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Former DA: I wanted to charge APD officer in 2016 shooting

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

Kari Brandenburg

Former District Attorney Kari Brandenburg said her office in the summer of 2016 decided to charge a former Albuquerque police lieutenant with multiple felonies for shooting a fellow officer during a botched drug sting, but she later turned the case over to the Attorney General’s Office after the unexpected death of the prosecutor who was working the case.

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas

Attorney General Hector Balderas announced last month that his office wouldn’t bring charges against former Lt. Greg Brachle for shooting and gravely injuring former Detective Jacob Grant. In a letter to interim Albuquerque Police Chief Michael Geier, Balderas said the statute of limitations had run out and Brachle couldn’t face charges.

The statute of limitations is only two years or less for misdemeanors, such as negligent use of a firearm.

But Brandenburg said last week that the statute of limitations hasn’t run out on charges of shooting at or from a motor vehicle, a second-degree felony, and aggravated battery with a firearm enhancement, a third-degree felony.

She said her office had planned to file a criminal information against Brachle to charge him with those crimes. The statute of limitations for those charges is six and five years, respectively.

Prosecutors would then have had to present evidence to a judge, who would have determined whether Brachle would stand trial.

Greg Brachle

The shooting occurred in January 2015 in a parking lot near Central and Tramway. Brachle fired on the car in which Grant and another officer were meeting with two suspected drug dealers.

Brandenburg said she and Deputy District Attorney Chris Lackmann consulted with an expert witness with extensive experience researching undercover drug stings before deciding on charges against Brachle.

Lackmann, who would have prosecuted the case, died unexpectedly in June 2016 of a heart attack, prompting Brandenburg to ask the attorney general to take over.

No attorneys from the Attorney General’s Office were made available to interview for this story, but a spokesman said staff reviewed the case after taking it over in September 2016.

“No one should politicize this tragedy,” James Hallinan, a spokesman for Balderas, said in an email.

Hallinan said the Attorney General’s Office determined that, because Brachle was acting in his capacity as a law enforcement officer at the time of the shooting, the felony charges couldn’t be filed against him under New Mexico law.

Brandenburg, in an interview and in a letter she sent the Journal for publication, disagreed. She said Brachle was reckless during the drug sting, so felony charges could be filed against him.

Had Brandenburg moved forward with the charges, it would have been the second time she charged officers with a crime for an on-duty shooting.

In 2015, Brandenburg charged former Detective Keith Sandy and officer Dominique Perez with murder for the 2014 fatal shooting of James Boyd, a mentally ill homeless man. That trial ended in a hung jury, and the current district attorney declined to retry the case.

“I don’t know what (AG) Hector (Balderas) was thinking or what his reasoning was (for not prosecuting Brachle). … They may have thought the (felony) charges were inappropriate,” Brandenburg told the Journal in an interview. “I suffered pretty extreme repercussions (after) Boyd.”

Brandenburg has said she feared for her safety after she charged the officers.

Brachle shot Grant when he was in a car parked in a McDonald’s parking lot near Tramway and Central. Grant had just broken his cover and drawn his weapon on two suspects when Brachle rushed the car, opened the door where Grant was sitting and opened fire, according to police reports.

“I’m sorry, man,” Brachle said upon realizing his mistake, according to a redacted lapel camera video released by the city more than a year after the incident. “I didn’t know it was you.”

Grant, who survived, settled a lawsuit against the city for $6.5 million plus his medical expenses. His attorney couldn’t be reached for comment Friday.

Brandenburg said Brachle wasn’t acting lawfully and should face felony charges, in part because he was so reckless during the operation. He skipped the briefing before the operation, where police officials discussed where Grant and the other officer would be sitting.

“From what we could understand from police procedures, there seemed to be recklessness,” Brandenburg said.

John D’Amato, Brachle’s attorney, confirmed that Brandenburg had notified him during the investigation and told him she planned to move forward with charges against Brachle.

“I gave her my argument for the lack of criminal intent. In my opinion, it could have at most been charged, and probably successfully prosecuted, as a negligent use (of a firearm),” D’Amato said.

In his letter to Geier, Balderas said that while no charges would be filed against Brachle, he said he had “serious concerns” that Albuquerque police never reported Brachle’s conduct to the state Law Enforcement Academy Board, which can suspend or revoke police certifications.

Gilbert Gallegos, a police spokesman, said the department has since turned those records over to the board.

Brachle retired from Albuquerque police in March 2016. He said in a sworn affidavit that his police certification has lapsed and he does not intend to recertify it.