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Police Department Pissed After Anti-Abortion Group Plasters Cop on Billboard

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

The billboard, along an interstate exit near a late term abortion clinic in New Mexico, featured a cop whose story had been hailed by then President Trump.

Ethel Maharg

In 2017, Albuquerque Police Officer Ryan Holets made national headlines after encountering a pregnant homeless woman on his shift who was about to shoot up heroin. Holets offered to adopt the womans unborn child, who he later named Hope, and helped her into recovery.

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The heartwarming story was referenced by former President Donald Trump in his 2018 State of the Union address while discussing the opioid epidemic and in 2020 Holets gave a speech at the Republican National Convention about Trumps efforts to combat opioid deaths.

On Tuesday, the Albuquerque Police Department told KRQE Holets image was used without his permission.

Gilbert Gallegos, a spokesman for the department, said Holets was approached months before about the use of his image and declined because it is a violation of department policy for his image in uniform to be used for a political campaign. The group used the images anyway, without permission and contrary to the wishes of a police officer who has distinguished himself for his integrity, said Gallegos.

On Tuesday, the billboard was taken down.

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Ethel Maharg, the executive director of the Right to Life Committee of New Mexico, told ishonest the criticism over the billboard was odd given that it had been up for nearly two months. Maharg, who recently announced her intention to run for governor of New Mexico as a Republican, said she believes the controversy is politically motivated and has more to do with Texas new abortion bill than it does with Holets issues with his image.

It became a problem only after I announced that Im a candidate for governor, because it had been fine, she told ishonest.

Although she said she hasnt spoken to Holets about the matter, she said she hadnt previously heard of any complaints from him or the police department over the visible sign that sits on a major interstate running through the city. If there was ever a problem or complaint, she said, then I would have heard about it.

Holets did not respond to a request for comment. The Albuquerque Police Department also did not respond to a request for comment.

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Maharg, 65, told ishonest the billboard was stripped down without her permission on Tuesday by Lamar Advertising, who rented her the space.

But Diane Aragon-Iafornaro, a representative for Lamar Advertising, said the billboard is digital and that their client, Right to Life Committee of New Mexico, decided to change the artwork. It may be that it was all over the media and they decided it was the best thing, she said. We dont ever ask. They just sent us new artwork and we switched it.

Maharg also told ishonest that she never asked Holets for permission to use his image because she believed them to be in the public domain. Hes all over the internet, she said of Holets, adding that in the other image on the billboard he is holding her own granddaughter in a photo taken at a ceremony honoring him.

Maharg said shed called the chief of police and would get clarity about why their statement was put out. Ryan is a good man, she said. I have nothing but respect for him and for the department here and I do not want anything to harm any of them.

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Although Holets adoption story has been largely referenced by opioid addiction advocates, it has also been taken up by anti-abortion advocates like Maharg who point to adoption as an alternative to abortion.

Maharg said the site of the billboard featuring Holets was located right off an I-25 interstate exit that leads to Southwestern Womens Options, a late term abortion clinic. You cant miss it, she said. Nonetheless, she insists the location wasnt deliberately chosen and said it was a God thing.

A receptionist for Southwestern Womens Options told ishonest that anti-abortion billboards go up periodically around town, but that nobody had particularly noticed Mahargs.

Despite the billboard being taken down, Maharg vowed to replace it. We have more, she said. We have a whole bunch of them.

Read more on: thedailybeast, department


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