For months, Albuquerque Police Department detectives have been investigating allegations that officers within the department have been using illegal steroids, officials confirmed during a Tuesday news conference after questions from reporters.
Police Chief Ray Schultz said at the news conference that he didn’t know how many officers may have been involved – or how many may become targets of an ongoing investigation, which is being “monitored” by the FBI.
No officer has been tested for steroids since detectives began their probe in the spring, Schultz said.
“We never got to the point where we could do a probable cause drug test on officers,” he said.
Schultz had called the news conference to announce that officer Daniel Burge was arrested Tuesday afternoon on a charge of receiving or transferring stolen property worth between $500 and $2,500.
Burge’s arrest stems from a January incident in which he allegedly kicked in the door of a West Side apartment and stole a television set, Schultz said. The television was owned by a man who shared the apartment with another APD officer, Gregory Donofrio.
APD detectives seized the TV during a search of Burge’s Rio Rancho home on Dec. 7, Schultz said.
The arrest warrant affidavit for Burge, who was not charged with burglary, has been sealed by a judge. The search warrant detectives obtained – on their second try – to enter his home has also been sealed.
Burge has been on paid leave since then, the chief said. Donofrio has been on paid leave since late last month while authorities investigate allegations that he allowed two men to settle a disagreement with their fists.
Schultz would not say during the news conference whether the stolen television case and the steroid investigation are connected, but a spokeswoman later said that was being looked into.
“Checked with chief and we can’t comment other than to say we are investigating any possible connection between the two,” APD spokeswoman Tasia Martinez wrote in an email response to Journal questions later Tuesday.
News of Burge’s arrest and the steroid investigation come at a tumultuous time for APD. The U.S. Justice Department is investigating APD to determine whether there’s a culture within the department that leads to unconstitutional use of excessive force. There also are ongoing federal criminal investigations of APD officers.
The Justice Department announced its investigation last month, after two-plus years of media scrutiny and community outcry over more than two dozen police shootings since 2010 and other controversies.
Information came in spring
In the spring, Schultz and others in APD received information that was “concerning to us,” Schultz said at the news conference. An APD unit that investigates criminal activity within the department, which Schultz would not name, was assigned the case.
At some point, APD informed the FBI and the District Attorney’s Office about the investigation, Schultz said.
By summer, detectives had learned of the alleged burglary of the television set, which had occurred in January at an apartment on the 9200 block of Eagle Ranch NW, he said. Detectives also learned during the summer that Burge had the television set.
On Dec. 6, APD detectives attempted to get a search warrant for Burge’s home, Schultz said. But the DA’s Office rejected the request, saying there was no probable cause.
The next day, after additional investigation, the detectives again approached prosecutors to ask whether they could legally search Burge’s home, he said. That time, the DA’s Office gave them the green light, and the detectives recovered the television.
Schultz said no steroids were found in Burge’s home.
After detectives seized the television, Donofrio’s roommate “remembered several identifying marks” on it, including scratches made by window blinds in the apartment, he said. The serial number had been removed from the television.
At that point, the detectives again went to the DA’s Office, which concluded there was probable cause to arrest Burge, the chief said.
Burge has been with APD since January 2006.
During the news conference, Schultz did not distinguish between the stolen television investigation and the steroid probe.
“The size and scope of the investigation will probably expand,” he said at one point without elaborating.
At another point, the chief said: “There are other officers being looked at.” He added: “I don’t know the names or the number of officers.”
Schultz did speak generally about illegal steroids, saying their use is also prohibited by city and APD policies.
He also said testing for the drugs, which are often used by athletes to enhance their strength and performance, is tricky.
That’s because someone using steroids will only test positive during an “active cycle,” he said, adding that APD would have to have “specific probable cause to do testing,” which otherwise is prohibited by officers’ employment contracts.
At this point, Schultz said, detectives have developed no such probable cause.
“If we can prove the use or possession of illegal steroids (by officers) obviously they will face additional discipline,” he said.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal