Mary Han was a successful civil rights attorney who for decades battled over the rights of abused women, accused prostitutes and the homeless. In the close-knit Albuquerque legal community, she was known as a spitfire whose fervor was often directed at one entity in particular: The city’s troubled police department.
Now, more than two years after Han was found dead in her garage in what authorities deemed a suicide, the department is under scrutiny amid questions over whether officers mishandled the investigation into the death of their former adversary.
The state Attorney General’s Office is looking into the matter. It has also asked federal officials, who last year launched a civil rights probe into the department’s high number of police shootings, to look at the case.
Han’s relatives, meantime, have sued the city — along with the police chief, public safety director and more than a dozen officers and investigators — alleging shoddy police work resulted in a flawed investigation. They question whether police failed to look at other explanations for the attorney’s death.
“I would like to know what happened to my mother someday,” said Han’s 28-year-old daughter, Katherine, who remains steadfast in her belief that her mother did not kill herself. “To have an important person removed from their life without explanation is something no one should ever have to deal with. It’s more about peace of mind.”
Friends and fellow lawyers have also expressed doubt about suicide, noting that the 53-year-old Han was not one to give up on anything. But what really happened to Mary Han the night of Nov. 17, 2010, may forever remain a mystery.
Han’s law partner, Paul Kennedy, discovered her body the next morning in the garage of her home after she failed to come to work or contact her assistant. She was sitting in the driver’s seat of her BMW, reading glasses on, feet propped up on the dash with the driver’s door and the windows open, according to police reports. Found in the car were a pair of brown slippers, a robe with a bottle of Ambien in the pocket and a glass with clear liquid. The door between the garage and the house was open.
Assistant City Attorney Kathryn Levy said APD’s investigation was complete and thorough. “Allegations … are just that. They must be proved, and the evidence will not support the allegations,” she said.
Levy said the police on scene were respectful and professional.
A top official with New Mexico Attorney General Gary King said the office decided in January to look at the Han case. The official spoke on condition of anonymity, citing a policy against commenting on ongoing investigations. The official said the office also asked federal officials to look at the case as part of a civil rights probe of 28 police shootings that have killed 18 people over the past three years. The FBI and the U.S. attorney’s office declined to confirm or deny any investigation.
— This article appeared on page C1 of the Albuquerque Journal