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AG: APD ‘mishandled’ probe of Mary Han’s death

An autopsy report said Albuquerque lawyer Mary Han committed suicide and died from carbon monoxide poisoning. (Albuquerque Journal File)

An autopsy report said Albuquerque lawyer Mary Han committed suicide and died from carbon monoxide poisoning. (Albuquerque Journal File)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — King’s office says it’s not certain prominent attorney’s death was suicide

Longtime Albuquerque civil rights attorney Mary Han may not have killed herself in November 2010, but determining how she died has proven difficult because high-ranking Albuquerque police officials “terribly mishandled” the investigation, according to New Mexico Attorney General Gary King’s office.

King reviewed Han’s death and the subsequent investigation at the request of Han’s family and citizens’ groups. He released his findings on Friday.

Han’s law partner, Paul Kennedy, found the 53-year-old Han dead in the front seat of her BMW inside Han’s garage on Colonnade Court NW on Nov. 18, 2010.

Kennedy called 911 and told a dispatcher that Han had died of an “accidental suicide,” according to a civil rights lawsuit filed by members of Han’s family in November.

An autopsy report completed by OMI says Han committed suicide and died by carbon monoxide poisoning.

“The real cause of death for Albuquerque attorney Mary Han may never be determined because of the puzzling police investigation, however, the evidence does not definitively indicate she took her own life,” King said in a news release.

The body of Albuquerque civil rights lawyer Mary Han was found in the garage of her Northwest Albuquerque home, shown here. (Dean Hanson/Albuquerque Journal)

The body of Albuquerque civil rights lawyer Mary Han was found in the garage of her Northwest Albuquerque home, shown here. (Dean Hanson/Albuquerque Journal)

“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.

The Albuquerque Police Department and the City Attorney’s Office, in written statements, called King’s findings into question and challenged him to present evidence of wrongdoing.

The city attorney’s statement said it was the Office of the Medical Investigator that determined it was a suicide and that the “Attorney General’s involvement and action in this case are highly suspicious.”

Responding to Han’s death that day were 26 city employees, including high-ranking APD and city of Albuquerque officials. That response has been the subject of much speculation and criticism.

King said later in a telephone interview that he didn’t anticipate any criminal charges against the current and former APD, and city of Albuquerque brass his office excoriated in its news release.

“There’s nothing in what we looked at that would lead to a criminal action at this time,” King said. “But it seems to us that there’s more there, and I am hopeful that someone will come forward with additional information. In that case, we would obviously continue our investigation.”

Liz Wallbro, Han’s sister who is suing the city and APD, said in an emailed statement on Friday: “I just want justice for my sister. She spent her whole life giving justice to others.”

Interim Albuquerque Police Chief Allen Banks, who was one of the higher-ups who went inside Han’s home after her body was discovered, did not return several telephone messages left Friday.

His spokeswoman, Tasia Martinez, issued a written statement late Friday night on his behalf: “APD stands behind its investigation and the investigation of the State Office of the Medical Investigator.

“I am disappointed and it strikes us as strange that the AG never contacted us to discuss his concerns with the case. If indeed they have additional information on this case they should readily produce it,” Banks’ statement said.

King announced in his news release 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.”

King’s general counsel, R. David Pederson, said in an interview that the AG’s Office hadn’t asked OMI to change the manner of death on Han’s death certificate.

“But we will certainly consider that, so long as it doesn’t interfere with our investigation going forward,” he said.

Pederson would not say who his investigators interviewed.

Han was well known in Albuquerque for filing high-profile cases, often aimed at police officers and department brass.

Among those at Han’s home the day of her death 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; Banks, who at the time was deputy chief; Valley Area Commander Rae Mason; then-City Attorney Rob Perry, who is now the city’s chief administrative officer; 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’s review included an analysis of police reports, OMI documents, “independent records and other data,” his news release states. His investigators also conducted “extensive interviews in conjunction with the FBI,” according to the release.

King’s investigators reached several “principal findings:”

  • 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.

City Attorney David Tourek said in a written statement late Friday that the determination of Mary Han’s cause of death as a suicide “was investigated by the independent, professional and non-political state Office of the Medical Investigator, which was on scene and reached its own conclusion based on scientific findings. Our understanding is that the FBI was asked to review this case and found no evidence to support additional investigation.”

The FBI has not confirmed or denied an investigation independent of the one conducted by King’s office.

The civil case has been removed from state District Court and will now be heard in federal court, Rosario D. Vega-Lynn, the family’s attorney, told the Journal in a text message.

Among its allegations are that two diamond rings Han always wore disappeared the day she died. The rings were family heirlooms valued at $100,000. Kennedy is alleged to have told Han’s sister that “the cops took the rings.” APD did not investigate despite the sister’s repeated insistence.

The suit also alleges that Han’s body was removed from the car, laid on the garage floor and photographed. Moving the body before an investigation is conducted is against APD protocol.

Journal Up-Front columnist Joline Gutierrez Kruger contributed to this report