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Cellphones Sought in Han Death Case

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On the eve of another hearing on the matter of the mysterious death of prominent civil rights attorney Mary Han, attorneys for both sides came to an agreement on a number of issues, eliminating the need for the hearing and avoiding what they had feared would be a media circus.

But it doesn’t mean there aren’t still issues to deal with.

Since Han’s family came forward last year to complain that her untimely death Nov. 18, 2010, was poorly investigated, wrongly deemed a suicide and turned into a circus of another kind because of allegedly unprofessional conduct by head honchos of the Albuquerque Police Department, I have been the lone reporter at these hearings and assorted meetings.

But this one, set for last Thursday, had gotten the attention of other reporters, who had perhaps expected to see whether the city would comply with the orders of state District Judge Nan Nash to preserve the cellphones and provide the private cellphone records of several top police and city officials — including Chief Ray Schultz — or whether fireworks would ensue.

Nash, at a previous hearing July 31 and in an order filed Aug. 23, had given the city until Aug. 31 to do so, but 36 minutes before court closed on that deadline day, Deputy City Attorney Kathryn Levy filed a motion asking for more time.

That didn’t sit well with attorney Rosario Vega Lynn, who represents the Han family.

Vega Lynn filed for another hearing to complain about the city’s noncompliance. Last Thursday was supposed to be the showdown.

And then it wasn’t.

You will recall that cellphones play a potential role in Han’s case because of testimony suggesting their macabre use by several of the inordinate number of police and city officials as Han lay dead in her North Valley townhouse.

They arrived there shortly after longtime law partner (and new state Supreme Court justice) Paul Kennedy found Han in the front seat of her car in the garage and pronounced her death an “accidental suicide.”

Some of those officials allegedly used their city-issued cellphones to take photos that day possibly at Han’s home. Six of them are listed in Nash’s order, with their titles or positions at the time: Deputy Chiefs Allen Banks and Beth Paiz; crime lab director Marc Adams; Sgt. Trish Hoffman; city Public Safety Director Darren White and spokesman, TJ Wilham.

Other cellphones were also in Nash’s order: the personal ones used for what appears to be official business in connection with Han’s death.

Those phones were owned by City Attorney (now city Chief Administrative Officer) Rob Perry, APD field investigator Mike Muniz, both who were at Han’s home, and Chief Schultz, who was out of town but repeatedly chatted with his top people at the home that day.

In her request for more time, Levy said Schultz and the others had tried to retrieve their records online but failed.

Yet, voila, on the eve of last Thursday’s hearing those records were found and turned over to Vega Lynn.

Preserving the city cellphones of the other six has been a little tougher. According to affidavits provided by the city, most of those city-issued phones have vanished.

Adams’ phone was broken and replaced June 1, 2011. Banks received a new phone that day as well. Hoffman received a new phone Aug. 30, 2011. Paiz got hers Sept. 2, 2011.

Yet on Aug. 8, 2011, Vega Lynn officially notified Schultz of the possibility of a lawsuit and that all pertinent evidence, including cellphones, should be preserved.

APD also knew litigation might be looming far earlier than that, Vega Lynn claims, because Han’s sister had from the start told APD that her sister’s death should have been treated as a crime and not as a suicide or accident.

Curiously, no affidavit was provided by the city from White or Wilham.

White left the employment on July 15, 2011, during a controversy over his role at the scene of his wife’s auto accident — for which he was later cleared of any misconduct.

According to a document filed by Levy, White claims he does not have his phones and did not take any photos that day. Wilham, who is still a city employee, was unaccounted for until I asked Levy what gives.

In an email response, Levy explained that Wilham still had his phones (plural) but that she now has them.

In addition to the phones, Nash has now agreed to Vega Lynn’s request for the city to provide any property cards kept on those missing cellphones and an affidavit from the APD property manager explaining the procedure used to track and dispose of city-issued cellphones, the supposition being that such items don’t simply vanish into thin air.

And so the case continues, circus or not, justice still far away.

UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, jkrueger@abqjournal.com or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg. Go to ABQjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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