Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
In May, the Albuquerque Police Officers’ Association posted a cheeky video on Facebook narrating the saga of what it called “Burrito vs. Crime.”
Jaunty music plays as a hand doodles the story of “Officer Mike,” who had been running from call to call all day and ate a burrito in his car — only to be in “BIG trouble.”
“Officer Mike CAN’T eat a burrito in his car!!” the video says. “Now he faces being put on 16 hours suspension for eating his burrito!”
It’s an oft-repeated story.
In an interview earlier this month union President Shaun Willoughby cited it as an example of a ridiculous and out-of control system brought about because of the court-ordered reform of the Police Department. He said officers are “in trouble constantly,” which has led to rising crime, high turnover and low morale.
But an Internal Affairs investigation shows a markedly different reality — for one thing, the officer was not just eating a burrito. He was driving through city streets and on Interstate 40 — with a prisoner in the back seat — at times steering his cruiser with his knee while he ate three burritos, one after another.
The policy violation? Not operating an official vehicle “in a careful and prudent manner.”
That wasn’t the only lapse. Investigators also found that the officer and his colleague had not followed policies regarding safely restraining a prisoner, wearing a seat belt and keeping a lapel camera running.
For the infractions the officers each received a letter of reprimand, not a suspension.
The details haven’t kept the story from spreading.
The video, posted on the APOA’s Facebook page on May 6, is billed as the “first installment of our Crime Matters More doodle” and “just one example of out of control oversight of officers here in Albuquerque.” It has been viewed more than 6,000 times.
In April, the union had launched a $70,000 social media and billboard campaign encouraging the public to send emails to city leaders telling them “to focus on the growing crime problem, instead of wasting millions of dollars on endless Department of Justice oversight.”
In a follow-up interview Friday, after the Journal received the internal investigation, Willoughby called the discipline “petty” and said the union highlighted the case because it’s “a really good example of what Albuquerque police officers are going through.” He said rather than a reprimand, the officer should have received additional training.
Willoughby defended the assertion that the officer faced a suspension by saying it was true that he did “face” that punishment but a commander reviewed the case and decided to give him a letter of reprimand instead.
“It was not our intention to mislead anybody. He was driving with a burrito,” Willoughby said. “I didn’t analyze any video or know that he didn’t have his hand on the wheel for 10 seconds when I created the cartoon. The simple fact is that’s all semantics, he was in between calls, taking somebody to jail, he was eating his lunch and he was disciplined for doing so.”
Officers ate, drove while en route to jail with prisoner in the back seat of vehicle
On Oct. 6, 2020, officers Gregg Toya and Robert Calabaza, who work out of the Foothills Area Command, were tasked with taking a man who had been found sleeping in a park near Four Hills to jail after they found he was wanted on a felony warrant.
Toya and Calabaza did not respond to requests for comment through the union’s lawyer.
According to the IA investigation, once in the car, the man began kicking the door and had to be placed in a passive restraint system — put in leg shackles and handcuffs behind the back with nylon straps connecting the two. A police spokesman said it can be tightened to restrict mobility so a person can’t kick the doors or Plexiglas.
The two officers — in separate vehicles — continued taking the man to jail.
That’s when, according to the investigation reports, the man began banging his head against the Plexiglas that separates the front and the back seat. He got a cut and bruise on his head and the officers put headgear on him and took him the rest of the way. When they arrived at the Metropolitan Detention Center, rescue was called and an ambulance took the man to the University of New Mexico Hospital.
After the man was cleared to leave the hospital, Toya and Calabaza were once again tasked with taking him to jail, this time in the same car. They put him in the back seat, turned on the radio, and split a six pack of carne adovada burritos from Golden Pride.
On lapel camera video released to the Journal, Toya — who has been with APD since 2009 — can be seen unwrapping three burritos and eating them, steering the vehicle with his knee as street signs and traffic lights whoosh past.
Later that month, the acting lieutenant in the Foothills Area Command sent a memo to internal affairs, documenting that a prisoner had been injured. He wrote that the incident had been investigated by a sergeant who determined that the prisoner had injured himself, and force had not been used.
But after reviewing the videos and reports, the lieutenant found other policy violations, including that Toya “begins driving to MDC from UNMH and uses his knee to (steer), and eats a burrito while on I40 and Ofc. Calabaza in the passenger seat and (the prisoner) in the rear seat.”
He asked for Internal Affairs to investigate further.
Officers both received letters of reprimand
In March 2021, after the investigation was complete, Toya received a letter of reprimand for not following the policy about having two officers in a vehicle when a prisoner is in passive restraints during the first trip and for not operating his vehicle in a careful and prudent manner during the second trip.
APD standard operating procedures dictate that a person in passive restraints must be monitored constantly to ensure their physical health isn’t in danger and that they have a clear and unobstructed airway.
Having two officers in the car “is critical for the safety of the prisoner, as they are truly in a position of disadvantage,” an internal affairs investigator wrote in a memo.
Calabaza received a letter of reprimand for not following the policy of having two officers in a vehicle when a prisoner is in passive restraints, not wearing his seat belt and for not recording the entire encounter.
Their supervisor, Sgt. Andrew Jaramillo, was also given a letter of reprimand for not ensuring the officers followed the restraint policy.
When the officers were interviewed, Toya admitted that “he did use his knee to operate his motor vehicle.”
“Ofc. Toya explained he was not thinking clearly because of the length of the call and lack of food,” the investigation report states. “He has since stated that he has raised the height of the steering wheel to ensure this incident would not occur again.”