ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The Albuquerque Police Department is disputing a contention by prosecutors that it takes the department up to a year to get a completed case to the District Attorney’s Office in officer-involved shootings.
A spokeswoman for the Albuquerque Police Department says it is closer to four and a half months, on average.
Last week, District Attorney Kari Brandenburg said sometimes it is a “year or more” before her office receives police reports on such cases from APD. A veteran prosecutor, asked for more detail, said he believed it has taken APD typically eight to 12 months to get a completed case file to the DA’s Office.
It’s difficult to determine whether APD or the DA’s figures are more accurate, because neither agency consistently keeps records such as receipt logs or date-stamped documents indicating that a case file has been delivered.
Police and prosecutors both say officer-involved shootings are high-priority cases.
“The progress of those investigations are closely followed by the Chief’s staff,” police spokeswoman Tasia Martinez said in an email response to Journal questions. “The investigations are done as quickly as possible even when the cases are complicated. Most officer-involved shooting investigations are completed and turned over to the DA in less than six months even when there are delays such as the completion of forensic analysis and lengthy wait times for toxicology reports from the Office of the Medical Investigator.”
A criminal investigation is conducted on each police shooting in Bernalillo County. Participating are APD, the Sheriff’s Office, State Police and the DA’s Office. The agency that employs the shooter is designated as the lead for the investigation.
The multi-agency team turns its report over to the DA’s Office.
The time issue came up after Brandenburg said last week she wanted to resume having special grand juries, with no power to indict, review officer-involved shootings, a practice criticized by several groups until she agreed to discontinue it earlier this year.
APD provided the Journal with a list of dates that “completed cases” were submitted to the DA for each of the 26 shootings Albuquerque police officers have been involved in since 2010. The average was four and a half months from the date of the shooting, although some cases took as long as eight months to get to prosecutors, according to APD’s list.
Gary Cade, whose last day as chief deputy DA was Friday, handled numerous police shooting cases during his time as a prosecutor. Cade said in an interview last week that he never tracked how long it took APD to get completed cases to him.
“But in my experience, for a completed case to get to us was more than six months, for sure,” he said. “And, again, I never made it a point to keep track, but I would say, on average, it was eight to 12 months for us to have everything we needed on the case.”
The discrepancy, Cade said, may be a matter of definitions.
To move forward with a case, he said, prosecutors need the investigative report of the shooting from the multi-agency team, supplemental reports from all officers who were present, transcripts of officer interviews, criminalistics reports, ballistics reports, autopsy reports, toxicology reports and any existing audio or video of the shooting.
APD’s Martinez said the dates she provided included all of the additional reports Cade mentioned.
But the DA’s Office provided information that contradicted APD’s dates in at least three cases.
For example, APD says it turned a completed case over to the DA on officer Byron “Trey” Economidy’s Feb. 9, 2011, shooting of Jacob Mitschelen on June 10, 2011. The DA’s Office said it got a case from APD on June 21 of that year, but no criminalistics report was provided until “sometime after November 2011.”
And APD says it turned over the full case on officer Mike Hill’s April 19, 2012, non-fatal shooting of Dennis Aragon on Aug. 14. But the DA’s Office says it didn’t get that case until Oct. 3 and that a crime scene report “was not received until sometime on/after” Oct. 12.
Still unclear is what will become of 11 APD shooting cases that are still pending.
That’s because the judges of the Second Judicial District Court in Bernalillo County haven’t yet decided whether the DA’s Office will be allowed to resume presenting police shooting cases to “investigative grand juries” — a process that, since its implementation in 1988, has never found that an officer was unjustified in shooting someone.
After Journal stories published in April and May revealed details of the grand jury process, Chief District Judge Ted Baca supported suspending the practice.
Brandenburg has said she favors taking the cases back to the special grand juries. Alternatively, her office would review police shootings in-house and decide whether probable cause exists to seek an indictment against an officer.
Internal reviews of police shootings are common practice across the country. In Denver, for example, prosecutors try to announce their findings within a few weeks.
But Brandenburg last week said, “That’s not practical here, because sometimes we don’t get police reports (on officer-involved shooting cases) for a year or more from APD.” She said she has raised the issue with officials at APD and at BCSO. Her office also handles deputy-involved shooting cases.
Civil rights lawyers, city councilors and others have criticized the grand jury presentations, saying grand jurors have no choice but to clear police officers because prosecutors only provide the jurors with instructions on justified shootings.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal