In April, attorneys representing the family of Anthony Benavidez, the 24-year-old man who was killed, sent a letter to Serna asking him to file criminal charges against officers Jeramie Bisagna and Luke Wakefield and reject the recommendation of a panel of three other district attorneys not to prosecute the officers.
Serna at the time “agreed to review any additional information” provided by the family’s attorneys, according to a statement provided by his office.
The April 4 letter from attorneys Shannon Kennedy and Laura Ives said the panel’s recommendation “ignores basic facts,” including a statement by Bisagna that he imagined seeing a silver revolver in Benavidez’s hand before he fired 16 shots at him through an apartment window opening. Benavidez actually was holding a knife.
The letter also criticized Serna, who is running for a congressional seat in the 2020 elections, for forming the panel of district attorneys to make a recommendation, calling it “outrageous.” Serna has said he wanted to take himself out police shooting reviews to avoid a conflict of interest, since his office works with the Santa Fe police routinely on other cases.
On Friday, Henry Varela, a spokesman for Serna’s office, said Serna had agreed to name a special prosecutor only if the family provided additional information or new evidence. “At this time that is not the case, because there are no new evidence,” Varela said. “Everything hinged on new evidence.”
Kennedy and Ives said Friday they have not heard from Serna.
“This whole notion that the family is burdened to provide new evidence is absurd,” Ives said. “The family is put in an impossible situation, that they will never receive information about the murder of their loved one. It feels like a game at this point. It’s not the way to treat a murder victim’s family.”
“The three-D.A. panel is a failed experiment, and we need to come up with a better process on behalf of families who lost loved ones to police violence,” Kennedy said.
Ives also said the Benavidez family attorneys have tried to send Serna “information we’ve received through an anonymous tip.”
“Though we believe the distinction between ‘new’ evidence and never considered evidence is meaningless, we hope this will prompt him to appoint someone who can look at all the evidence, including whether the tip can be substantiated.”
In the Benavidez case, Serna formed a panel consisting of DAs Raul Torres of Albuquerque, Andrea Reeb of Clovis, and Tom Flores of Las Vegas to determine if the shooting was justified.
The panel said prosecutors would have difficulty proving that the officers didn’t act out of reasonable fear for their safety.