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AG seeks documents in inquiry

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The Attorney General’s Office said it was left in the dark during a police internal affairs investigation into a child abuse case, potentially affecting the prosecution of a man accused of forcing a 7-year-old girl to work as a prostitute.

Attorney General Hector Balderas

Deputy Attorney General Clara Moran said in a letter to Albuquerque City Attorney Esteban Aguilar sent Wednesday that strict discovery deadlines in the 2nd Judicial District Court could be affected by the Albuquerque Police Department’s interviews with witnesses in the case. Moran had asked the police in May to include prosecutors if police interviewed the witnesses during the internal affairs investigation, she said.

“Nevertheless, you never gave our prosecutors notice … ” she said.

Moran’s letter cited several court rules for discovery deadlines, which may have been affected by the police’s additional interviews in the case. Courts have dismissed cases because those deadlines haven’t been met.

Moran threatened to seek a court order compelling Albuquerque police to turn over documents from the internal affairs investigation if the city didn’t voluntarily do so within 48 hours. A spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office said late Friday that the city hadn’t turned over the documents.

“A subpoena is the legally proper method to obtaining it, short of voluntary compliance,” David Carl, a spokesman for the attorney general, said in an email.

A city spokesman said late Friday that the city is “willing to work with the AG on a subpoena if that is the most effective way to produce information they need.”

Police and city officials announced last summer that they were launching an internal affairs investigation after the AG’s office filed criminal charges against James Stewart and Teri Sanchez for alleged crimes against their 7-year-old relative, who prosectors said was forced into prostitution. Stewart has been indicted on human trafficking, criminal sexual contact of a minor and other charges. Sanchez is facing multiple counts of child abuse.

For years prior to their arrests, police and a child welfare agency had received multiple tips of possible child abuse within Stewart and Sanchez’s family, yet the girl was left in their custody.

After one tip of possible abuse was reported to authorities, a police officer responded to the girl’s school where a teacher said the girl had come to class with blood-stained underwear.

The bloody underwear wasn’t collected, and it’s unclear what happened to it. The teacher said in a court hearing that the officer threw the underwear in a Dumpster, but the officer said he left the school without collecting the clothing after checking with Crimes Against Children detectives, according to a review of the case by the Civilian Police Oversight Agency.

Albuquerque police Chief Michael Geier disciplined five officers after reviewing investigations by the CPOA and APD’s internal affairs bureau.

The CPOA’s review found that only one police officer violated a policy in the child abuse case. The detective was volunteering at the child’s school when a teacher raised concerns about the child to the detective, who notified the Children Youth and Families Department of the concern. The detective did not notify law enforcement, which was a policy violation, according to the CPOA.

The CPOA reports to the Police Oversight Board, which on Thursday voted not to accept the CPOA’s findings until the board could compare the case to APD’s internal affairs investigation.

Months after the police responded to the school, the office of Attorney General Hector Balderas brought charges against Stewart and Sanchez after another school official came forward with concerns about the child’s well-being.

Mayor Tim Keller, at a news conference last summer, said that the internal affairs investigation would be publicly released after it was completed.

Last week, the Journal asked the city for a copy of the internal affairs investigation that led to the disciplinary action. Gilbert Gallegos, a police spokesman, said the city was waiting on guidance from the Attorney General’s Office about whether the investigation could be released.

“We are in communication with the Attorney General’s office about appropriate disclosures during a pending criminal case,” Gallegos said in an email. “We always take the lead of the prosecuting agency so we do not jeopardize the case.”

But according to an AG spokesman, the city hadn’t requested input from the Attorney General’s Office about releasing the documents. The only communication between the city and the AG’s office about the internal affairs investigation was the Wednesday letter in which the AG’s office questioned why it wasn’t notified that the investigation had been finished, Carl said.

He said the AG’s office couldn’t comment additionally about the case because of the ongoing prosecution of Stewart and Sanchez.

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