ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — An Internal Affairs investigation and, ultimately, Police Chief Ray Schultz will decide whether APD Sgt. Adam Casaus keeps his job on the force.
Part of what IA investigators will consider, Schultz said today in an email to the Journal, is state District Judge Kenneth Martinez’s ruling yesterday that prosecutors have enough probable cause to take Casaus to trial on a vehicular homicide charge.
Casaus has been on paid leave since March 26. That was the day Bernalillo County Sheriff’s investigators hand-delivered a criminal complaint to the District Attorney’s Office, charging Casaus with two felonies related to the death of 21-year-old Ashley Browder and the serious injuries sustained by her sister, 19-year-old Lindsay Browder.
As of today, according to Schultz’s email, Casaus remained on paid leave.
APD Sgt. Adam Casaus has pleaded not guilty to charges of vehicular homicide by reckless driving and great bodily injury by vehicle involving reckless driving, according to court records.
A state District Court judge ruled yesterday during a preliminary hearing that prosecutors have sufficient probable cause to take Casaus to trial on the charges.
No trial date has been set, and the Journal is still waiting for word from APD on how the judge’s ruling may affect Casaus’ employment with the department.
APD Sgt. Adam Casaus must report to jail by Friday to be photographed and fingerprinted.
State District Judge Kenneth Martinez on Tuesday ruled that prosecutors have probable cause to take Casaus to trial on felony charges of vehicular homicide by reckless driving and great bodily injury by vehicle involving reckless driving.
No trial date has been set, and Casaus has not been arrested. He could face up to six years in prison if convicted on the vehicular homicide charge.
Bernalillo County Sheriff’s investigators filed the charges last month after a six-week investigation into an early morning crash on Feb. 10 in which Casaus drove his marked police SUV westbound into the intersection of Eagle Ranch Road NW against a red light at about 65 mph and broadsided a vehicle carrying two sisters.
Ashley Browder, 21, was killed in the crash.
Her sister, 19-year-old Lindsay Browder, was driving that night. She suffered a broken pelvis and fractures in her back and was delivered to the witness stand Tuesday in a wheelchair.
Lindsay Browder testified that her sister had texted to ask for a ride home from a Downtown Albuquerque nightclub because she had been drinking.
Ashley Browder promptly fell asleep in the car, Lindsay Browder testified, adding that she turned off the radio so as not to disturb her older sibling.
According to her testimony, Lindsay Browder drove north on Eagle Ranch toward a green light at Paseo del Norte. She said she heard no sirens and never saw Casaus.
“The last thing I remember was going through the green light at the crosswalk, then waking up in the hospital,” Lindsay Browder said. “I had no idea what happened.”
It’s unclear where Martinez’s decision at the conclusion of Tuesday’s preliminary hearing, a rarely used procedure that’s the equivalent of a grand jury indictment, leaves Casaus’ employment at APD.
Police Chief Ray Schultz did not return calls or emails seeking comment Tuesday. Police officers have been fired from APD after they were indicted, and sometimes before, on various charges in recent years. Others charged with crimes have remained on the force.
Casaus and his attorney, John D’Amato, declined to comment on their way out of Martinez’s courtroom.
Casaus did not take the stand, and D’Amato presented no witnesses or evidence.
New crash details
A few new details about the case emerged during testimony.
There was no physical evidence at the scene of the crash, such as skid marks, to indicate Casaus used his brakes prior to the collision, according to testimony from the lead investigator.
And the two people who witnessed the crash, one of whom was driving behind Casaus, said they never saw his brake lights go on.
Witnesses testified that Casaus did have his emergency lights on but that they did not hear a siren. Casaus has said he turned on his siren to clear the intersection.
Data from the “black box” recording device on Casaus’ police vehicle showed that he was accelerating as he struck the Browder vehicle, according to testimony given by investigators.
The data also showed that Casaus had tapped his brake pedal a few seconds — and a few hundred feet — prior to entering the intersection of Paseo del Norte and Eagle Ranch Road NW, investigators testified.
The tap slowed Casaus’ vehicle by 3 mph — from 65 mph to 62 mph — but based on calculations by investigators, the veteran APD traffic unit officer had sped back up to 64 or 65 mph by the time he struck the Browder vehicle.
BCSO Deputy Leonard Armijo testified that, according to his investigation, Casaus left the BCSO dispatch center, where his wife works near Paseo del Norte and Eubank NE, at 1:24 a.m. He covered the 8.5 miles between the dispatch center and the crash site in about eight minutes.
Armijo, a veteran of hundreds of crash scene investigations, also testified that he was unable to verify Casaus’ story that he had been looking for a vehicle that was driving dangerously on westbound Paseo del Norte prior to the crash.
Casaus, according to Armijo’s testimony, said he first observed a “dark sedan” with vertical, skinny taillights and a yellow license plate around Second Street, three miles east of the crash site. He did not call the APD dispatch center to report the driver, which would have been required by department policy.
According to testimony Tuesday, Jana Villanueva was stopped at the crash-site intersection, facing west on Paseo del Norte in a vehicle matching that description.
But according to Villanueva’s testimony and Armijo’s investigation, Villanueva had driven onto Paseo del Norte from Coors Boulevard, which is less than a quarter-mile from Eagle Ranch Road.
Preliminary hearings are seldom used in Albuquerque. The purpose of the hearing is for a judge to determine whether probable cause exists for prosecutors to take someone to trial on a given charge.
Typically, prosecutors take cases to grand juries, which meet in secret, for potential indictments after law enforcement agencies charge someone in a criminal complaint, as Armijo did with Casaus last month.
The District Attorney’s Office announced it would take Casaus’ case to a preliminary hearing for transparency’s sake.
“We appreciate the ruling of the court in this case, which will now proceed in District Court,” DA’s spokeswoman Kayla Anderson said in a written statement. “This type of case is tragic for all involved, as both families have experienced loss and heartache. As we strive for transparency in everything we do, we appreciate the opportunity to present facts of this case in a public setting.”
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal