May 13, 2015

Letter from DA to Attorney General: Possible police training problem

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District Attorney Kari Brandenburg

Weeks before a former Albuquerque Police Department trainer filed a lawsuit against the department with allegations of retaliation, Second Judicial District Attorney Kari Brandenburg sent a letter to New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas with concerns about possible shortcomings in police training.

She said the issue was brought to her attention April 17.

In her letter, dated April 21, Brandenburg wrote that police work from officers who may not be properly certified could be called into question by the public.

“As you are already much aware, any defect in the certification of a law enforcement officer could call into question that officer’s authority to arrest, investigate, gain, and execute search and arrest warrants, and more,” Brandenburg wrote.

A full copy of the letter is available at the bottom of the post.

The letter was written to Balderas in his capacity as chairman of the New Mexico Law Enforcement Academy (NMLEA) Board, the group that oversees training and hiring standards for New Mexico law enforcement. In the letter to Balderas, Brandenburg wrote that she was alerted to the concerns that some officers may not have been properly certified or trained.

The letter referenced a complaint previously filed with the NMLEA Board by former APD trainer John Corvino, which ultimately lead to his lawsuit against APD. Corvino alleged that some APD trainers were not qualified to train officers and when he alerted NMLEA, he was unfairly reprimanded by his superiors.

Brandenburg said she is now concerned with what the allegations mean for a number of APD officers.

In a phone interview, Brandenburg told New Mexico Political Report she would like to see an audit done to determine how many officers may have not been properly trained or certified as police officers. She estimated at least 100 officers may need recertification.

“If these officers aren’t truly certified then that needs to be taken care of immediately,” she said.

She added that there could be lawsuits filed questioning the legitimacy of previous convictions.

“If their certifications can be challenged, then so can any arrests that were made, any criminal complaints that were filed, any warrants, any affidavits. Anything done under the collar of their official responsibilities of a law enforcement officer can be challenged,” Brandenburg said.

Earlier this year, Brandenburg announced murder charges for two APD officers involved in the fatal shooting of James Boyd, a homeless man who was illegally camping.

Soon after she announced the charges, APD and the City of Albuquerque leaders were critical of her proximity to the case and requested she be removed from it.

The day after Brandenburg sent her letter to Balderas, ABQ Free Press reported that Brandenburg was worried for her safety and feared retaliation from APD.

Still, Brandenburg insisted she is not going after APD, but is instead trying to gain information that may help her office represent the department in a possible lawsuit.

“Our office would be put in the position of defending them and right now we don’t have access to the records or the information that would allow us to defend their certification,” she said.

For now, Brandenburg wants to make sure the training issue is addressed in a timely and open manner.

“We need to confront it, face it, fix it and be honest to the public about it,” she said.

A representative from the AG’s office said the matter is being addressed.

“As chair of the Law Enforcement Academy board, Attorney General Balderas takes matters involving law enforcement training very seriously and the matter is being reviewed appropriately,”Balderas spokesman James Halllinan wrote in an email to New Mexico Political Report.

APD could not be reached for comment on the letter.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Brandenburg sent her letter to the Attorney General the day after ABQ Free Press reported she feared retaliation from police.

Update: Added statement from Attorney General Hector Balderas’ office.