threatening her if she was with another man. Once released, authorities say, he went to her home and shot and killed her.

Now, the case is at the center of debate for the race for governor.

The calls – which were made in 2021 by Christopher Beltran to his girlfriend Domonique Gonzales — have been featured in campaign ads attacking Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham for him being released days after making those phone calls.

The ads were paid for by Republican challenger Mark Ronchetti, and the former television meteorologist brought up the case during KOAT’s gubernatorial debate.

“He was on the phone from prison before being released, talking to his girlfriend, saying he was coming to get her and he could get a gun within two days and he would come to her front door,” Ronchetti said during the debate. “He made good on that promise.”

Beltran was in prison, serving time for violating his parole. Previously he had been released days early from an auto theft conviction under the governor’s COVID-19 executive order that called for the early release of inmates to prevent the spread of the disease. He was one of about 700 inmates over a 2 ½ year period to be released.

Beltran served about nine months in prison for the parole violation. Corrections officials said that Beltran was given nearly five months of credit toward his sentence under “department policy” and maintain he was never let out early the second time as Ronchetti has said in ads and debates.

In response to Rnchetti’s claims, during the debate, the governor blamed Chaves County District Attorney Diane Luce for not prosecuting Beltran on a gun possession charge stemming from the auto theft case. Luce has told Target 7 there were issues with the search, and she could not proceed on those charges.

“Shocking is my opponent’s description of facts. The facts he lists,” Lujan Grisham said at Ronchetti. “The case that he talks about, Mr. Beltran, in fact, should have been in jail longer, but a Republican DA and judge failed to prosecute him for felony gun charges.”

Through public records request, Target 7 obtained all of the prison phone calls Beltran made to Gonzales.

“I forced my way into your life. And now you can’t get me out of it all,” he told her, according to the calls. “And you can’t walk away either.”

Gonzales had told Beltran that she did not want him to know where she lived.

“You don’t want to show me where you are at fool straight up,” he said back to her. I’ll find you myself. I’ll kick in. I’ll kick in your (vulgarity) door for by myself fool straight up.”

Gonzales’s family was featured in a Ronchetti campaign ad.

“Monique was a very lovely woman. Monique was very scared,” they said in the ad.

Chaves County Deputy District Attorney Jason Hunter Spindel told Target 7 that no one knew about the jail phone calls until after Gonzales was allegedly shot to death in the front door of her home. They say there was another man in the house when Beltran came knocking and shot Gonzales after she opened the front door.

“We knew that they were having conversations,” Spindel said. “She was visiting him. She had spoken to him several times.”

Beltran has since pled guilty to second-degree murder charges. He is facing a maximum of 12 years in prison when he is sentenced in December.

“We would hope that that the people at the department of corrections, whether that’s correction officers or anyone on his parole board, would listen to it,” Spindel said. “We can’t be certain that they do.”

New Mexico Corrections Department Secretary Alisha Tafoya Lucero told Target 7 that there are hundreds of calls made every day, and it is not possible to monitor every one of them.

“So every inmate phone call, with the exception of legal phone calls, is recorded,” Tafoya Lucero said. “We monitor people specifically that we have concerns on. People who we know might be engaging in illegal behavior or negative behavior.”

Tafoya Lucero — who is appointed by the governor — said at times, corrections officials do randomly monitor calls. Beltran’s calls were not monitored, and had corrections officials heard any threats, Tafoya Lucero said they likely would have alerted police.

“Typically what we’ll do is we’ll pull the phone call, record it, contact our local state police office, and usually they will dispatch detectives to our facilities and will have the state police officer come and interview the inmates,” Tafoya Lucero said. “And we launch a full-scale investigation.”

Ronchetti is now proposing a law that would require corrections to use technology to review jail phone calls for inmates prior to their release.

“Governments around the country are starting to implement these artificial intelligence — basically programs that would listen in on inmates, phone calls and keywords that pop up could trigger further investigation,” KOAT Legal Analyst John Day said.

Target 7 found seven states that are using artificial intelligence to key in on certain words.

But the technology has come under fire.

“A number of different electronic rights organizations are challenging this or fighting against it because they say that it violates just the very concept of personal privacy,” Day said. “Just because you’re locked up, does that mean that everything you say ought to be all we listen to? And again, we’ve seen this over the past. Sometimes jail phone calls can be recorded all the time, but they’re not necessarily analyzed all the time.”

Without the technology, can everything be heard?

“It’s not realistic to monitor every single phone call that is recorded,” Tafoya Lucero said.

In wanted the last calls Beltran made to Gonzales, he wanted to know if she shared his feelings for her.

“Do you (vulgarity) love me,” he asked, according to the calls. “Just tell me you love me, fool.”

“You know I do,” Gonzales responded, according to the calls. “If I didn’t love you, I wouldn’t put up with your (vulgarity) so (vulgarity) long.”

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