Zuni man arrested again after serving five months for absconding

Raylan Reano is back in jail after he allegedly refused to report to a halfway house and was arrested by Zuni tribal police
• He received a two-year sentence for killing his girlfriend in a drunk-driving crash

See the case write-up or previous stories

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Five months after being sent to jail as a sanction for violating his supervised release and a month after being released, Raylan Reano is back in jail after he allegedly failed to report to a halfway house and was arrested by Zuni tribal police.

Reano, 27, of Zuni, was arrested on Oct. 28, 2020. The next day, federal Magistrate Judge Paul Briones ordered Reano held without bail during the release revocation. During the hearing, Reano waived his right to both a preliminary hearing and a detention hearing. Briones found that Reano is a danger to the community and there was a serious risk he would not appear for his next hearing.

Mug shot of Raylan Reano from the Santa Fe County Detention Center
Raylan Reano

Although court documents do not explicitly state when he was released after serving five months in jail, federal probation officer Christopher Fielder filed a petition to revoke Reano’s release on Sept. 11, 2020, after he confirmed, the previous day, that Reano did not go to the halfway house he had been ordered to for the first six months of his supervised release. He listed the sentence revocation range as three to nine months.

On Oct. 5, Fielder filed an amended petition to revoke Reano’s supervised release. Zuni tribal police arrested Reano on Sept. 30 for resisting arrest, intoxication, criminal mischief and drug abuse. He pleaded guilty on Oct 1, 2020, Fielder wrote.

On Oct. 28, Reano was arrested, according to the docket, although it is not clear if he was already in tribal custody.

A final revocation hearing is set for 2 p.m., Dec. 4, 2020, via Zoom.

Reano, 27, killed his girlfriend, Nicky Chavez, 26, in a drunk driving crash on Oct. 23, 2016. Federal District Judge James Parker sentenced him to two years, followed by three years of supervised release, after previously pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter, a sentence served at the same time as multiple tribal sentences.

Case timeline

According to federal court documents, Reano has repeatedly refused to comply with court instructions and ignored orders to spend the first six months of his release in a halfway house. To read more about the crash, the plea, or the arguments over sentencing, read the case write-up.

  • Oct. 23, 2016: Reano crashes his car while drunk near Ramah, killing girlfriend Nicky Chavez, 26.
  • Nov. 28, 2017: Reano is indicted on a single charge of involuntary manslaughter over a year after killing Chavez.
  • March 23, 2018: Reano pleads guilty to involuntary manslaughter and prosecutors agree any sentence should be reduced by six months because of a parallel tribal court conviction.
  • March 21, 2019: A year after Reano pleaded guilty, District Judge James Parker sentences him to two years in prison, the minimum suggested sentence for his criminal history, followed by three years supervised release.
  • Jan. 3, 2020: Reano is released from federal prison.
  • March 16, 2020: Parker grants Probation Officer Christopher Fielder’s request that Reano be ordered into a halfway house for six months after he “admitted to using methamphetamine and Buprenorphine (Suboxone) on January 3, 2020, while still in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons, the same day he commenced his term of supervised release.”
  • March 25, 2020: Fielder files a petition for the revocation of Reano’s supervised release, citing the drug use and that Reano went to live at home in Zuni instead of at the halfway house. The federal Bureau of Prisons previously listed him as absconding on March 24.
  • May 18, 2020: Magistrate Judge Laura Fashing allows Reano to remain out of custody when she hears his violation case on May 18. Fielder files an amended petition for a warrant or summons. The warrant is issued the following day.
  • June 18, 2020: Reano is arrested on a warrant and the next day, Magistrate Judge Kirtan Khalsa orders Reano be held without bail.
  • Aug. 25, 2020: Parker sends Reano back to jail for five months after Reano admitted to violating the conditions of his release by failing to follow the instructions of his probation officer, failing to reside at a halfway-house after his release and taking drugs, according to the judgement.
  • Sept. 11, 2020: Fielder files a second petition to revoke Reano’s supervised release after, on the previous day, he confirmed that Reano did not go to the halfway house as he had been required to.
  • Oct. 5, 2020: Fielder files an amended second petition and alleges that, on Sept. 30, Zuni tribal police arrested Reano for resisting arrest, intoxication, criminal mischief and drug abuse. He pleaded guilty on Oct 1, 2020, Fielder wrote.
  • Oct. 28, 2020: Reano is arrested and the following day, Briones orders him held without bail. He also waives his rights to a preliminary and detention hearings.

Continue reading “Zuni man arrested again after serving five months for absconding”

Zuni man sentenced to 5 months for probation violation

Raylan Reano waived an evidentiary hearing
• Judge James Parker ordered him back to prison for five months
• Reano killed girlfriend Nicky Chavez in a drunk driving crash in 2016

See the case write-up

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Raylan Reano will spend the next five months in prison after a judge ordered him back, Aug. 25, 2020, after he was initially released on supervised probation after serving a two-year sentence for killing his girlfriend in a drunk driving crash.

Mug shot of Raylan Reano from the Santa Fe County Detention Center
Raylan Reano

Reano, 27, admitted to violating the conditions of his release by failing to follow the instructions of his probation officer, failing to reside at a halfway-house after his release and taking drugs, according to a judgement signed by District Judge James Parker.

Reano killed his girlfriend, Nicky Chavez, 26, in a drunk driving crash on Oct. 23, 2016. He received a two-year sentence after pleading guilty to involuntary manslaughter.

Reano faced a maximum sentence of nine additional months for the probation violations, according to federal court documents.

Reano pleaded guilty on March 13, 2018, to a single count of involuntary manslaughter and a year later, Parker sentenced Reano to two years in federal prison, to be served at the same time as three tribal sentences, followed by supervised release for three years. One of those tribal sentences was for escaping from jail.

Reano’s probation officer,  Christopher Fiedler, reported problems with Reano as soon as he was initially released, on Jan. 3, 2020, and that Reano admitted to using drugs before even leaving prison, according to court documents.

In the original petition filed March 25, 2020, Fielder alleged Reano admitted to using methamphetamine and Suboxone and he tested positive for drugs on Jan. 3, 4 and 7, 2020.

In the second amended petition filed May 18, 2020, Fiedler wrote Reano tested positive for cocaine on March 20, 2020 and admitted to using cocaine in a subsequent interview. A drug testing sweat patch, applied on April 17, showed positive results for THC, the chemical in marijuana.

The case

To read more about the crash, the plea, or the arguments over sentencing, please read the case write-up.

According court documents and an autopsy report, on Oct. 23, 2016, Reano, with a blood-alcohol content of 0.365, drove off State Road 53, overcorrected and flipped, ejecting Chavez, killing her.

According to a response to a sentencing memorandum by prosecutor Sarah Mease, witnesses said Reano was driving recklessly and at a “high rate of speed” when he lost control of his car and it rolled. He had a blood-alcohol content level, or BAC, of 0.365, over four times the legal limit of 0.08, and in the area of possible alcohol poisoning, which Mease described as “shockingly high.”

Continue reading “Zuni man sentenced to 5 months for probation violation”

Zuni man held without bail pending probation revocation hearing

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A 27-year-old Zuni man is being held without bail pending a probation revocation hearing after being arrested on June 18, 2020.

Mug shot of Raylan Reano from the Santa Fe County Detention Center
Raylan Reano

Raylan Reano killed his girlfriend, Nicky Chavez, 26, in a drunk driving crash on Oct. 23, 2016. He received a two-year sentence after pleading guilty to involuntary manslaughter.

After an initial probation revocation hearing on May 18, 2020, Magistrate Judge Laura Fashing set a tentative new hearing for May 22. The same day as the initial hearing, Federal probation officer Christopher Fiedler filed a second amended petition for the revocation of Reano’s probation. It was not until June 18 that federal agents arrested Reano on a warrant, dated May 19.

In the original petition filed March 25, 2020, Fielder alleged Reano admitted to using methamphetamine and Suboxone and he tested positive for drugs on Jan. 3, 4 and 7, 2020. He used that as a basis to request Reano have a special condition added to his sentence that he be required to live at a “residential reentry center” for up to six months. On March 16, 2020, District Judge James Parker, who initially sentenced him, added the special condition to Reano’s sentence.

In the second amended petition, Fiedler wrote Reano tested positive for cocaine on March 20, 2020 and admitted to using cocaine in a subsequent interview. A drug testing sweat patch, applied on April 17, showed positive results for THC, the chemical in marijuana.

Raylan Reano could spend up to another nine months in prison if his release is revoked, according to federal court documents.

On June 19, at a hearing on his revocation, Reano waived a preliminary hearing and a detention hearing.

A revocation hearing is set for 2 p.m., Aug. 25, via Zoom, in front of Parker.

Reano pleaded guilty on March 13, 2018, to a single count of involuntary manslaughter and a year later, Parker sentenced Reano to two years in federal prison, to be served at the same time as three tribal sentences, followed by supervised release for three years. One of those tribal sentences was for escaping from jail.

According court documents and an autopsy report, on Oct. 23, 2016, Reano, with a blood-alcohol content of 0.365, drove off State Road 53, overcorrected and flipped, ejecting Chavez, killing her.

To read more about the crash, the plea, or the arguments over sentencing, please read the case write-up.

Continue reading “Zuni man held without bail pending probation revocation hearing”

Absconder warrant requested for Zuni man who killed girlfriend in DWI crash

Raylan Reano killed girlfriend Nicky Chavez in a 2016 crash outside Ramah
Judge James Parker gave Reano a 2-year sentence for killing Chavez, a mother of two
• Reano allegedly violated his probation, after release, by absconding

Read more about the case here

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Probation officers have requested a warrant for a Raylan Reano, 27, of Zuni, after he allegedly repeatedly violated the conditions of his supervised release and absconded after serving a federal prison sentence for killing his 26-year-old girlfriend Nicky Chavez in 2016.

Mug shot of Raylan Reano from the Santa Fe County Detention Center
Raylan Reano

After an initial hearing on May 18, 2020, where Magistrate Judge Laura Fashing  took no action was taken, a following hearing on his alleged probation violation was tentatively set for May 22, but court records show there has been no more movement in the case.

Raylan Reano could spend up to another nine months in prison if his release is revoked, according to federal court documents. Reano pleaded guilty on March 13, 2018, to a single count of involuntary manslaughter and a year later, federal District Judge James Parker sentenced Reano to two years in federal prison, to be served at the same time as three tribal sentences, followed by supervised release for three years. One of those tribal sentences was for escaping from jail.

According court documents and an autopsy report, on Oct. 23, 2016, Reano, with a blood-alcohol content of 0.365, drove off State Road 53, overcorrected and flipped, ejecting Chavez, killing her.

Federal probation officer Christopher Fiedler alleged Reano admitted to using methamphetamine and Suboxone and he tested positive for drugs on Jan. 3, 4 and 7, 2020, he wrote in a petition for a revocation of his supervised release filed March 25, 2020. He used that as a basis to request Reano have a special condition added to his sentence that he be required to live at a “residential reentry center” for up to six months. On March 16, 2020, Parker added the special condition to Reano’s sentence.

“This was in response to the defendant failing to comply with his substance abuse treatment plan,” he wrote.

Neither the request nor the condition appear on the public docket and appear to have been sealed. There is no documentation requesting they be sealed or indication how, or why, the sealing circumvented the normal rules for court filings.

Fiedler’s March 25, 2020 petition alleged that Reano didn’t call to schedule his assessment appointment for the reentry program on March 23, as ordered. He wrote:

“On March 24, 2020, this officer received notification from staff at Diersen Charities Residential Reentry Center that the defendant left their facility without permission and was considered an absconder. Later that same day, the defendant contacted this officer by phone and confirmed that he decided to leave the residential reentry center and returned back to his mother’s residence in Zuni, New Mexico.”

The federal Bureau of Prisons lists his status as an absconder.

Fiedler wrote that the revocation range is three to nine months.

Aerial panorama, Dowa Yalanne near Black Rock (left) and Zuni (right), NM, on September 9, 2019.
Aerial panorama, Dowa Yalanne near Black Rock (left) and Zuni (right), NM, on September 9, 2019. Photo by Lance Cheung/USDA/Flickr

Instead of a warrant, Reano was issued a summons to appear on a revocation hearing which, after being pushed off, was set for May 18, 2020.

During that hearing in front of Fashing, Mease requested Reano be arrested, Elsenheimer requested he remain free and probation said that a second amended petition was filed and a warrant was requested, according to the minutes.

No petition appears in the public court record.

The hearing was tentatively moved to May 22, 2020 but no further filings appear in the court record after May 18, 2020. The minutes do not state if Reano was ordered detained or allowed to remain free.

Reano previously escaped from the Zuni jail, a crime that was charged in tribal court, federal prosecutor Sarah Mease wrote in a response to a sentencing memorandum.

He also attacked a fellow inmate while in the Zuni jail and on Nov. 12, 2016, a week after killing Chavez, he was found drunk and sleeping in a vehicle, Mease wrote.

Reano and Chavez were both enrolled Zuni tribal members.

Continue reading “Absconder warrant requested for Zuni man who killed girlfriend in DWI crash”

Judge: Blood tests in alleged drunk driving killing can be used at trial

  • Kayla Baker is charged for allegedly killing a man in a DWI crash on June 16, 2018 near Navajo
  • Baker was released back to Arizona where she worked as a nurse
  • Prosecutors indicted her 17 months after the fatal crash

See the full case write-up

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A Cornfields, Ariz. woman will not have her 0.15 blood-serum test thrown out as evidence in her involuntary manslaughter and assault on a minor case following a federal district court judge’s ruling, April 9, 2020, that she voluntarily gave them access to her medical records.

Photo of the Navajo Code Talker Monument in Window Rock, Arizona, with the Window Rock in the background.
Navajo Code Talker Monument, Window Rock, Arizona. Photo by John Fowler/Flickr. CC-BY

Kayla Baker, 24, is charged with involuntary manslaughter and assault of a minor resulting in serious bodily injury after she allegedly drunkenly crashed her car into oncoming traffic on June 16, 2018, on Route 12 outside the town of Navajo, near the border with Arizona. She does not appear to have ever been charged in magistrate court with J.G.’s death, rather, a federal grand jury indicted her 17 months after the fatal crash, according to court documents.

Baker allegedly tried to pass a woman on the two-lane highway and slammed into a car carrying a man, only named J.G. (YOB: 1988, enrolled Navajo National tribal member) in court documents, his “common-law wife,” their 16-month-old son and the woman’s 17-year-old sister, according to court documents.

Baker’s attorney, Aric Elsenheimer, tried to get all the test results thrown out under the theory that she did not voluntarily consent to give them to tribal investigators Farrell Begay and Samantha Yazzie when they interrogated her at a jail in Window Rock, Ariz., following the crash. No court documents state she was charged with, or by whom, while she was held in Window Rock.

A separate blood test at the FBI crime lab showed a blood-alcohol level of 0.12, according to court documents.

District Judge William Johnson dismissed the motion on April 9, 2020.

Johnson also dismissed a motion, on March 6, 2020, to dismiss the charge of assault of a minor resulting in serious bodily injury.

Elsenheimer wrote in the motion that the assault charge, which carries a minimum mandatory sentence of 10 years and a maximum of life, required prior knowledge and intent, that is, that Baker knew and intended his 17-year-old victim was underage when she allegedly drunkenly crashed into her. Assault resulting in serious bodily injury, not done to a minor, carries a maximum sentence of 10 years — the mandatory minimum for its counterpart done to a minor.

On Feb. 28, 2020, Johnson granted a motion to continue the case for a jury trial tentatively set for July 6, 2020.

Continue reading “Judge: Blood tests in alleged drunk driving killing can be used at trial”

Kayla Baker: Unidentified man (J.G., YOB 1988) — 6-16-2018

Suspect: Kayla Baker

Victim: J.G. (male, YOB: 1988, enrolled Navajo Nation member)

Charges: Involuntary manslaughter, assault of a minor resulting in serious bodily injury

Date of incident: June 16, 2018

Type of incident: DWI crash

Status: Pending

Investigating Agency: FBI

Location: Route 12 near Navajo, N.M.

County: McKinley County

Federal district case number: 19-cr-04272

Search warrant case number: 18-mr-00603

Prosecutor: Nicholas Marshall

 

Summary

On June 16, 2018, Kayla Baker allegedly drunkenly passed a car on Route 12, near Navajo, New Mexico, and crashed head-on into another car, killing one Navajo Nation tribal member, a man named J.G., and injuring three others, one severely.

On Nov. 19, 2019, a federal grand jury indicted Baker on charges of involuntary manslaughter and assault of a minor resulting in serious bodily injury. Trial is tentatively set for July 6, 2020, in Albuquerque.

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The incident

On June 16, 2018, Kayla Erika Baker, also known as Kayla Baker, was driving on Route 12 (mile post 36), near Navajo, New Mexico, when she allegedly tried to pass another car on the two-lane road, FBI Agent Lance Roundy wrote in an affidavit for a search warrant.

Photo of the Navajo Code Talker Monument in Window Rock, Arizona, with the Window Rock in the background.
Navajo Code Talker Monument, Window Rock, Arizona. Photo by John Fowler/Flickr. CC-BY

Baker, of Cornfields, Ariz., allegedly crashed head-on into a Ford Fusion carrying J.G. (YOB: 1988, a registered member of the Navajo Nation), his “common-law wife,” their 16-month-old son and the “common-law wife’s” 17-year-old sister, referred to as C.H., according to a response to the motion to dismiss filed by prosecutor Nicholas Marshall.

Navajo Police Officer Cherlyn Owens allegedly found that Baker smelled of alcohol, had slurred speech, bloodshot eyes and a lack of balance and tried to conduct a field-sobriety test, which Baker failed, Roundy wrote.

In the car, Owens found beer bottles and a “bottle of alcohol” in the passenger side, he wrote.

Navajo Police Officer Irene Six found C.H. injured on the ground outside the car. She was flown to a hospital in Fort Defiance, Ariz., before being flown to the University of New Mexico Hospital for a broken leg, Roundy wrote.

A year later. C.H. needed follow-up surgery a year later “on the hardware placed in her leg and to aid in her recovery” and still receives physical therapy, Marshall wrote.

Medics, and a physician who stopped to help, tried to save J.G., and he was flown to Fort Defiance as well, where he was pronounced dead, Roundy wrote.

J.G.’s girlfriend said she remembered trying to hold on tightly to her toddler during the crash. Both her and the toddler suffered minor injuries and were released from the hospital, Marshall wrote.

Navajo Criminal Investigator Farrell Begay interviewed Baker following the crash, but Roundy did not write if Baker waived her Miranda rights.

Roundy wrote:

“During the interview, Baker admitted to purchasing Blue Moon beer and a bottle of Southern Comfort liquor. Baker stated she consumed half a can of beer before driving her car on Route 12. Baker did not recall any details after turning on to Route 12, but did recall waking up in the hospital.”

After federal investigators obtained her medical records, they showed she had a “blood serum of .151 of alcohol,” while an FBI crime lab test showed a she had a blood-alcohol content of 0.12. The legal limit is 0.08, in addition to THC, Marshall wrote.

Marshall wrote:

“The crash data information recovered from the vehicles indicated Defendant was in a passing zone, and went into the other lane, and was accelerating at the time of the crash. There is no indication of Defendant braking, or even swerving, to avoid hitting the other vehicle nor any indication that she even saw the other vehicle. Both cars were driving above the speed limit at the time of the crash.”

Following the crash, Begay and investigator Samantha Yazzie interrogated Baker at the Window Rock Department of Corrections in Window Rock, Ariz.

During that interrogation, Baker consented to giving investigators her medical records, including the blood test results.

Her attorney tried unsuccessfully to have the blood test results suppressed.

It is not clear how long, or under what charges or jurisdiction, Baker was held in Arizona because she was never charged for the crash in federal magistrate court.

Indictment and release

On Nov. 19, 2019, 17 months after J.G. died in the crash, a federal grand jury indicted Baker on charges of involuntary manslaughter and assault of a minor resulting in serious bodily injury.

While involuntary manslaughter carries a maximum sentence of eight years, assaulting a minor carries a minimum mandatory sentence of 10 years with a maximum sentence of life. Assault resulting in serious bodily injury, but not done to a minor, carries a maximum sentence of 10 years.

After Begay arrested her on Nov. 25, 2019, at the Fort Defiance Indian Hospital, she was brought to federal court in Albuquerque where federal Magistrate Judge Jerry Ritter ordered her held without bail until a detention hearing on Dec. 3, 2019, where she was ordered released by Magistrate Judge Kirtan Khalsa. (LINK) She pleaded not guilty during her arraignment the day before.

Marshall opposed her release, but the minutes contain no documentation of why.

According to the conditions of her release, she was released into the custody of Carol Tapaha and ordered, with the exception of travel to court, to stay within Apache and Coconino counties in Arizona. She is also supposed be monitored for alcohol use.

After her release, Baker was fired from her job as a nurse “in an emergency room setting,” her attorney, Aric Elsenheimer, wrote in a motion to modify the conditions of her release.

Her unnamed employer took the restriction of her release, that she have no contact with the victims or their families, to mean she could not work at the hospital and he wanted the judge to change the conditions so she could have incidental contact. Marshall did not oppose the motion, he wrote.

Khalsa granted it.

Motions

Motion to dismiss assault on a minor charge

Aric Elsenheimer filed two motions early in the case. The first was to dismiss the second count of the indictment, for assault of a minor resulting in serious bodily injury.

Elsenheimer wrote that the crime required Baker’s knowledge that the person she severely injured was a minor.

District Judge William Johnson dismissed the motion.

Motion to suppress blood tests

Elsenheimer filed a separate motion to suppress the blood tests.

He wrote in a motion to suppress that the investigators, Begay and Yazzie, “did not obtain valid consent” from Baker to get her blood tests from the hospital.

Johnson denied that motion.

Still pending

On Feb. 28, 2020, Johnson granted a motion to continue the case for a jury trial tentatively set for July 6, 2020.

 

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See the case documents on Google Drive or Document Cloud

Raylan Reano: Nicky Chavez — 10-23-2016

Suspect: Raylan Reano

Victim: Nicky Chavez, 26

Charges: Involuntary manslaughter

Sentence: 2 years prison followed by 3 years supervised release

Status: Pending final supervised release revocation hearing

Date of incident: Oct. 23, 2016

Investigative agencies: Zuni Police Department

Prosecutor: Sarah Mease

Prosecuting agency: U.S. Attorney’s Office

Location: State Road 53 in Ramah, exterior boundaries of the Zuni Pueblo

County: McKinley County

Type: DWI crash

Relation to victim: Boyfriend

Federal Magistrate case number: None

Federal District case number: 17-cr-03403

 

Summary

On Oct. 23, 2016, Raylan Reano, 27, crashed, killing his 26-year-old girlfriend Nicky Chavez, mother of two, on State Road 53 in Ramah, in the exterior boundaries of the Zuni Pueblo. Chavez was not wearing a seat belt and was ejected through the rear window.

Mug shot of Raylan Reano from the Santa Fe County Detention Center
Raylan Reano

Nov. 28, 2017, a year after killing Chavez, Reano was indicted. Three months later he pleaded guilty and on March 21, 2019, he received a two-year sentence, the minimum sentence suggested by sentencing guidelines.

After being released from federal prison, he admitted to using methamphetamine and Suboxone and was ordered into a residential reentry program for six months. After he did not set up an appointment for the program, and then left the treatment facility he was in, probation officers requested his release be revoked. His probation case is pending.

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The incident

While driving drunk on State Road 53 through Ramah, Raylan Reano crashed his car, killing girlfriend Nicky Chavez, 26.

Aerial panorama, Dowa Yalanne near Black Rock (left) and Zuni (right), NM, on September 9, 2019.
Aerial panorama, Dowa Yalanne near Black Rock (left) and Zuni (right), NM, on September 9, 2019. Photo by Lance Cheung/USDA/Flickr

Details on the crash, from court records, are few. Reano was indicted, and never charged federally at the magistrate level, for killing Chavez.

According to a response to a sentencing memorandum by prosecutor Sarah Mease, witnesses said Reano was driving recklessly and at a “high rate of speed” when he lost control of his car and it rolled. He had a blood-alcohol content level, or BAC, of 0.365, over four times the legal limit of 0.08, and in the area of possible alcohol poisoning, which Mease described as “shockingly high.”

Most of the details of the crash come from a deputy field investigation conducted by the Office of the Medical Investigator.

Field Investigator Paulena Houston wrote that Chavez was not wearing a seat belt and was ejected from the rear window in the crash, about 110 feet from the car. She died at the scene.

Houston wrote:

“The blue dodge passenger vehicle starts to runoff (sic) the roadway at least 50 yards; from where it came to a rest, it then drives over a driveway ditch which damages the right front and back tires. The vehicle then loses control as it turns towards the roadway, flips on its right side then starts to roll at least 2 to 3 times. The vehicle then lands back on its wheels, front end facing SE, and all doors closed.”

The stretch of road where Reano crashed is straight, she wrote.

Chavez suffered severe cuts on her head and cans were thrown out from with crash, along with other debris, Houston wrote.

Chavez’s mother discovered the crash as she was driving to work and positively identified her daughter. Zuni police investigator Lee Lucio conducted the tribal investigation, she wrote.

According to the autopsy report, Chavez died from blunt trauma of the head, chest and abdomen.

In a sentencing memorandum, Reano’s attorney, federal public defender Aric Elsenheimer wrote that Reano drove off the road, overcorrected and flipped the car.

The night of the crash, Chavez and Reano drank heavily and they left Chavez’s home at 4 p.m., with Chavez driving. They continued to drink into the night and at some point, Reano started driving, Elsenheimer wrote.

Aerial view from near Dowa Yalanne near Black Rock (right) and Zuni (left), NM, on September 9, 2019.
Aerial view from near Dowa Yalanne near Black Rock (right) and Zuni (left), NM, on September 9, 2019. Photo by Lance Cheung/USDA/Flickr

Elsenheimer wrote, wrongly, that Chavez had an “astonishingly high” blood-alcohol content, or BAC, of 0.35. According to a toxicology report, her blood-alcohol content was 0.30. She was not driving when the accident happened. He did not note that his client’s own blood-alcohol content was 0.36.

Chavez also had cocaine in her system, according to the toxicology report.

Although Elsenheimer wrote that his client took responsibility by pleading guilty, he framed Chavez’s death as being distanced from Reano’s responsibility for killing her, noting Reano was hurt by “what happened” to Chavez, rather than what he did to her.

“Mr. Reano deeply regrets his actions and is devastated by what happened to N.C.,” Elsenheimer wrote.

Reano and Chavez were both enrolled Zuni tribal members.

The victim

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According to Mease’s response to the sentencing memorandum, Chavez was the mother of two young children and “in the prime of her life.”

Chavez’s mother declined to give an impact statement to the investigators writing the presentence report, she wrote.

“To be clear, this decision does not stem from apathy,” Mease wrote. “Quite the contrary—the victim’s mother feels that engaging in this process is simply too painful following the tragic loss of her daughter.”

Chavez’s Facebook page provides little, other than that she studied nursing previously and went to Zuni High School.

Reano and Chavez began dating in August 2016 and “alcohol was a large part of their relationship,” Elsenheimer wrote in his sentencing memorandum.

Court proceedings

Indictment

On Nov. 28, 2017, over a year after Raylan Reano killed Chavez, a federal grand jury indicted him on a single charge of involuntary manslaughter. The case was filed with the federal court on Dec. 5, 2017.

Plea

On March 23, 2018, just three months after his indictment, Reano pleaded guilty to a single charge of involuntary manslaughter, a deal prepared by prosecutor Sarah Mease and accepted by federal Magistrate Judge Karen Molzen.

There was no agreement in the plea as to sentence, but prosecutors agreed that the judge should reduce Reano sentence by six months because of his six-month sentence in tribal court for killing Chavez, according to the plea.

Prosecutors also agreed to recommend a sentence in the low end of the calculated guideline range, according to the plea.

Sentence

Limited culpability

Elsenheimer wrote in a sentencing memorandum on July 24, 2018, that he wanted his client to vary the guideline sentence down and give his client a sentence of 18 months (1 1/2 years) and run the sentence at the same time as his tribal sentence. Prosecutors did not oppose giving him the six months credit and allowing him to serve both the tribal and federal sentences at the same time.

Among the reasons were a difficult childhood and early life. He grew up on the Zuni Pueblo with his mother, father and brother. His alcoholic father would often fight with his mother and drove the two children from the house, he wrote.

In 2014, his father died of a heart attack and at some point his brother, Jaylen Reano, was killed outside their home and after his death, he fell into a deep depression and began to drink heavily, Elsenheimer wrote.

Searches for Jaylen Reano turn up no results and a records request for his autopsy report is pending with the Office of the Medical Investigator.

Reano did not deserve a sentence of more than a year and a half because he has no prior criminal history, although he does have tribal convictions for theft, intoxication and escape from a jail, he wrote.

Elsenheimer wrote that Chavez had a high blood-alcohol content, although he alleged she had a higher BAC than was reported in the toxicology report. He also wrote that she had cocaine in her system and that she chose to not wear a seat belt, leading to her being ejected.

Reano’s drinking was a result of the loss of his brother and father, he wrote.

Elsenheimer also included a letter from Reano’s sister, Mellory Mahkee, who wrote that her brother deserved a second chance and that all his woes were attributable to his brother dying in his arms.

Prosecution’s requested sentence

Mease wrote in a response to Elsenheimer’s sentencing memorandum, filed Aug. 3, 2018, that prosecutors, pursuant to the plea deal, were asking for a sentence at the low end of the range. He had an adjusted offense level of 19 with a criminal history category of I, bringing his sentence range to 30 to 37 months, although a criminal history category of II would increase the sentencing range to 33 to 41 months.

Federal sentencing table, levels 17 to 19
Levels 17 to 22 of the federal sentencing table. With a criminal history of I, the guidelines for Raylan Reano’s killing of Nicky Chavez were 30 (2.5 years) to 37 months (3 years). One criminal history level higher, of II, and his range increased to 33 months (2.75 years) to 41 months (3.4 years).

Reano had a base offense level of 22 (sentence range 41 to 51 months at level I criminal history), and received a three-level downgrade for his plea, she wrote.

The pre-sentence report suggested Reano might properly have a criminal history category of II because, following his killing of Chavez, he committed three more tribal offenses. Mease wrote (internal citations removed):

“First, on November 12, 2016, just days after the incident in the present case, Defendant was arrested after being found intoxicated and sleeping inside a vehicle. Then, while Defendant was in tribal custody, he assaulted another inmate. Finally, in December 2017, Defendant was arrested following his escape from the Zuni Detention Center in Zuni, New Mexico. All three incidents resulted in tribal convictions.”

Mease wrote that Chavez’s mother found it too painful to write a victim impact letter.

She wrote that the prosecution was advocating for either a 24-month sentence, with a criminal history level of I, or 27 months, with a criminal history level of II. The sentencing guidelines allow courts to consider conduct after an initial arrest.

Low sentence

On March 21, 2019, District Judge James Parker sentenced Reano to two years, the minimum suggested for a level I criminal history after six months was subtracted for time served in tribal jail, and allowed him to serve the sentence at the same time as his convictions in tribal court. That was to be followed by supervised probation for three years, according to the court docket.

Probation violation

Initial problems

The day Raylan Reano was released from prison, Jan. 3, 2020, he allegedly admitted to using methamphetamine and Suboxone and he tested positive for drugs on Jan. 3, 4 and 7, 2020, Probation officer Christopher Fiedler wrote in a petition for a revocation of his supervised release filed March 25, 2020.

On March 12, 2020, supervisors requested a special condition be added to Reano’s sentence, that he be required to live at a “residential reentry center” for up to six months, Fiedler wrote.

“This was in response to the defendant failing to comply with his substance abuse treatment plan,” he wrote.

On March 16, 2020, Parker added the special condition to Reano’s sentence, Fiedler wrote.

Neither the request nor the condition appear on the public docket and appear to have been sealed. There is no documentation requesting they be sealed or indication how, or why, the sealing circumvented the normal rules for court filings.

Fiedler’s March 25, 2020 petition alleged that Reano didn’t call to schedule his assessment appointment for the reentry program on March 23, as ordered. He wrote:

“On March 24, 2020, this officer received notification from staff at Diersen Charities Residential Reentry Center that the defendant left their facility without permission and was considered an absconder. Later that same day, the defendant contacted this officer by phone and confirmed that he decided to leave the residential reentry center and returned back to his mother’s residence in Zuni, New Mexico.”

Fiedler wrote that the revocation range is three to nine months.

Instead of a warrant, Reano was issued a summons to appear on a revocation hearing which, after being pushed off, was set for May 18, 2020.

During that hearing in front of Magistrate Judge Laura Fashing, Mease requested Reano be arrested, Elsenheimer requested he remain free and probation said that a second amended petition was filed and a warrant was requested, according to the minutes.

The minutes do not state if Reano was ordered detained or allowed to remain free.

Fielder filed a second amended petition for the revocation of Reano’s probation. It was not until June 18 that federal agents arrested Reano on a warrant, dated May 19.

Remanded to jail

On Aug. 25, 2020, Parker ordered Reano remanded to prison for five months after he admitted to violating the conditions of his release by failing to follow the instructions of his probation officer, failing to reside at a halfway-house after his release and taking drugs, according to a judgement signed by Parker.

Back in jail

On Sept. 11, 2020, Fielder filed a petition to revoke Reano’s release, after he confirmed, the previous day, that Reano did not go to the halfway house he had been ordered to for the first six months of his supervised release. He listed the sentence revocation range as three to nine months. Court documents do not state when Reano was released following his five-month sentence.

On Oct. 5, Fielder filed an amended petition to revoke Reano’s supervised release. Zuni tribal police arrested Reano on Sept. 30 for resisting arrest, intoxication, criminal mischief and drug abuse. He pleaded guilty on Oct 1, 2020, Fielder wrote.

On Oct. 28, Reano was arrested, according to the docket, although it is not clear if he was already in tribal custody.

A final revocation hearing is set for 2 p.m., Dec. 4, 2020, via Zoom.

See the case documents on Google Drive or Document Cloud

Case timeline

  • Oct. 23, 2016: Reano crashes his car while drunk near Ramah, killing girlfriend Nicky Chavez, 26.
  • Nov. 28, 2017: Reano is indicted on a single charge of involuntary manslaughter over a year after killing Chavez.
  • March 23, 2018: Reano pleads guilty to involuntary manslaughter and prosecutors agree any sentence should be reduced by six months because of a parallel tribal court conviction.
  • March 21, 2019: A year after Reano pleaded guilty, District Judge James Parker sentences him to two years in prison followed by three years supervised probation, the minimum suggested sentence for his criminal history.
  • Jan. 3, 2020: Reano is released from federal prison.
  • March 16, 2020: Parker grants Probation Officer Christopher Fielder’s request that Reano be ordered into a halfway house for six months after he “admitted to using methamphetamine and Buprenorphine (Suboxone) on January 3, 2020, while still in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons, the same day he commenced his term of supervised release.”
  • March 25, 2020: Fielder files a petition for the revocation of Reano’s supervised release, citing the drug use and that Reano went to live at home in Zuni instead of at the halfway house. The federal Bureau of Prisons previously listed him as absconding on March 24.
  • May 18, 2020: Magistrate Judge Laura Fashing allows Reano to remain out of custody when she hears his violation case on May 18. Fielder files an amended petition for a warrant or summons. The warrant is issued the following day.
  • June 18, 2020: Reano is arrested on a warrant and the next day, Magistrate Judge Kirtan Khalsa orders Reano be held without bail.
  • Aug. 25, 2020: Parker sends Reano back to jail for five months after Reano admitted to violating the conditions of his release by failing to follow the instructions of his probation officer, failing to reside at a halfway-house after his release and taking drugs, according to the judgement.
  • Sept. 11, 2020: Fielder files a second petition to revoke Reano’s supervised release after, on the previous day, he confirmed that Reano did not go to the halfway house as he had been required to.
  • Oct. 5, 2020: Fielder files an amended second petition and alleges that, on Sept. 30, Zuni tribal police arrested Reano for resisting arrest, intoxication, criminal mischief and drug abuse. He pleaded guilty on Oct 1, 2020, Fielder wrote.
  • Oct. 28, 2020: Reano is arrested and the following day, Briones orders him held without bail. He also waives his rights to a preliminary and detention hearings.

Past stories

Zuni man arrested again after serving five months for absconding

Zuni man sentenced to 5 months for probation violation

Zuni man held without bail pending probation revocation hearing

Absconder warrant requested for Zuni man who killed girlfriend in DWI crash