Sept. 24, 2017
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The modern Native American experience is a struggle for identity—and justice.

July 16, 2008, 12:00 am

A few days later, Jacobson sits at the same glass table beneath the same fluorescent lights more commonly used by SFR to grill politicians.

Today, the tabletop is covered edge-to-edge with sandwiches left over from a staff lunch. Jacobson’s eyes widen as the plates are split like the Red Sea to make room for the interview. Of late, she’s made her dinners using goods from the food bank.

When she arrived in Santa Fe in March 2001, Jacobson and her daughter spent their first nine months in a family shelter. Over the years, she’s collected government assistance and moved homes several times, often relying on the kindness of others.

July 4, 2008, was Jacobson’s first day in a new apartment paid for, in part, by Section 8 assistance. Jacobson makes money on the side through odd jobs, often house-sitting. Though she’s cultivated a repertoire of office computer skills, it hasn’t made sense to apply for anything permanent.

How do you tell a prospective employer that you’ve got a 364-day jail sentence pending appeal?

At approximately the same time the city manager was applying his signature to Rangel’s termination letter, Judge Anthony Segura of Santa Fe Magistrate Court was signing a 364-day jail sentence for Jacobson, who was charged with “battery against a household member.” It was her first offense and, in her version of the story, self-defense against a man who had already been arrested once for assaulting her.

According to the arresting officer’s statement of probable cause: On a summer night in 2007, Robert Medrano, a former acquaintance with jealous tendencies, turned up at Jacobson’s home. When he discovered her having beers with Daniel Van Fleet, a local Native American artist, he exploded and began calling her a “slut.” He left only to return a short time later and they argued again. Jacobson ordered him to leave and followed Medrano outside.

SFPD officers arrived to find Medrano with two “minor bleeding scratches” beneath his eye. Jacobson admitted to clawing his face, then biting his chest when he grabbed her shirt and pulled her close to him.

“I explained to her that she should have called the police for assistance rather than striking Mr. Medrano,” SFPD officer John Van Etten wrote in his signed statement. “Ms. Jacobson told me she does not like to call the police.”

Both were arrested; Medrano on a failure to appear charge and Jacobson for battery against a household member.
Jacobson spent two nights in jail. She was convicted in Magistrate Court and sentenced to 364 days in jail, with 334 days suspended and two days credited for time served—a total of 28 days, not including probation and domestic violence courses.

“The night I came out of Magistrate Court, I felt defiled,” she says. “I felt raped by the system.”

Jacobson isn’t as organized as Rangel in presenting her story. She skips around, but always comes back to the public defender assigned to represent her, Elena Moreno (who is no longer with the Public Defender Department and could not be reached for comment). Jacobson says the Public Defender Department rarely returned her calls or answered her letters, even when she asked them to take a statement from Van Fleet, the sole adult witness, who had been hospitalized for a related illness. Van Fleet died shortly after her trial completed.

But in telling her story, she forgets a key event.

Three years earlier, Jacobson experienced nearly the exact same situation with Medrano, who is described in the 2004 probable cause statement as her “ex-boyfriend,” though Jacobson denies there was ever a romantic relationship. Medrano became enraged when he discovered a male friend was helping her move into her apartment.

“Medrano came by and began harassing her, calling her a ‘whore,’” the reporting SFPD officer Mark Waite writes. “Medrano became more and more verbally abusive, claiming in front of her 9-year-old daughter, Gabriella Wandering Spirit, that she was having sex with the man who was helping her move.”

Jacobson, her friend and her daughter beelined it out of the apartment complex. On bike, Medrano caught up with them in an arroyo and grabbed Jacobson by the shoulders.  He swung her around, clamped onto her left ear, and made her look into his eyes while he called her a “whore.”

Jacobson broke free and ran to the nearby Albertsons grocery, where she called the cops. They arrested Medrano, who claimed he had only tried to give her a hug. 

Medrano was never fully prosecuted; the District Attorney’s Office dropped the domestic violence charge after Medrano’s public defender filed a motion to evaluate his mental competency. In fact, Medrano has several criminal cases on his record, including drug possession, resisting arrest, passing bad checks and smuggling drugs into a prison. All but one of the cases were dismissed by prosecutors or the court because either he was found incompetent to stand trial or because by the time the bench warrants caught up with him, the case was too old to try.

When asked why Jacobson was prosecuted when they let Medrano go, Assistant District Attorney Yvonne Chicoine declined to discuss the specifics.

“We take domestic violence very seriously,” she tells SFR, before ending the conversation. “She was convicted by a jury of her peers and so that should say something.”

According to Jacobson, all the verdict says is that she didn’t get a fair shake.

SFR faxed the paper evidence from both cases to a selection of criminal defense attorneys and women’s rights advocates in Santa Fe. While most were unwilling to speak on the record without seeing the full evidence of the case, most also said that Rangel’s sentence was extreme for a first offense.

“That sort of sentence isn’t unheard of, but it’s certainly unusual,” defense attorney Mark Donatelli tells SFR. “But I think, because it was her home and he had a history, I think she could’ve mounted a successful self-defense argument.”

Jacobson’s case will be re-tried under appeal in First Judicial District Court later this year. The court will have the authority to hand down a new sentence or abandon it. This time, the Public Defender Department has assigned her a lawyer in private practice, Cindy Turcotte, who has asked for, but not yet received, a three-month continuance so she can properly research the case.

Jacobson is by nature upbeat, but she says her experience in the court system has taught her not to hold out hope. She’s already making arrangements for where her daughter will live if she’s incarcerated; Jacobson is afraid that if her daughter is not in a stable home with two parents  the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department will take her away.

As Jacobson packs up her documents to leave SFR, she is offered as many sandwiches as she likes.

“Heck, yeah!” she says. And, with a turkey sandwich wrapped in a napkin, she waves goodbye and pedals off on her bicycle.

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