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Board votes to suspend officer who lied to newspaper

Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal

Albuquerque’s Police Oversight Board voted unanimously to recommend that a former police spokesman be suspended 80 hours for lying to the Journal about the department’s handling of a tip that a man tried to kiss Victoria Martens months before the 10-year-old was raped and killed.

The board also voted that a department spokeswoman receive a letter of reprimand for her role in the spread of misinformation. And it said it will recommend that Albuquerque Police Department develop a policy for handling referrals from the Children, Youth and Families Department.

In January 2017, officer Fred Duran told a Journal reporter that APD detectives had investigated and interviewed Victoria and her mother after getting a tip from CYFD that an adult man had tried to kiss Victoria.

The department had gotten the tip but never investigated.

Paul Scotchdapole, an investigator with the Civilian Police Oversight Agency, said that in November and December, Duran was in meetings along with the Chief Gorden Eden, where he learned that APD didn’t investigate the CYFD referral.

Duran had insisted to the Journal that detectives did do those interviews. He also told other lies to the Journal, Skotchdapole said, about police procedures and laws when pressed by the Journal about why, if detectives had investigated, they didn’t make any reports.

“These lies about APD following up on a referral were printed, making the citizens believe that APD had in fact followed up on a referral and everything had been done by both agencies properly, and nothing could be further from the truth,” Skotchdapole said.

The board’s recommendation will now go to Eden, who will have final say on how to discipline his employees. If he disagrees with the board, he’ll have to explain why in writing.

Victoria was raped and killed in August 2016 in her family’s West Side apartment. Her mother and two others have been charged in connection with the crime.

Before her death, CYFD had received tips of suspected abuse or neglect against Victoria and her brother, and the department notified APD of those tips.

Duran told the Journal that police couldn’t take action against a man who had tried to kiss Victoria because it wasn’t a crime, and that the person would have actually had to kiss her for it to be a crime. He also said police didn’t have probable cause or a warrant to continue their investigation into the matter after their initial interview with the Martens family.

Scotchdapole said attempting to kiss a child would have been an assault, a petty misdemeanor. He also said Duran lied to the Journal about probable cause requirements police have to follow when doing investigations.

“APD should have absolutely investigated this referral,” he said. “There was a reported crime committed. And it should have been investigated.”

Joanne Fine, chairwoman of the POB, asked Skotchdapole if Eden colluded in the spreading of the false information, and Skotchdapole said he couldn’t answer because he didn’t interview Eden. The investigation was launched after a private citizen filed a complaint against Duran and Celina Espinoza, a spokeswoman, after reading Journal reports about the CYFD referrals.

After printing misinformation in Journal, the paper wrote an accurate story in March after continuing to press the police for details about the investigation.

The board voted to give Espinoza a letter of reprimand. She was not involved in meetings at which Duran was told that police didn’t investigate the CYFD referral. But she didn’t tell the Journal that the January 2017 story was inaccurate after it was published.

The CPOA found Duran violated a police policy concerning conduct of an officer.

“This investigation was not about what APD chose to do or didn’t do relative to Victoria Martens,” Fine said. “This was about lying.”

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