ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Longtime Albuquerque civil rights attorney Mary Han may not have killed herself in November 2010, but getting at the truth of the circumstances surrounding her death has proven difficult because high-ranking APD officials “terribly mishandled” the investigation at Han’s death scene, according to a review of the case by New Mexico Attorney General Gary King released this morning.
King announced in a news release that he believes the manner of death for Han, who was frequently at loggerheads with APD during her career, should be changed from “suicide” to “undetermined.” The release does not say whether King has asked the Office of the Medical Investigator to make that change.
An autopsy report completed by OMI says Han, 53, committed suicide and that she died by carbon monoxide poisoning while sitting in her BMW in her garage.
Han was well known in Albuquerque for representing the downtrodden, frequently in cases against police officers and department brass.
King said “the real cause of death for Albuquerque attorney May Han may never be determined because of the puzzling police investigation, however, the evidence does not definitively indicate she took her own life.”
“We have completed our review of the circumstances and APD’s handling of the death scene and we found that it was terribly mishandled due to inappropriate directions from high-ranking police and civilian administrators with the city of Albuquerque,” King said in the release.
Among those at Han’s home that day were then-city public safety director Darren White and his spokesman, T.J. Wilham (who is a former Journal reporter;) then-APD Deputy Chiefs Beth Paiz and Paul Feist; then-Deputy Chief Allen Banks, who is now the department’s interim chief; Valley Area Commander Rae Mason; then-City Attorney Rob Perry; police crime lab director Marc Adams; and four sergeants, including a designated APD spokeswoman.
APD field investigator Mike Muniz, who photographed the scene, remarked in a police report that he “immediately found it strange” so many police personnel were on scene.
King sent a letter announcing his conclusions to an attorney who is representing members of Han’s family in a case alleging Fourth Amendment violations against APD and numerous current and former officers, according to the news release.
In the letter, King told the attorney that his review of Han’s death was prompted by “numerous citizen requests.” King’s review included an analysis of police reports, OMI documents, “independent records and other data,” the release states.
King’s investigators also conducted “extensive interviews in conjunction with the FBI,” according to the release.
According to the release, King’s investigators reached several “principal findings,” including:
- The large number of APD personnel given access to Han’s home “materially interfered with the investigation process.”
- “Significant” items were either removed from Han’s death scene or were “otherwise missing,” further complicating the case by thwarting scientific analysis and evidence collection.
- A high-ranking APD official, who was not named in King’s release, made a “precipitous decision” to label Han’s death a suicide before any investigation had been conducted.
“The cumulative effect of the errors by APD make it extremely difficult at this time to definitively determine the cause of Mary Han’s death,” the release says.
It’s unclear what, if any, action may follow the release of King’s findings.
But, according to the release, King considers the investigation into Han’s death open. He asks that anyone with information about the case who has not previously come forward to contact his office.