Attorney Matthew Coyte’s indignation over alleged police mistreatment of his clients is almost palpable as he describes events that recently led to a settlement with the city for $150,000.
Coyte’s lawsuits against the city, one in state court and one in federal court, stemmed from actions that occurred while Albuquerque police were investigating an officer-involved shooting on April 14, 2010, at a convenience store at Gibson and Broadway. Benjamin Marquez, a suspect in a 2008 shooting, was alleged to have pointed a gun at an APD officer and was shot but not killed.
The lawsuits alleged Patricia Silva and her two adult sons, Carlo Villa and Gildardo Villa, were unwillingly drawn into the drama.
Later that day, they were pulled out of their home at gunpoint, thrown to the ground and threatened by snipers in “ninja” outfits, placed in the SWAT team’s tanker-like “Bearcat” vehicle and taken to a park, transferred to a police vehicle and driven to Albuquerque police headquarters for questioning, the lawsuits said.
Coyte says perhaps the worst of it was that he spent two years trying to find a record of who actually made the arrests of Silva and the Villas, only to be frustrated.
“The real troubling thing about the case is they (police) concealed the fact they ever went there,” Coyte said. “They never filed a police report.”
Coyte’s clients were not charged with a crime and were taken back to their home about an hour later after questioning. But the lawsuit he filed on their behalf claimed that the “brutal arrest,” coupled with officers’ failure to file reports or identify themselves, amounted to actions of “secret police” in violation of the plaintiffs’ constitutional due process rights.
“I was presented with real problems in knowing who did it,” Coyte said. “I think it’s an outrage.”
The city denies any wrongdoing in the case and, in the settlement agreement, it admits no liability.
Assistant City Attorney Stephanie Griffin says APD officers were trying to locate one or all of the individuals who had been with Marquez. Officers were searching for a silver Jaguar that had been at the convenience store gas pump, and they had located Carlo Villa.
Coyte said Carlo Villa had dropped off Marquez at that gas station.
Gang detectives were on the case because they suspected some gang involvement, and when they informed supervisors over the radio they’d found the Jaguar, SWAT officers responded to assist, she said. It was not a formal SWAT callout.
“In the process of setting up a perimeter, Gildardo came out of the house, and he was detained. Ms. Silva and Carlos also were directed to come out, and they were detained as well,” Griffin said.
“Unfortunately, only a couple of officers wrote reports. But it wasn’t ‘secret police’ as described by plaintiffs’ counsel,” she said.
Coyte said he eventually plowed through “a stack of reports” from the Marquez investigation and found “a couple of oblique references” to his clients.
When he filed requests under the Inspection of Public Records Act to get the computer-assisted callout logs, he was told the logs did not exist.
“Eventually, I had to file in federal court alleging a conspiracy” by SWAT team members, he said.
The lawsuits claim the family thought police were going to kill them, especially after Silva allegedly heard an officer yell, “move just a little bit, I’d like to splatter your head across the floor.”
Griffin said there was “no evidence to support that any officer made any such statement.”
Coyte said the settlement “helps compensate what happened to them. But it doesn’t resolve having (police) come to your house, stick a gun in your face and there’s never a report about it.
“This really does go to the heart of the culture in the (police) department,” he said.