ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Cellphones burned as top brass from the Albuquerque Police Department and City Hall traded calls for hours after a 911 call around noon brought word that prominent civil rights attorney Mary Han was dead.
The calls continued for seven hours on Nov. 18, 2010. Some were made either to or from Chief Ray Schultz, out of town and practically the only occupant of APD’s executive floor who hadn’t crashed Han’s North Valley townhouse as if her death – hastily and, many believe, erroneously, declared a suicide by carbon monoxide intoxication – was cause for some macabre party.
Those calls were not on his APD-issued phone (which that month cost us taxpayers $354.75) but his private number, according to Verizon phone records, even though the calls were presumably part of his official APD duties concerning the unexpected death of a well-known figure – and a woman who had won millions of dollars in lawsuits against his department.
Also using his private cellphone at the scene that day were then-City Attorney Rob Perry, who in the APD supplemental report he later filed indicated that he was on scene in an official capacity, and APD field investigator Mike Muniz, who photographed the scene.
And then there was the matter of what some of those honchos at the scene were doing with their city-issued phones.
According to testimony presented this week in state District Court, at least seven of the city officials at the home may have used their cellphone cameras to take unofficial, unlawful and unethical photos, possibly of Han’s body in the front seat of her white 2006 BMW 330i parked in the garage.
“I heard cellphone cameras flashing,” Thomas Grover, a former APD sergeant, Han’s friend and one of those at her home, testified Tuesday. “I was told people had taken photos.”
Which, if true, makes the way APD and others treated Han’s death even more disgusting.
Tuesday’s hearing before state District Judge Nan Nash in Albuquerque was to determine whether the city should be forced to turn over the data cards and electronic images from the city cellphones.
Rosario Vega Lynn, who is representing the Han family, also asked Nash to order that the city turn over the records of private cellphones used by Schultz, Perry and Muniz.
Deputy City Attorney Kathryn Levy argued that the city had already “gone above and beyond” the judge’s previous order to release phone records and suggested that Vega Lynn was on a fishing expedition without having filed a lawsuit.
Levy also insisted that Vega Lynn had made a “tremendous leap” to suggest that the photos taken by the city-issued cellphones were of Han, at the Han home or even on that day.
Indeed, phone records show only that photos – images unknown – were taken or transmitted within the billing cycle including Han’s death.
And besides, Levy argued, she had asked those folks whether anybody had taken photos with their cellphone cameras at the scene – a violation of APD code – and they had told her no.
It was an answer that satisfied no one.
“Unfortunately, we are not willing to take Ms. Levy’s word on it,” Vega Lynn said.
Neither was Nash, who ordered the city to preserve the cellphone data cards and release the records of the private cellphones belonging to Schultz, Perry and Muniz by the end of August.
In an email to me, Levy later explained that Schultz’s private cell number was used because he has had it for years, it’s the number he gives out and the number most people know, including Journal cops reporter Jeff Proctor and “everyone else” at the Journal.
(I can’t speak for “everyone else,” but Proctor confirms that he has called Schultz on both cell numbers.)
But Schultz still has some explaining to do, including why so many top officials needed to be at Han’s home. Besides Perry, among those there that day were then-city public safety director Darren White and spokesman, T.J. Wilham; APD Deputy Chiefs Beth Paiz, Paul Feist and Allen Banks; Valley Area Commander Rae Mason; police crime lab director Marc Adams; and four sergeants.
By comparison, Vega Lynn told the court, that in the unexpected death of troubled celebrity boxer Johnny Tapia none of the APD big shots showed up and no one was allowed to traipse in and out of the home other than two investigators.
City officials have said that the big guns were necessary because of Han’s high profile, the need to deal with media and to protect the confidentiality of any legal documents in the home.
Han’s friends and family don’t buy that explanation and say the honchos were there to gawk and gloat.
What the Han family’s lawyer uncovers in those cellphones remains to be seen, but some things are clear to me: What went on in Han’s home after her death was unprofessional and unconscionable. APD turned the site of her death into a circus, and the phone records seem to indicate that Schultz, though not present, knew what was going on and could have, should have stopped it.
If nothing else, what he knew from those calls should have launched an internal investigation that could in turn be used to assure the public that what happened there had been above board, even though it involved a woman who had been one of APD’s fiercest adversaries in the courtroom.
Instead, APD continues to hide behind its attorney, leaving the Han family’s attorney to ferret out the city’s conduct in the place Han shone: in court.
UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal