Billionaire George Soros is taking a stake in the Bernalillo County district attorney’s race, backing Raul Torrez with a $107,000 contribution to an independent expenditure committee. Soros made the donation May 26 to the newly created New Mexico Safety and Justice political action committee. That group reported spending $92,527 on media production and ad buys supporting Torrez and about $11,500 for polling ahead of Tuesday’s primary between Democrats Torrez and Edmund Perea. The super PAC has raised and spent more than Perea’s campaign. Most of the PAC money appears to have been spent on local radio spots, which feature Torrez speaking at rallies about his plans to reform the high-profile, sometimes controversial DA’s office in New Mexico’s most populous county.
Albuquerque Police Chief Gorden Eden has offered a full-throated defense of his department’s increasingly controversial “reversal narcotic operations,” including one on May 9 in which undercover officers posed as drug dealers along East Central Avenue, sold and traded small amounts of crack cocaine and methamphetamine to homeless people, then arrested them on felony possession charges. The operations improve “quality of life” for area businesses and residents, decrease property crimes, gain intelligence for narcotics detectives to use in future cases and provide those arrested access to addiction and mental health services they otherwise shun, Eden wrote in a letter dated Wednesday to City Councilor Pat Davis*. This piece originally appeared at New Mexico In Depth and is used with permission. Davis, whose council district includes the area where APD detectives made the arrests on May 9, asked Eden in a May 20 letter to suspend the “low-level” operations, calling them “misguided” and saying they “target the symptom of a larger problem without bringing any long-term benefit to the community.”
The chief said in his letter that the operations would continue, though the department’s “focus has never been to target the homeless population.”
In the May 9 operation, APD detectives accepted $3, colic medication, clothing, used electronics and other paltry sums for drugs. At least six of the eight arrested were homeless people of color.
To some, it was a waste of scarce and precious police resources. In what could be a metaphor for the plight of Albuquerque, the May 9 reverse sting drug operation by Albuquerque police officers resulted in the arrest of eight low-level drug users and homeless people, $23.10 in cash, a computer tablet, cell phone, police radio, jacket and colic medicine. For that, police deployed around 15 to 20 officers and support staff for the operation near Central and Pennsylvania Northeast. And considering all the other support services connected with the operation, the reverse sting probably cost taxpayers between $5,000 and $10,000, experts said. This piece originally appeared in the ABQ Free Press.
Bernalillo County District Attorney Kari Brandenburg said Wednesday that her office never signed off on, or consulted with the Albuquerque Police Department on a court-approved affidavit that gives APD permission to sell heroin, cocaine, crack cocaine and methamphetamines to people and then arrest them on drug charges. An APD detective apparently presented the affidavit to a state District Court judge on Feb. 23. The affidavit said it was being presented in conjunction with the DA’s Office. “Comes now the State of New Mexico, through its Assistant District Attorney and Affiant Detective Marc Clingenpeel,” the affidavit said.
With a sometimes-tumultuous working relationship between the retiring Second Judicial District Attorney and the Albuquerque Police Department in recent years, focus will soon turn to how a new DA will work with police. All three candidates for DA are focused on how to build a relationship with APD, a troubled police department subject to reforms under a Department of Justice consent decree. Ed Perea, one of the two Democratic candidates seeking the position, is a former APD commanding officer and recently received an endorsement from the Albuquerque Police Officer’s Association. Perea’s campaign is focused on his experience in practicing law and supervising and working with officers. He said a DA must, first and foremost, be able to work with officers to make the community safer.
Three days after a mass shooting at an Albuquerque skate park that took the life of one, paralyzed another and injured five more, Albuquerque Police Department Detective Tara Juarez sat in a room interviewing the man who, according to transcripts of police interviews, shot and killed 17-year-old Jaquise Lewis. An arrest warrant written for Gregory Buchanan sat in another room, according to statements made by another officer in a transcript from the interview. The interview marked Gregory Buchanan’s third with Juarez since the March 22, 2015 shooting. Until now, Buchanan insisted in police interviews that the gun he used on Lewis wasn’t his. Instead, he told Juarez that he picked it up from a friend who was shot in the chaos of the night. Buchanan said he fired the gun “at the assailants who were shooting at us,” killing Lewis in self defense.
In March of 2014, Albuquerque Police were dispatched to the foothills area of Albuquerque in response to a homeless man who was camping illegally. What transpired in a matter of hours would leave the camper dead and the prompt still-ongoing issues on a local level with national attention. Almost a year after the shooting, then-Officer Dominique Perez and retired Detective Keith Sandy were charged with the murder of camper James Boyd. We are counting down the top ten stories through the end of the year with expanded recaps or personal recollections from the three members of the team. Tune in each morning to see what the next story is.
The Second Judicial District Attorney and Albuquerque Police Department chief told members of the New Mexico Supreme Court Tuesday that a court order on time limits for trials needed to be changed. The comments came during a meeting on the case management order (CMO) from the Supreme Court to those in Bernalillo County. Among those giving feedback on the CMO were Bernalillo County District Attorney Kari Brandenburg, Albuquerque Police Chief Gorden Eden, Bernalillo County Sheriff Manuel Gonzales and Chief Public Defender Jorge Alvarado. The high court previously mandated the CMO amid concern that Bernalillo County wasn’t prosecuting felony cases fast enough as jails overcrowded. Among its changes are a mandate that arraignment comes 10 days after either an indictment, arrest or filing of criminal information of a case—whatever comes last.
A lawsuit seeking records related to a March 22 shooting in Albuquerque that left one dead and several others injured won’t be resolved for at least another week and a half. However, the day-long trial Friday shed light on the city’s approach to investigating and disclosing to the public what happened that night. Attorneys for both sides now have 10 days to submit their closing arguments in writing. Then District Judge Victor Lopez will make a ruling. The shooting, which left 17-year-old Jaquise Lewis dead and six others wounded, occurred at Los Altos Skate Park.
A newly selected New Mexico Representative may be under legal scrutiny even before she is officially sworn in. After admitting to voting before she was a U.S. citizen, Idalia Lechuga-Tena’s voting history appears to be under review by prosecutors in Bernalillo County. Earlier this week the Bernalillo County Commission voted in favor of appointing Lechuga-Tena to the New Mexico House of Representatives. Lechuga-Tena will be the second person appointed to the seat since the last election. The Bernalillo County Commission chose Stephanie Maez to replace Mimi Stewart last year.