ByJustin Horwath and Jeff Proctor, New Mexico In Depth and the Santa Fe Reporter |
Just after midnight on May 20, Albuquerque Police Officer Joshua Montaño saw a luxury sedan veer into a turn bay blocked off by bright orange traffic barrels before it pulled back over a solid divider line onto an Interstate 25 frontage road. Montaño flipped on his emergency police lights and the 2004 Infiniti stopped in the parking lot of the Marriott Pyramid, a high-end hotel in Northeast Albuquerque. A veteran DWI cop who has conducted hundreds of drunken driving investigations, Montaño approached the vehicle on foot. He was armed with a slew of additional information gleaned from a police service aide and a concerned citizen: The Infiniti’s driver had swerved numerous times traveling northbound from downtown Albuquerque, he’d delayed proceeding through a green light by 10 seconds, he’d driven 10 mph under the posted speed limit, and he’d done it all with his headlights turned off. In the driver’s seat of the car was Ryan Flynn, 39, Gov. Susana Martinez’ former cabinet secretary of the New Mexico Environment Department, who left that job in 2016 to become executive director of the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association.
The scope of an ongoing federal criminal investigation into events surrounding the fatal shooting of a 19-year-old woman by an Albuquerque police officer in 2014 stretches beyond what has been previously reported. That’s according to the lead investigator for the city’s independent police watchdog group. Department of Justice officials took the rare step last month of confirming an investigation into allegations made by a whistleblower that APD employees tampered with video from officers’ body cameras and other sources, including video from the early morning hours of April 21, 2014, when then-APD officer Jeremy Dear shot Mary Hawkes. But Ed Harness, executive director of the Civilian Police Oversight Agency (CPOA), said in an interview that federal authorities are “looking into the entire case,” including whether the shooting itself was unlawful. In a series of presentations to Justice Department officials in early November, Harness and one of his investigators turned over information they had gathered during an administrative review of the shooting.
Federal officials on Thursday said they are conducting a criminal investigation of allegations that Albuquerque Police Department employees altered and deleted body camera video. The Department of Justice has received “several requests” seeking a criminal probe, Elizabeth Martinez, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Albuquerque, said in an emailed response to questions from New Mexico In Depth. “The Justice Department will decline to comment further due to its ongoing investigation into this matter,” Martinez wrote in a rare public confirmation of a federal criminal investigation. APD referred a reporter to Mayor Richard Berry’s spokeswoman for comment. She did not immediately respond.
Special Prosecutor Randi McGinn on Monday dismissed the second-degree murder charge against former Albuquerque police officer Dominique Perez, who was accused of fatally shooting homeless camper James Boyd in March 2014. McGinn filed a one-page motion in state District Court in Albuquerque to dismiss the case “without prejudice,” which means that incoming District Attorney Raul Torrez could refile the charge if he chooses to after he takes office on Jan. 1. McGinn said she couldn’t comment on why she dismissed the charge against Perez, but she did add that the second-degree murder charge against former officer Keith Sandy remained in place and that Torrez will have to decide on whether to retry Sandy. McGinn said she spoke last week with Perez’s attorney, Luis Robles, about her intent to dismiss the charge against his client.
Mayor Richard Berry’s administration says it will bring in an independent investigator to review allegations that city police employees tampered with videos from police shooting cases. The announcement Tuesday afternoon comes less than 24 hours after City Attorney Jessica Hernandez told city councilors that her staff and APD already were investigating the claims and that an outside review would not be necessary. Councilor Pat Davis* said at Monday night’s Council meeting — and again in a letter to Hernandez sent Tuesday morning — that he wanted the probe handed off to someone outside city government. Davis wrote that “establishing public trust in the outcome of this investigation is critical” especially given the serious implications of the cases. “And that must be accomplished without delay,” according to the letter.
Kari Brandenburg, the outgoing Bernalillo County district attorney, said Monday a federal “criminal investigation is absolutely warranted” into allegations that Albuquerque Police Department employees have tampered with videos that show police shootings. Brandenburg said Monday in a telephone interview she is sending documentation detailing the allegations to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Albuquerque. This story originally appeared at New Mexico In Depth and is reprinted with permission. A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s office would not say Monday whether the agency planned to open an inquiry based on the district attorney’s referral. But spokeswoman Elizabeth Martinez wrote in an email “the Justice Department takes seriously all referrals from state and local prosecutorial authorities.”
Reynaldo Chavez, the police department’s former records supervisor, swore out an affidavit as part of an ongoing civil right rights lawsuit against APD in which he alleged that department employees had altered or deleted videos showing the events surrounding two controversial shootings by officers in 2014.
Albuquerque Police Department officials have altered and, in some cases, deleted videos that showed several controversial incidents, including at least two police shootings, the department’s former records supervisor has alleged in a sworn affidavit. Three officers’ body camera videos that captured events surrounding the fatal shooting of 19-year-old suspected car thief Mary Hawkes in April 2014 were either altered or partially deleted, according to former APD employee Reynaldo Chavez’s nine-page affidavit. Also alleged is that surveillance camera video from a salon showing APD officers shooting Jeremy Robertson, a law enforcement informant and suspected probation violator, in June 2014 bore “the tell-tale signs that it has been altered and images that had been captured are now deleted. One of the deleted images captured the officers shooting Jeremy Robertson.”
This piece originally appeared at NM In Depth and is reprinted at NM Political Report with permission. Chavez also said that ‘SD cards’ from cameras were easy to make disappear, and that he witnessed Assistant Chief Robert Huntsman say ‘we can make this disappear’ when discussing a particular police camera with an SD card in it, according the affidavit.
An in-depth profile from a national news publication of outgoing Bernalillo County District Attorney Kari Brandenburg detailed her time in office, while showing the animosity she holds against the current Albuquerque mayor and his administration. While most of the feature from Buzzfeed focuses on Brandenburg’s career, especially the recent portion dominated by by her feud with Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry and Albuquerque Police Department Chief Gorden Eden. She spoke candidly about her dim view of the two to Buzzfeed. Brandenburg was quick to note that she has no beef with rank-and-file officers. She was just as quick to note how little respect she has for Police Chief Gordon [sic] Eden and other high-level police officials, who she said “allowed themselves to be used,” and just as quick to note what she thinks of Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry, of whom she said: “I think he’s a psychopath.” Wednesday, Brandenburg denied saying this about Berry.
In the past few weeks, Albuquerque has seen headlines about a recent spike in the city’s crime. But as both property and violent crime in the city increases, two other key indicators dropped between 2014 and 2015: the number of police officers and arrests. Between the two years, the number of arrests recorded by the city dropped by 10 percent, or from 25,358 to 22,820. During that same period, the number of sworn Albuquerque Police Department officers shrunk by 8 percentage points, or from 903 cops to 832 cops. “There’s a direct correlation with having more patrol officers and having a drop in crime,” Shaun Willoughby, an APD detective president of the Albuquerque Police Officers Association, said in an interview.
Greg Buchanan, the man who fatally shot 17-year-old Jaquise Lewis last year at the Los Altos Skate Park, was released on his own recognizance following arraignment on felony drug trafficking charges. State District Court Judge Christian Argryes let Buchanan, 24, stay free, and she imposed no special conditions of release on him, said attorney Greg Payne, who is representing Lewis’ mother in a civil case and who was in court during the arraignment. Argryes said Buchanan has to refrain from excessive use of alcohol and can’t do drugs, but she refused to order him to not have guns, as the District Attorney’s office had requested. And Payne said that since Buchanan doesn’t have to report to authorities about his conditions of release, there is no mechanism for authorities to ensure that he meets the limited terms.
Buchanan was indicted on May 25 on charges of trafficking by possession with intent to distribute cocaine, possession of drug paraphernalia, concealing his identity and resisting, evading or obstructing an officer. “This is a guy with a history of drug trafficking, gun violence; he is facing second-degree felony charges,” Payne said.