Belen man arrested after fighting to save trees in his neighborhood

BELEN, N.M. (KRQE) – He was trying to save the trees in his historic neighborhood, instead the elderly man wound up in handcuffs for losing his cool.

It was a wild scene and it was all caught on video.

Peter Armstrong says he moved to his Belen neighborhood nearly 20 years ago because of its historic charm and beautiful trees.

Wednesday, the mayor apologized for cutting some of those trees down.

“We have these lovely old trees,” said Armstrong.

Last week, a city contractor took out seven trees along Fifth Street in Belen, a block down from Armstrong’s home.

He says, after a talk with the city manager, he thought it would stop.

Then Monday, he heard the chainsaws again.

“I go over and try to get to talk to the contractor that’s doing this, and he really doesn’t want to say anything to me,” Armstrong said.

That’s when police arrived.

“This contractor is taking out trees that don’t need to be taken out,” Armstrong told the officer. The incident was captured on the officer’s lapel camera.

“Yes, I’ve had this discussion with the city manager,” Armstrong told the officer.

“Okay, then you can maintain that discussion with the city manager,” the officer said.

“It’s too late now for that tree,” Armstrong said.

Armstrong says he agrees that the trees needed pruning but, “these trees were not dead.”

“If you interfere with his work then you can be arrested for interference,” the officer told Armstrong.

“If it takes that, I’m willing to do that,” Armstrong said.

Armstrong’s growing frustration ultimately led to his arrest.

“I don’t want to cause no problems here,” the contractor crew member is heard saying.

“Hey shut the f*** up and get out of here,” Armstrong told the crew member.

The officer then arrested Armstrong.

“I think it got to a point that it didn’t need to go to,” said Belen Mayor, Jerah Cordova.

The city says the tree cutting was a big communication mistake.

After a recent wind storm brought down branches, the city sent out a contractor.

“I don’t know whether we communicated properly with the contractor about what extent to go to, whether we wanted just pruning or full removal,” Mayor Cordova said.

“I have to tell you there’s something comical about this,” Armstrong told the officer as he stepped into the police cruiser.

He says he just wanted a conversation about all this.

“We need to have a dialog between the city and the residents, if you’re going to start taking trees down or considering taking trees down,” Armstrong said.

“I think that the city apologizes to him for what occurred, we certainly didn’t have complete control over the situation and we should have,” Mayor Cordova said.

The city says this incident has made them rethink policies and it will work on a new ordinance to involve residents more, and make sure the proper evaluation is done on trees before any action is taken.

The city says those eight trees that were cut down will be replaced.

Armstrong is charged with misdemeanor petty assault for lashing out at the tree cutting crews.

He was released on his own recognizance later that day, and never booked into jail.

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