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The attorney for a young man who has been charged with – but not convicted of – murder in two homicide cases is accusing the police chief of libeling his client when he made statements earlier this week blasting the criminal justice system and saying 18-year-old Adrian Avila is “at the root of gun violence we’re seeing in Albuquerque.”
“‘At the root of’ is defined by Merriam-Webster as, ‘the reason for (something),'” attorney Ahmad Assed wrote in a tort claims notice letter sent to the city Friday. “According to the City’s data, crimes against persons in Albuquerque have been steadily rising since 2018… To accept Chief (Harold) Medina’s statement as true would require that one believe that Mr. Avila was responsible for a disproportionate number of crimes of violence that occurred when he was a mere 14 years old, which is plainly ridiculous given his age, lack of criminal history and excellent educational performance heretofore.”
A Journal analysis shows that violent crime began its upward trend in Albuquerque in 2014.
Authorities say Avila shot and killed Elias Otero in February 2021 after three men kidnapped Otero’s brother, drove him back to his home and demanded a ransom. Avila is also one of four people suspected of shooting Donnie Jacob Brandon in August 2020 during a robbery.
Assed has said the evidence against his client is circumstantial.
Medina’s statements were in response to 2nd Judicial District Judge Stanley Whitaker’s decision to release Avila on a GPS ankle monitor while he awaits trial.
Assed said Avila has been following his conditions of release and keeping in contact with him every other hour.
In response to questions about why Medina believed Avila was the root of gun violence, Gilbert Gallegos, an Albuquerque Police Department spokesman, said there is probable cause to believe he committed two homicides, and the community has a right to be concerned about the release of someone who faces such serious charges.
“Mr. Assed is entitled to his opinion. He is a defense attorney and he is understandably concerned about the murder charges against his client,” Gallegos wrote in a statement. “Chief Medina is focused on the safety of the community and getting justice for the murder victims and their families.”
Assed, however, said it was deliberately reckless for Medina to make statements on social media and to the newspaper and television stations about a case that’s still ongoing in the courts. Furthermore, he said, his client is presumed innocent at this stage in the proceedings.
He had sent a letter on Thursday to Mayor Tim Keller asking for Medina to retract his statements but never heard back.
Assed said Medina’s statements have tainted the jury pool and riled up the community members who do not understand the nuances of legal proceedings. He said a post about the case on APD’s Facebook page had about 1,800 shares and some commenters were calling for “street justice.”
“I don’t know how in the world this is supposed to help with safeguarding the community or keeping us safe or anything that the community wants,” Assed said. “None of us want a community that’s driven by vigilantes listening to Chief Medina about how outrageous the situation is and taking things in their own hands and endangering my client and his family and others.”
On Tuesday, there was a disturbance outside of District Court because family members of the men Avila is accused of killing were “upset with the judge’s decision for Avila to be let out on an ankle monitor,” according to a Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman. She did not provide further details.
Anna Bella Dukes, Avila’s co-defendent in the case involving Otero, left the jail on March 14, and a District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman said she was moved to another facility. She could not provide details about why the transfer had occurred or where Dukes was sent. Court documents in that case are sealed.