An APD officer's law enforcement certificate was revoked in September. Here's why. - Albuquerque Journal

An APD officer’s law enforcement certificate was revoked in September. Here’s why.

An abandoned house, that has since burnt down, used to sit on this lot. Albuquerque Police Department Internal Affairs investigators found that an officer had poured a jar of urine in a homeless man’s tent in its basement in December 2020. The officer was fired and his license was revoked in September 2022. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis / Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

On the night of Dec. 4, 2020, two Albuquerque Police Department officers were called to an abandoned house on 19th near Lomas NW for reports that a person was trespassing.

The encounter ended up spurring internal affairs investigations, two terminations and a rehiring, and a revocation of one officer’s law enforcement certificate after investigators found one had poured urine on the person’s belongings and the other sprayed it with pepper spray to deter him from returning.

At the house – which has since burned down – the officers found a man who appeared to be camping in a tent in the basement and told him to leave. Lapel camera video of the encounter shows that the primary officer on the call – John Bonet – spoke to the man “in a sarcastic tone,” “belittled the male’s decision and the reasons he stated why he was at this location” and when the man asked for directions to the shelter replied, “I don’t know, call three-eleven,” according to an internal affairs investigation obtained by the Journal.

Then Bonet, who had been with APD for 12 years, could be seen on camera picking up a “pee jar” and pouring its contents out inside the man’s tent and his blanket and belongings, investigators said.

They also said he gave the other officer – Mark Holmen who had joined the department in March of the same year and was still under probationary status – a can of expired oleoresin capsicum spray (commonly called OC or pepper spray) to spray down belongings left in the basement, using it as a “deterrent.” The investigator noted that the spray is designed to stick to skin and clothing and it is important that contaminated clothes be cleaned prior to reuse. It is only supposed to be used to deter an immediate attack.

Following the internal affairs investigation both Holmen and Bonet were fired for several violations of standard operating procedure, including ones that state officers shall conduct themselves in a manner that reflects favorably on the department and that they are responsible for safeguarding and properly maintaining department issued property. Holmen appealed the termination and was reinstated, according to an APD spokeswoman.

The department also referred the cases to the Law Enforcement Academy Board. The board reached an agreement with Holmen to suspend his law enforcement certificate for six months starting in August 2021. It revoked Bonet’s in September 2022 – saying he committed acts which “constitute dishonesty or fraud which indicate a lack of good moral character and which adversely affect his ability to exercise the duties of a police officer.”

Bonet is appealing the revocation of his certificate.

John D’Amato, the attorney for the Albuquerque Police Officers’ Association who represented the two officers, said he thought lapel camera video from the incident shows that the property in question had been abandoned and he didn’t believe Bonet was untruthful.

“The distinction is so ridiculous: did he throw it or did he drop it?” D’Amato said, regarding the cup of urine Bonet was found to have poured on the man’s belongings.

He said it was arbitrary to revoke the license of one officer but only suspend the license of the second and neither should have been fired from APD – only suspended.

“There’s differences between the two conducts, no doubt about that,” D’Amato said. “But one should have been suspended for six months – as he was – and the other one should have been suspended for a year or more, not revoked.”

As for Holmen, D’Amato said he thought it was the right call for him to be reinstated.

“He’s a great officer,” he added.

Neither officer has been flagged by the 2nd Judicial District Attorney’s Office as needing a Giglio disclosure – material that prosecutors are required to provide to defense attorneys if their law enforcement witnesses are found to have been dishonest or biased.

A spokeswoman for the DA’s Office said that’s because Holmen appealed his disciplinary findings and the result of the appeal didn’t include dishonest conduct, and because prosecutors don’t receive findings from the LEA board as a matter of course so it hadn’t seen the order revoking Bonet’s certification.

“APD’s internal investigation of John Bonet did not include a finding of dishonesty, hence the absence of a Giglio disclosure,” Lauren Rodriguez wrote in a statement. “Based on the new information you have provided, the Giglio Panel will promptly review the findings by the LEA board and determine if a Giglio disclosure is appropriate.”

Investigation

The internal affairs investigation paints a picture of everyone in the department – from the crime scene specialist who first flagged Holmen’s behavior after he told her about it in passing to two deputy chiefs – registering disgust at the idea of officers pouring urine and spraying pepper spray on a homeless person’s belongings.

In her notes, the investigator stated that Holmen and Bonet “failed to conduct themselves in a favorable manner as Albuquerque Police Department officers” in that incident.

She said that Holmen “willingly participated” in violating standard operating procedures when he “obtained and sprayed expired OC, at the direction of his fellow, more senior officer, John Bonet.” “(Bonet) not only misrepresented the vision of the Albuquerque Police Department to a brand new officer but he also displayed his lack of compassion and concern for protecting and servicing all citizens within the City of Albuquerque through a proper investigation into a crime (trespassing),” the investigator wrote. “Ofc. Bonet’s misconduct and his lack of remorse or empathy illuminates an issue within the Albuquerque Police Department and undermines the motto ‘in step with our community.'”

In a handwritten memo, Deputy Chief Michael Smathers wrote that “Ofc. Bonet’s (conduct) is grossly egregious in every way. This conduct violates policy, the CASA and all norms of human decency.”

Rebecca Atkins, the APD spokeswoman, said Holmen was reinstated early this year after appealing his termination.

“Upon his return, Holmen received extensive additional training and helped out at a local soup kitchen as part of his agreement to come back,” Atkins said.

The investigation also raised questions about whether others in the department are using pepper spray to keep homeless people from returning to an area, since Bonet said he wasn’t trained to use the spray that way but “that appeared to be like a common practice for trying to, uh, better the neighborhood by, by deterring. So that was something that, that was shown to me or taught to me during that time.”

After Holmen told investigators that Bonet said the property crimes unit handed out pepper spray “like candy,” investigators discovered that prior to December 2020 staff hadn’t been tracking whether an officer already had a spray can before they were given another one.

In response to questions about whether other officers were using pepper spray in the same way and what the department had done to make sure they weren’t, Atkins said that it is not a common practice.

“The Internal Affairs Division has not investigated or is aware of any other incidents similar to this,” she said.

The Journal asked several groups who work with the homeless and the Civilian Police Oversight Agency which investigates complaints from the public and did not hear of any similar allegations.

Legal aftershocks

Meanwhile, the Law Offices of the Public Defender is questioning whether its defense attorneys should have been made aware of the misconduct. A spokeswoman says it has found at least 10 active cases involving Bonet, although it’s unclear how important his role is in each case.

Griffin Hardy, a public defender who has a client in a case involving Bonet, said the allegations are extremely concerning. He referenced the Law Enforcement Academy Board’s findings of “dishonesty or fraud” and said it calls into question the officer’s credibility as a witness.

“We have cases pending now in which he is listed as a witness for the prosecution, and this information was not disclosed to us by the District Attorney’s Office,” he said in a statement. “I’m encouraged that the Board took action and decertified this officer. But I’m also concerned about what other problematic behavior the DA’s Office has decided not to tell us about.”

Last month Hardy filed a motion in one of his cases asking for a judge to order APD to produce personnel and internal affairs records related to Bonet. In response a judge signed a stipulated order in which Hardy and the prosecutor agreed to let the judge inspect the records and disclose the records she deems material to the defense.

Rodriguez, the spokeswoman for the District Attorney’s Office who said prosecutors had not been aware of the reason Bonet’s certificate was revoked, said the office had supported legislation that would make it so prosecutors would be notified of findings by the Law Enforcement Academy Board. That bill passed the House Judiciary Committee two days before the end of the 2021 session but was not heard before the full House of Representatives.

“The need for full disclosure and transparency by law enforcement agencies prompted our office to support legislation in 2021, (Senate Bill) 192, which had a section requiring all law enforcement agencies to disclose any findings of dishonesty to local prosecutors,” Rodriguez said.

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