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Oversight board investigating complaint against APD

Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal

Albuquerque’s Civilian Police Oversight Agency is investigating a complaint filed against two spokesmen for the police department for providing false information to the Journal about the police’s involvement with Victoria Martens and her family prior to the young girl’s death.

The complaint was filed by a former law enforcement officer, who said the reason for the spread of the misinformation should be investigated to create accountability within the department.

Celina Espinoza, a police spokeswoman, has acknowledged that she incorrectly told a Journal reporter that police had investigated after the Children, Youth and Families Department told authorities that someone reported that one of Michelle Martens’ boyfriends had tried to kiss Victoria.

Police never investigated that report. Espinoza later said it was a case of miscommunication.

“Espinoza’s explanation that the incorrect information was due to a ‘miscommunication’ on her part does not provide an iota of accountability within APD for the grossly false information provided to the public,” Jim Larson said in a prepared statement to the CPOA, which he provided to the Journal.

“My complaint is the public must be able to trust the police department to provide truthful and accurate information regarding actions taken or not taken by officers,” he wrote. “That trust was violated when the department provided false statements to the public regarding the actions or inactions of detectives … and questions remain unanswered about who provided the fictional information and why that was provided to the public.”

Larson, who lives in Albuquerque, has worked in law enforcement for both the Dallas Police Department and the U.S. Secret Service. He attends many of the police oversight board meetings.

“I think the biggest problem I had is the accountability for the police department in what was said,” he said in an interview. “It seems like it could be an outright lie.”

Ed Harness, the executive director of the CPOA, confirmed that his agency received a complaint related to the Journal story and said an investigation is ongoing.

Victoria, 10, was raped and killed in August 2016 in a crime that shocked the state. Her mother, Michelle Martens; Marten’s boyfriend, Fabian Gonzales; and Jessica Kelley, Gonzales’ cousin, have been charged with murder and other crimes in connection to the girl’s death.

Five months before Victoria was killed, CYFD received a complaint that one of Martens’ boyfriends tried to kiss the child. The agency said in a summary document that CYFD couldn’t investigate the allegation because the boyfriend wasn’t a relative and didn’t live in Victoria’s home, but reported the complaint to APD.

Police now say they didn’t follow up on the matter because police policy only calls for additional investigation if there is a report of neglect, abuse or a crime. Espinoza said an attempted kiss isn’t a crime.

Espinoza said last week that both she and officer Fred Duran, who is also a department spokesman, were named in the complaint. She said they will cooperate with the CPOA’s investigation.

In January, Duran told the Journal detectives interviewed Victoria about the complaint; Espinoza originally said APD did not follow up on the complaint but then concurred with Duran later in an interview that included both of them.

“Fred had communicated to me that investigators had followed up,” she said in an interview last week. “I took that as our investigators.”

In taped interviews between police and the Journal over two days in January, Duran said that after CYFD reported the attempted kiss to police, detectives met with Martens and Victoria to discuss the allegations, and that Victoria didn’t report an attempted kiss.

“Detectives went and talked to the family and that’s where we got the information that the mother had taken care of the situation by telling the boyfriend to leave and not come back,” Duran said.

When asked why detectives made no report about the case, he said that making such a report would violate a victim’s rights and amount to police surveillance.

Later that day, Espinoza contradicted Duran’s interview, saying police did not follow up on CYFD’s allegations because police policy dictates that officers only follow up on criminal allegations, and a kiss isn’t a crime.

When the Journal asked about the contradiction, APD set up a conference call between the reporter and both Espinoza and Duran, who said that detectives did interview the family, but they didn’t make any documentation.

They said they couldn’t release the names of the detectives because the detectives work high-profile cases with the FBI and releasing their names could jeopardize pending cases.

They assured the Journal that officers had dealt with the reported kiss.

“Everybody did everything that they were supposed to,” Espinoza said in that interview.

A Journal story published in March quoted Espinoza acknowledging that APD detectives had not followed up on the complaint after all.

She said at that time that she had meant in her January interviews that CYFD had investigated – not APD. But tapes of the January interviews showed Espinoza referring to “our detectives” as the ones who supposedly spoke with Martens and Victoria.