February 11, 2019

After failed indictments on sexual assault charges, father tries to rebuild family, career

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In the late afternoon of August 30, 2017, Jessica Lowther was on the phone with her husband, Adam. Recently back from a routine business trip, Adam called to say he was headed home from work and would take their two young children to their taekwondo lessons. During that call, Jessica answered a knock on her front door. A handful of Bernalillo County Sheriff’s officers and at least one investigator from the Children Youth and Families Department stood at her door.

A female officer said they needed to do a welfare check on the two Lowther children.

Jessica was incredulous.

“Adam, are you hearing this?”

According to transcribed audio from that day, officers were hesitant to discuss specifics with Jessica.

“If you want to hang up the phone with [Adam], I will gladly explain what’s going on,” a male officer told her.

“No,” Jessica replied. “I don’t want to hang up the phone with him. You can tell me with him on the phone.”

The officer said he would wait for Adam to arrive. And he told Jessica to keep the front door open so they could see if the children were in danger.

As she waited, Jessica ran through possible reasons for the welfare check. She thought maybe she was dropping her son, in second grade, off at school too early. Then, seconds before Adam arrived home—and officers detained him in the back of a patrol car—Jessica learned the check was spurred by a report from their four-year-old daughter’s kindergarten teacher.

After he was arrested and booked into jail, Adam wouldn’t be allowed inside his home again for about seven months. Instead, he was jailed and interrogated. And he faced five failed indictment attempts before a grand jury. Albuquerque news outlets ran Adam’s mugshot, detailing statements from police alleging that he failed a lie detector test and that his young daughter showed signs of sexual abuse.  

But, over a year later, the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s office issued a declination letter, informing BCSO it was dropping further attempts to prosecute Adam Lowther due to a lack of evidence. Now, the Lowthers are suing BCSO, CYFD and five law enforcement officers and investigators.

There’s plenty of room to speculate why BCSO and the District Attorney’s Office took the initial actions they did, or why the case was suddenly dropped. Both CYFD and law enforcement agencies in the Albuquerque area missed warning signs in high-profile child abuse cases. Seven months before officers arrested Adam, KOAT-TV reported that CYFD received numerous calls about the safety of 10-year-old Victoria Martens. Martens’ gruesome death dominated headlines after her body was found in 2016. In 2015, the family of Omaree Varela sued CYFD alleging the state did not do enough to intervene and possibly prevent the nine-year-old boy’s death. Then, months before the District Attorney’s office decided to drop the case against Adam, the Albuquerque Journal reported CYFD received 25 referrals in the span of more than a decade about the welfare of a young girl who, it was later discovered, was prostituted by relatives.

‘You’re going to go with the lady in blue’

The Lowthers moved to Albuquerque from Montgomery, Alabama in July 2015 after Adam was tapped to lead the newly established U.S Air Force School for Advanced Nuclear Deterrence Studies (SANDS). While serving in the Navy, Adam went to school, and earned a PhD. An expert in national security, Adam co-authored books like “Terrorism’s Unanswered Questions” and penned op-eds in national newspapers.

Previously a dyed-in-the-wool conservative, Adam’s political views are more complicated now.

“Whenever we would see, on the news, the allegations that the police had brutalized somebody or had wrongfully shot somebody, we generally gave the cops the benefit of the doubt,” Adam said. “But after this happened to us, our view of the police completely changed.”

The fact that Adam and Jessica could afford to hire defense lawyers and then sue BCSO and CYFD, is not lost on them.

“If Jessica and I had not worked and saved over our 20 years of marriage, we would not have had the hundreds of thousands of dollars needed to defend ourselves against corrupt and incompetent law enforcement,” Adam said. “If you are young and poor, you are screwed.”

The nightmare spurred Adam and Jessica to file a federal civil suit against Bernalillo County and the state of New Mexico. In their 52-page lawsuit, filed in September 2018, the Lowthers claim that BCSO officers and one CYFD investigator violated the family’s rights when they entered their home without a warrant and took custody of their son, referred to as W.L in the lawsuit, and their daughter, referred to as A.L.

The transcript from a BCSO officer’s belt tape recording from that day reveals how Jessica and her children handled being seperated by officers.  

“Listen,” Jessica interjected, as her daughter asked questions. “You’re going to go with the lady in blue. Listen. Listen. You’re going to go with these people, and you’re going to stay with them for two days.”

“Can I bring my purse, Mommy?” her daughter asked.

After a back and forth between the daughter, Jessica and officers, the four-year-old decided what to pack, as if she were going to a sleepover, until she realized her mother was not going with her.

“I don’t want to leave my mommy,” A.L said.

Reassured she would see her parents again, A.L said good-bye.

“And say bye to daddy for us,” she said to Jessica.

“I will,” Jessica responded. “I love you very much, okay?”

“Say bye for daddy, say bye—say bye for us.”

Jessica and Adam wouldn’t see their children again for weeks—and then, only after a children’s court judge approved.  

Today, Adam’s new distrust of law enforcement is palpable. More specifically, he’s furious with BCSO and A.L’s then-kindergarten teacher.

After Adam was arrested, BCSO officials told local news outlets that he failed a polygraph test and that investigators found physical evidence showing that A.L was sexually assaulted.

BCSO would eventually serve Adam’s boss with a search warrant. They also took electronics and undeveloped film from Adam’s office on Kirtland Air Force Base. Within days of being forced out of his house, Adam received a letter stating that his government clearance would be revoked, effectively preventing him from doing his job. Soon,  old work contacts from around the country stopped returning his calls.

Now, after about a year staying with family near Houston, Texas, Adam, Jessica and their two children have made northern Louisiana their new home where Adam finally found a new job, similar to the one he had in Albuquerque.

The job search was hard, though, he said.

An internet search of Adam’s name yields his mug shot and news stories reporting that he was arrested for sexually penetrating his young daughter. And a search of Jessica’s name reveals news stories saying she was charged with intimidating a witness. Both the DA’s office and BCSO, insisted, at one point, that Jessica told A.L not to talk to anyone about her father. It’s an accusation the Lowthers say was a misunderstanding: they told A.L not to discuss the case with anyone not involved. That charge was dropped without explanation.

Then, with a single letter, the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s office ended the case against Adam.

Things don’t line up

After a year building up stacks of reports and attempting to indict Adam, Bernalillo County Deputy District Attorney Leila Hood ended the case with a three page letter.

“After careful review of this matter, I do not believe that the admissible evidence in this case will be sufficient to support conviction beyond a reasonable doubt,” Hood wrote.

Hood detailed why almost none of the evidence BCSO had would hold up in court, including a forensic interview with the young girl.

After CYFD took A.L into custody, the four-year old was taken to a safehouse and interviewed. It was there that authorities say the young girl said her father sexually assaulted her. But, Hood wrote, much of what A.L said “could be interpreted as lapses into fantasy.” Further, Hood said much of what A.L said in that interview differed from what A.L’s kindergarten teacher reported to CYFD. During the safehouse interview, A.L said her father took pictures of her while she was naked, but Hood wrote that there was no evidence of that found in any of the electronic devices police took from the Lowthers home or Adam’s office.

A spokesman for the DA’s office denied an interview request with District Attorney Raul Torrez and would only comment that there was “not sufficient evidence to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt.”

NM Political Report requested internal communications from the DA’s office to get a better picture of how the DA’s office reviewed the evidence, but that request was also denied.

The DA’s office said specifics of Adam’s case are not public because he was only accused, never formally indicted, of a crime.

As for the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s office, an official told NM Political Report they have no record of written communication between the case’s lead detective and the teacher who first reported suspected sexual abuse.

Now, Adam and Jessica see their only recourse or chance at setting the record straight is by following through with their federal lawsuit, which could take another year to resolve.