March 7, 2017

Lujan Grisham calls for congressional hearing on fed sting against alleged ABQ cop shooter

After a year of “stonewalling” by federal law enforcement officials, U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham is calling for congressional hearings to get to the bottom of why a man who allegedly shot an Albuquerque police officer to death in 2015 was still on the streets at the time.

The fourth-year congresswoman, an Albuquerque-based Democrat who is running for governor of New Mexico, also vowed to sponsor a bill that would require the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and other agencies to make regular reports to Congress on their policies for undercover operations and those operations’ outcomes once they’re closed.

This piece originally appeared at New Mexico In Depth and appears on NM Political Report with permission.

Lujan Grisham laid out her plans in an interview with New Mexico In Depth after a town hall meeting in Albuquerque on Feb. 25. They refer to the case of Davon Lymon, who is accused of fatally shooting APD officer Daniel Webster during a traffic stop on Oct. 21, 2015.

See New Mexico In Depth’s interactive timeline
Davon Lymon: 15 years on law enforcement’s radar

Three months later, NMID reported that Lymon sold thousands of dollars worth of heroin and a firearm to undercover ATF agents in the weeks before Webster was shot. But despite Lymon’s criminal history — which included a manslaughter conviction that sent him to prison for 10 years — the agents did not arrest him.

It is not clear how much Webster knew about Lymon when he stopped him for driving a motorcycle with a suspected stolen license plate.

Lujan Grisham responded to the NMID report with a letter to ATF asking for the agency’s policies on undercover operations, whether ATF shares information about those operations with other agencies and why Lymon was allowed to remain free after the heroin and firearm sales.

That was a year ago.

Despite repeated “harassing phone calls” and other inquiries, Lujan Grisham said her office has received no answers from ATF. The congresswoman conceded she could have pushed harder the past 12 months.

“What they basically say is that, if I’m asking for information or trying to get an update, that I’m interfering in their work to investigate,” she said. “We believe now that it’s purposeful not to answer, that they don’t want us involved in this issue … they continue to stonewall me, which is an outrage as a member of Congress.”

Similarly, ATF and the U.S. Attorney’s Office have repeatedly refused to answer questions from NMID about the undercover operation that targeted Lymon. Last year, federal law enforcement and prosecutors said they could not comment on the case because it was pending in court. But Lymon pleaded guilty last May to charges of heroin trafficking and illegal possession of a firearm by a felon stemming from the undercover operation.

Nevertheless, Elizabeth Martinez, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Albuquerque, said in an email to NMID last week that neither her office nor ATF would answer questions about the Lymon incident “because it seeks information that is not a matter of public record.”

Lujan Grisham’s renewed quest for information comes as the state Attorney General’s Office prepares to try Lymon for Webster’s murder next spring. A spokesman for the office would not say whether the undercover operation would factor into the state’s prosecution.

Jeff Rein, one of Lymon’s defense lawyers, said it was unclear whether prosecutors would pursue that aspect of the case at trial.

Lujan Grisham said she would ask U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, chairman of the House Committee on Government Reform, for public hearings on ATF’s operation against Lymon.

That’s the same committee that, four years ago, investigated ATF’s botched “Fast and Furious” operation in which agents in Phoenix allowed hundreds of black-market guns to “walk” into Mexico with the intention of tracking the firearms to criminals and drug cartel members. But the agents lost track of many of the guns, and one of them was found at the scene where U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was killed in 2010.

ATF’s Albuquerque office operates under the supervision of the bureau’s Phoenix division.

Lujan Grisham said convincing the committee to investigate the Lymon matter would be difficult, but she planned to appeal to its ranking Democrat, Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland.

“I think it’s more likely to get them to independently look at it if they think they’re picking on the Obama administration and not the current administration,” she said.

Absent an investigation and hearings, Lujan Grisham said she would pursue several other accountability measures.

She plans to hold a congressional forum to bring attention to how federal law enforcement conducts undercover operations.

“This is a real issue, not just here, but it’s a real issue everywhere,” she said. “We know in our community it led to one death, and I’m sure there are countless others. And the fact that somehow they aren’t liable or responsible for that, when they knowingly engage in the furtherance of a crime by engaging with criminals so that they can get to another criminal is a huge problem.”

The congresswoman also said she would introduce new legislation requiring federal law enforcement agencies to provide more transparency on their undercover stings. She added that such operations can be valuable.

“You should get all the positive and negative outcomes of every single operation that’s taxpayer funded,” the congresswoman said.

Finally, Lujan Grisham said she would ask APD why police officials have not pushed federal authorities on what went wrong with the Lymon operation.

APD spokeswoman Celina Espinoza did not respond to NMID’s questions about whether the department has sought answers.