An investigation by the Civilian Police Oversight Agency found that Albuquerque police “did lie” to the Journal about their response to a CYFD referral concerning 10-year-old Victoria Martens prior to her slaying – even though the spokesman who provided the incorrect statement had been correctly briefed a month earlier.
Police Chief Gorden Eden and other police officials were also in that briefing.
In addition, the investigation found that the Albuquerque Police Department doesn’t have a written policy governing its response to referrals of possible child abuse or neglect from the state Children, Youth and Families Department.
The CPOA and the Police Oversight Board plan to address both issues when they meet next week.
The CPOA is recommending that the Police Oversight Board ask the chief to suspend spokesman Fred Duran for 80 hours. It is also recommending that APD spokeswoman Celina Espinoza get a written reprimand.
Duran has since transferred to another assignment within APD. Espinoza said that was his decision and was unrelated to the CPOA investigation.
Full details of the investigation won’t be made public until after the Police Oversight Board votes to approve a letter describing the CPOA’s review, which it is expected to do Thursday. The CPOA reports to the board.
But Paul Skotchdopole, the CPOA’s investigator, discussed the case during a subcommittee meeting Tuesday, which was recorded by Charles Arasim, a local freelance journalist, and posted online.
During the meeting, Skotchdopole called Duran’s comments to the Journal “hogwash.”
After being given correct information in December, “in January, he turns around and makes up all these convoluted stories,” Skotchdopole said.
Last August, Victoria Martens, 10, was raped, killed and dismembered in her family’s West Side apartment. Her mother, the mother’s boyfriend and the boyfriend’s cousin have been arrested in connection with the case.
Five months before the killing, CYFD had sent a referral to the APD reporting that a man had tried to kiss Victoria.
(Courtesy of Charles Arasim)
In December 2016, a sergeant and a detective who work in the Crimes Against Children Unit met with Eden and Duran regarding the referral and told them the department did not investigate it. The meeting was held in the chief’s office, according to Skotchdopole.
A month after the December meeting, Duran told the Journal in an interview that investigators did meet with Victoria and her mother but didn’t take action because no crime had been committed. He also said that no reports were made to protect the privacy of the child and shield the identities of the detectives, who Duran said often work alongside FBI agents.
Based on that interview, the Journal published a story in January that said investigators had interviewed Victoria and her mother five months before her death.
Skotchdopole said that after the story was published, a Crimes Against Children Unit supervisor informed Espinoza, the other media representative, that it appeared that she and Duran had provided the Journal with bad information.
“The sergeant from CACU contacted Celina (Espinoza) and said, ‘I don’t know where the newspaper got its information, but we told you guys … that we did not go out on this referral, and it’s wrong,'” Skotchdopole said. “According to Celina, she met with the chief … and this would have been at the end of January, (and told him) that she provided false information to the media, not on purpose, but that she was misled.”
No one from APD notified the Journal that the story was incorrect.
“The investigation showed that absolutely officer D(uran) did lie about the involvement of APD,” said Joanne Fine, chairwoman of the Police Oversight Board.
Eden, reached by email, declined to say whether he knew Duran had lied or when he became aware of it. The chief won’t receive a copy of the summary of the CPOA’s investigation until it is approved by the board.
“I have not received any investigation from any source concerning your inquiry and request for comment,” Eden said in an email.
Mayor Richard Berry couldn’t be reached for comment. Rhiannon Samuel, the mayor’s spokeswoman, said his office will make an informed comment after it receives and analyzes the CPOA’s investigative report.
About six weeks after the story with the false information was published, the Journal again approached APD for details about its follow-up to the CYFD referral.
At that time, Duran and Espinoza acknowledged that they had provided the Journal with incorrect information, which they attributed to miscommunication.
“There’s just certain pills that are hard to swallow. And this was one of them,” Skotchdopole said during the meeting. “It was a dismissive attitude. It was, ‘So what if we gave you the wrong information.’ ”
The Journal did publish a story with the correct information March 16.
Espinoza said Thursday that once she learned about the error in the Journal, she worked to find out how it happened.
“This took some time due to the complexity of this case. We are human. We take this issue very seriously,” she said in an email. “We all work very hard to get accurate information to the Journal, media and public at all times.”
The Civilian Police Oversight Agency launched an investigation into Duran’s untrue comments after Jim Larson, a former law enforcement officer who worked for Dallas police and the U.S. Secret Service, filed a complaint against both Duran and Espinoza. The complaint accused them of lying to the Journal and said, if unchecked, such a practice would damage the public’s faith in its police department.
Skotchdopole said that during the investigation he also discovered that APD doesn’t have a written policy that governs how the department should handle CYFD referrals.
“You can’t find anything in policy on when a CYFD referral comes to APD, what should APD’s response be to it,” Skotchdopole said during the recent Police Oversight Board subcommittee meeting.
He said there’s an unwritten policy that a civilian who works at APD will review all CYFD referrals and decide if they warrant more investigation. But supervisors don’t review those decisions, he said.
Fine said the board will formally request that APD create such a policy.
“There’s no checks and balances. What this reveals is a process that is broken,” Fine said. “It’s an unwritten policy, which is worth the paper it’s written on.”