The 2nd Judicial District Attorney intends to create a publicly available list of officers in the Albuquerque metropolitan area who have a history of dishonesty, use of force, bias or other issues that might make them unfit to aid in a prosecution.
The list will compile the names of officers who have Giglio disclosures – material that prosecutors are required to provide to defense attorneys if their law enforcement witnesses are unreliable or biased – and would likely be the first public database of its kind in the country.
However, District Attorney Raúl Torrez stressed, the practice of disclosing the material itself is not new and is based on a 1972 Supreme Court case Giglio v. United States.
“Frankly it’s the most important tool that prosecutors have to ensure police accountability,” Torrez said in an interview.
Representatives of both the Law Offices of the Public Defender and the New Mexico Criminal Defense Lawyers Association said they routinely ask for Giglio disclosures at the beginning of every case. But they are pleased to hear that Torrez intends to publicize that the disclosures exist.
“He’s correct that they have been done on a case-by-case basis,” said Jennifer Burrill, the vice president of the New Mexico Criminal Defense Lawyers Association. “But to have a public searchable database is really a remarkable thing, and will help quite a bit with restoring trust between community members and police officers and hold everyone accountable.”
Burrill said she is glad Torrez is bringing this practice to the Albuquerque metropolitan area, but wishes it could be done statewide.
“When officers get in trouble a lot of times they’re allowed to resign and they move to another agency,” she said. “So with a transparent database other departments can look and find out whether that person has issues that are not welcomed at their department and end the practice of officers with misconduct issues being passed around from department to department.”
Torrez said that’s a big reason he’s implementing this practice.
“Oftentimes police chiefs have no idea the person … has this credibility issue,” Torrez said. “Frankly if they do have that information it might impact the willingness of those leaders to hire the officer and if they do hire the officer what type of responsibilities they would give them. That is another really important reason to make this available.”
He started the process last month by sending a letter to the heads of all local law enforcement agencies, including the Pueblo of Sandia Police Department, the Laguna Police Department, the Isleta Police Department, the New Mexico State Police Department, the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office, the Albuquerque Police Department and the University of New Mexico Police Department.
A spokesman for APD – the biggest local agency – said “we support transparency and the DA’s efforts to protect the integrity of prosecutions based on arrests by our officers. Chief (Harold) Medina is working with the DA to determine how to best accomplish this goal.”
But Shaun Willoughby, the president of the Albuquerque Police Officers’ Association, said he has concerns about a lack of confidentiality and would like more information on what’s coming so he can guide officers on how to protect themselves and their rights.
“Right now we’re in the beginning stages of analyzing the DA’s request and what he wants and what he’s after,” Willoughby said. “I know the department is doing the same and we really have more questions today than we do answers.”
Torrez said his office will start by distributing a questionnaire to the officers involved in prosecutions that are currently heading to trial. Among other things, the questionnaire asks if an officer has been the subject of an internal investigation that resulted in a substantiated finding of dishonesty or other misconduct, if they had resigned during an internal investigation, and if they have ever been fired or charged with a crime.
“My sense is that the overwhelming majority of officers are not going to have cause for concern and are not going to have anything that would result in a Giglio notice from our office,” Torrez said.
The DA’s Office said the list, which it hopes to begin publishing on its website early next year, would say if an officer had a disclosure of misconduct but would not say what that misconduct was. In some cases an officer could have a Giglio disclosure that causes them to be added to the list but it is minor enough – such as a one-time, long ago issue with a time card – so as not to preclude them from taking part in the prosecution, Torrez said.
But on the other hand, he said, there can be instances where an officer was found to have serious credibility issues but remained employed at a law enforcement agency.
“I could foresee a situation where a department makes a personnel call based on sustained findings and after their due process is undertaken in the department they reinstate this person,” Torrez said. “We may make a judgment that this person will never testify again, and that hopefully will inform whether or not that law enforcement leader will keep that officer or that deputy in a position that could undermine future investigations.”