Mateo Maestas: A Laguno Pueblo woman, YOB 1975 — 4-16-2019

Suspect: Mateo Maestas

Victim: A Laguna Pueblo woman (YOB 1975)

Non-fatal victim 1: A child, YOB 2010

Non-fatal victim 2: A child, YOB 2012

Charges: Involuntary manslaughter

Status: Guilty plea to involuntary manslaughter; agreement, sentence range of 5 to 8 years.

Sentence: 6 years

Date of incident: April 16, 2019

Incident type: DWI

Investigative agencies: Bureau of Indian Affairs

Location: State Road 124 at Yellow Hill Road, Laguna Pueblo, Cibola County

Federal Magistrate case number: 19-mj-1030

Federal District case number: 19-cr-01614

Prosecutor: Elisa Dimas

 

Summary

On April 16, 2019, Mateo Maestas, 22, of Cuba, and enrolled member of the Acoma tribe/Navajo nation, crashed in Laguna into a car driven by a Laguna Pueblo woman, born in 1975 and not identified in court documents, on State Road 124 (Old Highway Route 66). He was drunk. As a result of the crash, the woman died. Her two children, in the car, survived. On April 18, he was arrested on charges of involuntary manslaughter, DWI and reckless driving.

On June 12, 2019, he was indicted on a single charge of involuntary manslaughter.

On Sept. 5, 2019, Maestas pleaded guilty to the manslaughter charge under a plea deal that specified his sentence would be between five and eight years and it was accepted by federal Magistrate Judge Laura Fashing.

On Jan. 23, 2020, Federal District Judge Dee Benson sentenced Maestas to six years in prison and allowed him 60 days to self surrender. Maestas was arrested a month later for violating the conditions of his pretrial release.

The crash and indictment

On April 16, 2019, the Laguna Pueblo woman was driving west on Old Highway Route 66, also known as State Road 124, when Maestas, driving a black Ford sedan, either tried to turn onto Yellow Hill Road or tried to make a U-turn in the intersection, Bureau of Indian Affairs Agent Marcelino ToersBijns wrote in an affidavit for an arrest warrant, submitted to the court on April 18. The lead investigator was BIA Agent RoAnna Bennett.

Laguna Pueblo by ANOXLOU/Flickr

While turning, Maestas’s car slammed into the Laguna Pueblo woman’s car, forcing it off the road and into a small wash on the side of the road.

The crash was initially reported by an unknown woman. The two children in the car were reported to have received serious injuries and the driver was dead when investigators arrived.

State Police Capt. Troy Velasquez told ToersBijns that he was the first officer to arrive at the scene and he checked on Maestas, who said he wanted to get out of his car and wanted help. Velasquez told the federal investigator he saw multiple beer cans in the car and Maestas smelled like alcohol. He made no mention if Velasquez checked on the woman or her children or what their status were.

Laguna Police Officer Keith Riley told ToersBijns that he arrived at the scene “minutes after it occurred” and also spoke to Maestas and asked him how much he drank.

“(He) replied he had too much to drink,” ToersBijns wrote. “MAESTAS was asked what he had to drink and MAESTAS replied margaritas.”

At the hospital, a “presumption blood results” showed a blood-alcohol level of 0.28, over three times the legal-per-se limit is 0.08. According to his plea deal, his blood-alcohol content was later determined to be lower, at 0.19.

According to a sentencing memorandum by his attorney, Britany Schaffer, Maestas was abandoned at his vehicle the night of the accident “in the middle of nowhere by his friends” following a “minor argument.”

“He made a terrible error in attempting to drive back to safety, one for which he will be haunted by for the rest of his life,” Schaffer wrote. “He called out for help to one of his loved ones, but he was too far away to be able to help.”

One of the children, L.R., suffered “liver lacerations and spleen injuries.” She was unrestrained in the back seat.

Schaffer does not write how Maestas was in danger that he needed to drive, drunk, to safety.

Although the criminal complaint was filed on April 18, Maestas was not arrested until May 22 and on May 29, he was released and placed on house arrest, according to court records.

On June 12, a federal grand jury indicted Maestas on a single charge of involuntary manslaughter.

 

The plea

On Sept. 5, 2019, Mateo Maestas pleaded guilty to a single count of involuntary manslaughter, which carries a maximum sentence of eight years.

According to the plea deal, accepted by Magistrate Judge Laura Fashing, dictates Maestas’ sentence will be between five and eight years, although he will be sentenced by Federal District Court Judge James Browning.

Sentence, wrangling and revoked release

Sentence wrangling

In preparation for the sentencing hearing set for Jan. 17, 2020, his attorney, Britany Schaffer, filed a 15-page sentencing memorandum on Dec. 31, 2019.

She wrote that Maestas drove because his friends left him at his car following a minor argument.

“He made a terrible error in attempting to drive back to safety, one for which he will be haunted by for the rest of his life,” Schaffer wrote. “He called out for help to one of his loved ones, but he was too far away to be able to help.”

Schaffer does not write how Maestas was in danger, or what he was in danger from, that he needed to drive, drunk, to safety, or what safety he was trying to drive toward.

The presentence report, which isn’t public, suggested a sentence of 2 1/2 to 3 years, she wrote.

Schaffer wrote that she wants Browning to give Maestas a sentence at the low end of the plea agreement.

“Mr. Maestas has a criminal history of zero: that is, prior to this case, he has never been convicted of a crime, other than a single speeding ticket,” she wrote. “He is young, hard-working and educated, and aspires to help others in his future as he has been doing during his counseling sessions while this case has been pending.”

He is the grandson of Wilson Joe Chiquito, who was killed in his home. The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s investigation into his killing is still unsolved.

“Although there is no excuse for his actions on the date of the accident, Mr. Maestas was heavily impacted by the loss of his grandfather, and, at the time when this accident occurred, he had unfortunately fallen into a pattern of using alcohol in an unhealthy manner. He was forthright with his probation officer when he discussed his drinking habits, and that he ‘was struggling with alcohol use,'” Schaffer wrote.

Prosecutor Elisa Dimas wants Browning to give Maestas a sentence above the maximum of eight years agreed to in his plea deal because of his “uncharged conduct,” Schaffer wrote. This is because of the injuries to the Laguna Pueblo woman’s children.

One child, L.R., received “liver lacerations and spleen injuries.” She was unrestrained in the back seat.

Dimas’ actual request to increase Maestas’ possible sentence does not appear in the public court docket. The public docket is missing entries 38 and 39 and 44 through 46.

According to Schaffer’s sentencing memo, Dimas’ request for Maestas to receive a sentence above what she agreed to in the plea agreement is document 45, which does not appear on the public court docket. There is no explanation as to why the document is being kept secret and there are no entries indicating it was sealed, or that either the defense or prosecution requested it be sealed.

According to Schaffer’s memo, Dimas wants Maestas to be sentenced to at least a maximum of eight years and one month, one month above what was allowed in his plea deal, although it is not clear if she is seeking a sentence above that and her request is not on the public docket.

In 2018, journalist Jeff Proctor wrote about prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which prosecutes federal cases, and public defenders, improperly sealing court documents, a process that requires a judge’s consent.

Maestas also wrote a letter to Browning and the dead woman’s family. Although he wrote that he feels sympathy for the woman’s family and he regrets the decision he made, because it killed the Laguna Pueblo woman, much of his letter is about the unsolved killing of his grandfather.

Sentence

Federal District Judge Dee Benson sentenced Maestas on Jan. 23, 2020, to six years in prison, during an hour and 20 minute hearing in federal District Court in Albuquerque.

Federal District Judge Dee Benson

According to the sentencing minute sheet, Dimas asked for an 8-year sentence during the hearing and Maestas’ defense attorney, Britany Schaffer, asked for a 5-year sentence.

According to the minutes, four members of Maestas’ family addressed the judge: M. Vigil, L. Castillo, M. Pablo and J. Maestas.

Maestas also addressed the court, but the minutes contain no information to what anyone said.

Three people also spoke in court on behalf of the victim. M. Valdez spoke on behalf of her family, M. Garcia spoke as a member of the victim’s family and R. Garcia spoke as the guardian of the dead woman’s children, according to the minutes.

Maestas was originally supposed to be sentenced by a different judge. No records indicate why Benson, normally a judge in Utah, sentenced Maestas.

No court documents illuminate why Benson settled on the sentence he did.

Release violations

After Benson gave Maestas 60 days to turn himself in to begin serving his prison sentence, Maestas’ attorneys requested he be allowed to return to his home pending his self-surrender, which Benson granted. Since Dec. 6, 2019, Maestas was living at a halfway house in Albuquerque. Before that, he had been on house arrest.

On Feb. 26, 2020, a federal judge with an illegible signature ordered Maestas arrested, which he was on March 3, 2020, in Albuquerque.

“Defendant failed to comply with conditions of release: alcohol use, failed to report contact with law enforement and failed to comply with travel restrictions,” according to the warrant.

Federal Magistrate Judge Paul Briones revoked the conditions of his release on March 5 and ordered he be sent to prison to begin serving his sentence.

See the case documents on Google Drive

The Albuquerque federal criminal courthouse. Ken Lund/Flickr. License CC BY-SA 2.0.