Put yourself in the place of Albuquerque Police Chief Harold Medina, tasked with reining in Albuquerque’s surging homicide rate (approaching 90 victims, already shattering the previous annual record).
Or consider what it would be like to be a member of APD’s homicide unit that, as of July 26, had 14 detectives and two sergeants. Your job is to clear murder cases, make arrests, get dangerous suspects off the streets and build cases prosecutors can take to trial.
As chief or homicide cop, how would you react if a defendant you recently arrested in a woman’s stabbing death was back on the streets after cutting off his ankle bracelet – when you believe he should have been held in pretrial detention? Now, you’re supposed to find and arrest that same accused felon and hope this time he won’t hit that revolving door?
Not to mention you don’t officially find out he’s on the run for 24 hours.
That sums up the frustration of Medina and APD’s homicide unit in the case of Trey Bausby, 19, arrested in February and charged with an open count of murder in the death of Jessica Benavidez, 42, near Eubank and Interstate 40.
District Judge Richard Brown denied a motion to detain Bausby, finding that, while prosecutors proved he posed a danger, they did not prove conditions of release couldn’t mitigate that danger. A familiar refrain. Prosecutors filed two more motions to reconsider. Both were denied.
Bausby was released to a rehab facility Aug. 9 with an ankle bracelet. District Court pretrial services received a tamper alert about 3 p.m. Aug. 24, and an email was sent to a prosecutor, Bausby’s attorney and an account shared by judges. The prosecutor notified an analyst at APD, but an arrest warrant officially notifying APD wasn’t issued by a judge until 3 p.m. Aug. 25 – 24 hours after Bausby took off.
Medina lashed out publicly. “The Court is putting too much faith into ankle monitors, rather than keeping offenders in jail,” he said in a media alert. “Making matters worse, we get no notification from the Court a dangerous murder suspect has been on the loose for nearly 24 hours.” On Twitter, “This is unacceptable. … This is a murder suspect.”
District Attorney Raúl Torrez weighed in, saying the case builds on a serious level of frustration. “It’s impacting the morale of police officers and the morale of prosecutors, and shaking the confidence of the public in whether this system can make the right … changes to keep them safe.”
Defense lawyers defend the system as generally working well and stress the accused are presumed innocent until proven guilty, though they concede Bausby’s case is an “unfortunate incident.”
But it’s not the only one in recent months. Devin Munford, 18, is accused in the shotgun slaying of Devon Heyborne, 22, in April while on pretrial release for allegedly shooting a pistol from a car. District Judge Clara Moran had released him, over prosecutors’ objections, with strict supervision, including an ankle monitor. Angello Charley too was on pretrial release with an ankle monitor in what Judge Britt Miller Baca agreed was an “extremely terrifying” rape case, according to KRQE-TV. He allegedly sexually assaulted a 15-year-old girl while “monitored.”
As with Bausby, in the Munford and Charley cases there was a lag before law enforcement was contacted after the alleged offender broke whatever restrictions he was supposed to be under. In fact, according to pretrial services’ guidelines, if a violation happens on a weekend, holiday or after hours, the report won’t be filed until the next business day. Seriously?
“Crime does not stop at the end of a work day or on weekends and holidays,” Medina and Torrez say in a joint letter to the chief judge at District Court, “and neither should GPS monitoring.”
The public deserves better. If defendants accused of serious violent crimes are released pending trial, they must be subject to 24/7 monitoring, with immediate consequences for breaking rules and putting people at risk.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.