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Friday, January 29, 2010
APD Cop May Face Charges in Death
By Scott Sandlin
Journal Staff Writer
Two law enforcement agencies say they expect indictments stemming from investigations into the death of Tera Andrea Chavez, and both say her husband, Albuquerque Police officer Levi M. Chavez, is a suspect.
Tera Chavez, 26, was found dead in the couple's Los Lunas home in October 2007 of a gunshot wound to the mouth from her husband's service revolver. Her husband called 911 to report that his wife had killed herself.
Letters from the Valencia County Sheriff's Office and the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission say indictments are expected from both agencies.
Chief District Court Judge Ted Baca of Albuquerque read the letters aloud at a Thursday hearing in the civil lawsuit filed by Tera Chavez's family.
"The investigations into the death of Tera Cordova-Chavez and the theft of the Ford Truck owned by Levi and Tera Chavez ... are still active," Valencia Sheriff's Detective Aaron Jones wrote, noting that Levi Chavez is a suspect in both his wife's death and an insurance fraud probe.
A letter co-signed by Alan Rackstraw, chief prosecutor in the Public Regulation Commission's insurance fraud bureau, and special agent Richard Farrelly, said the bureau is investigating the theft of the Chavezes' truck and a $100,000 life insurance policy on Tera Chavez. Her husband was the beneficiary.
According to the civil lawsuit, the insurance policy includes coverage for suicide and had been in effect just 17 days at the time of her death.
The wrongful death lawsuit filed by Tera Chavez's family alleges Levi Chavez either shot his wife or drove her to suicide and negligent supervision by APD. The lawsuit also contends APD officers who arrived at the Valencia County scene ruined important evidence.
Levi Chavez, whose lawyers have said the lawsuit is without merit, has not been criminally charged and remains on the APD payroll.
"He is on administrative duty and has been assigned to the city's animal welfare department. He does not exercise any police powers," said city public safety spokesman T.J. Wilham.
Wilham said Chief Ray Schultz placed Levi Chavez on that status more than a year ago while awaiting completion of the Valencia County criminal investigation.
Chavez's legal limbo in the criminal case also has stalled portions of the civil lawsuit. Judge Baca extended a stay until the end of March on discovery in the wrongful death count against Chavez.
In depositions in the civil litigation, Chavez has invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination hundreds of times, attorney Brad Hall said Thursday. Hall filed the civil suit on behalf of the estate of Tera Chavez.