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Deputy got special treatment, lawsuit says

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

After Bernalillo County Sheriff’s deputy Joshua Mora shot and killed two people last November – a driver and a passenger in a stolen truck – his father, Undersheriff Rudy Mora, said he would recuse himself from the investigation. But a longtime deputy has testified under oath that this has not appeared to be the case, saying he has heard from both BCSO and New Mexico State Police investigators that “the undersheriff has his hand in it.”

Bernalillo County Sheriff's Deputy Joshua Mora

Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Deputy Joshua Mora

And the deputy testified in a deposition that both Rudy Mora and Sheriff Manuel Gonzales have a history of giving the younger Mora preferential treatment. Two other former and current BCSO officials also gave depositions.

The sworn statements allege, among other things, that the top two law enforcement officials ensured Joshua Mora passed the police academy; that he hurt two deputies during a training exercise; and that he was involved in a high number of crashes and pursuits.

An investigator’s report about the shooting also indicates that Mora was allowed to review helicopter video of the incident before he was interviewed, an uncommon practice.

In an interview Thursday, Sheriff Gonzales said he cannot respond to the allegations since they’re part of ongoing litigation but he noted that a lot of what he heard during the depositions was third-hand.

He said he believes the accusations are a “political smear” and that when the civil case has been tried the public will learn the truth.

“I know we’re held to a different standard because I’m an elected official,” Gonzales said. “I can’t come out and make these outlandish remarks like these defense attorneys can, but I feel very confident that it will be tried and we’ll have a fair trial and we’ll have the results of it when the trial ends.”

Luis Robles, who is representing the sheriff in the lawsuit, said he disagrees with the characterization of Joshua Mora as a cadet.

He said Joshua Mora passed objective timed tests and that he didn’t mean to hurt the role-playing deputies during street survival training. He said sometimes deputies get hurt by accident.

Two killed in truck

About a year and a half into his law enforcement career, in November 2017, Joshua Mora fired multiple times into a stolen pickup truck.

The truck, which deputies had stopped after a countywide pursuit, had come to a stop from a Pursuit Intervention Technique near Coors and Glenrio NW. In a PIT maneuver, a law officer uses a patrol car to intentionally sideswipe a vehicle to disable it.

Deputies in marked patrol units had blocked the truck from moving forward but Joshua Mora, according to his interview with investigators, ran from his patrol vehicle to the crash site. He would later tell investigators that the driver revved its engine and gave Mora a “deranged” and “crazy” look.

Mora said he thought a nearby sergeant was in danger of being run over so he fired into the truck, shooting seven times. The shooting happened seconds after he approached the truck.

The driver, Isaac Padilla, 23, and a passenger in the back seat of the pickup, Martin Jim, 25, were killed. Two other passengers were taken into custody but were not charged.

The case will be turned over to the Seventh Judicial District Attorney in Socorro for review and possible prosecution.

Bernalillo County District Attorney Raúl Torrez, who would normally review the case, recused his office because one of the men who was killed was related to one of his employees.

Meanwhile, attorney Sam Bregman has filed a lawsuit against Bernalillo County commissioners and the sheriff for “battery, negligent supervision, hiring and training, loss of consortium and wrongful death.” He is representing Shawntay Ortiz, Jim’s partner and the mother of his 4-year-old son.

The lawsuit alleges “the lethal force that Mora used upon Jim was unnecessary and excessive under the circumstances.”

Further, the lawsuit says, the county and Gonzales have failed to investigate past use of force cases, have failed to address hiring and training issues and lack internal oversight and supervision, leading to a “culture of aggression.”

Special treatment

Three current and former BCSO officials have testified under oath as part of the lawsuit, painting a picture of a deputy who was protected and favored throughout his short time with the department.

Greg Rees, formerly a BCSO undersheriff and currently chief of the Metropolitan Detention Center, testified that Joshua Mora first applied to the sheriff’s office (under then-sheriff Dan Houston) in 2013 but failed the polygraph portion of the test.

Martin Jim, 25

Martin Jim, 25 (Courtesy of Pamela Ortiz)

Rees said a complaint was filed against the polygrapher, alleging that he was rude and unprofessional during Mora’s interview, but when he reviewed the video of it he did not find any evidence of inappropriate conduct.

Deputy Leonard Armijo, who has spent 19 years in law enforcement, testified that when he was teaching driving classes Undersheriff Rudy Mora and Sheriff Gonzales came to the track and he believes the undersheriff attempted to intimidate him into passing his son even though he had reservations about whether he should.

“I had never been talked to that way during the instruction of cadets,” Armijo said. “Right after the conversation I was a bit upset. For lack of a better term, I was pissed off.”

Armijo testified that Joshua Mora also used force against deputies during a street survival exercise.

He recalled two scenarios – one he witnessed and another that was described to him by an instructor – where Mora was supposed to interact with deputies who were role-playing suspects. Both scenarios somehow turned into use-of-force cases.

In one case, Armijo testified that deputy Autumn Neas was acting like a “down and out,” (a person who is intoxicated and cannot care for him- or herself) and when she didn’t follow Mora’s commands he began kneeing her in the head. Neas suffered a concussion and missed work for several days, Armijo said.

Isaac Padilla

Isaac Padilla, 23 (BCSO)

Robles, the sheriff’s attorney, said, “I have talked to a lot of other folks who were in the training academy when Joshua Mora was a cadet … and there are a lot of other folks who witnessed all the things that Leonard Armijo said he witnessed. I was struck by how inconsistent Leonard Armijo’s recollection is of the incidents that others remember quite different.”

But Sgt. Ryan Tafoya, who formerly worked in internal affairs, testified that he had heard many of the same complaints about Mora that Armijo had mentioned. He said he did not feel comfortable bringing them up with the sheriff or undersheriff.

“This is the sheriff and undersheriff,” he said. “I’m working directly for them. I’m not going to want to go and look into my direct supervisor for … That’s one way to get ousted immediately, in my opinion.”

After Joshua Mora had been hired, Armijo said, he continued to notice problems with the deputy.

He said Mora was involved in 38 pursuits during a period of slightly more than a year. Even though he had not initiated all of the pursuits he was involved in, Armijo said this was a concerning number.

Regarding the Nov. 17 shooting, Armijo said he heard that homicide detectives investigating the case were fed up with the undersheriff checking up on them. He said he’s learned that Rudy Mora has since backed off the case.

Armijo said that as recently as May someone told him that New Mexico State Police Chief Pete Kassetas had contacted Rudy Mora and told him to stop calling state police investigators about the case, according to the deposition.

Kassetas didn’t return a request for comment.

Detective James Frederickson, who led the BCSO’s side of the investigation, registered concerns in his supplemental reports, noting that Joshua Mora was allowed to watch the helicopter video of the shooting and review his belt tape recordings before he was interviewed. Frederickson said he did not approve of giving Mora access to the videos.

“The release of the air support video was not discussed and I would not have approved of its release to Dep. Mora,” Frederickson wrote. “Based on my training and experience, providing different perspectives of an incident can alter an individual’s recollection of the incident.”

As part of the investigation, New Mexico State Police officers “recreated” the shooting scene to better determine what exactly happened. Armijo said in his deposition that was rarely done.

The president of the deputy’s union, Chris Toledo, told the Journal he has heard of concerns that Joshua Mora gets preferential treatment.

But he said, no one has brought the issue to the union board’s attention and the sheriff’s administration and union haven’t discussed the matter.

Undersheriff Rudy Mora said he cannot comment due to pending litigation, but he said everything to do with his son goes straight to the sheriff or another undersheriff.

“What I can say is when Joshua was hired I went through county legal,” he said. “I had to sign an anti-nepotism agreement.”

He said Joshua Mora is still on the graveyard shift.

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