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NM board revokes police officers’ licenses

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The New Mexico Law Enforcement Academy Board on Wednesday revoked the certifications of an Albuquerque Police officer who was caught on video kicking a suspect and two Bernalillo County Sheriff’s deputies for improper actions involving women.

The officers no longer work for their agencies, but the board’s decision to revoke their certifications means they are not qualified to take other law enforcement jobs in the state.

The board also voted to issue cautionary letters to five APD officers, two of whom were connected the Omaree Varela case.

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The three officers whose licenses were revoked were:

• BCSO Deputy Michael Lendino, who arrested a drunken driving suspect in November 2011. The woman suspect offered him a $500 bribe to avoid arrest, and he suggested they have sex. She refused and was arrested. Lendino continued to talk to the woman as her case went through the legal system and offered to withhold evidence against her in exchange for a relationship, according to academy board documents.

• BCSO Deputy Joal Norton, who was demoted to animal control in 2011 because his supervisors determined he slashed the tires of another law enforcement vehicle that was parked at his ex-girlfriend’s house. The woman then complained to the BCSO that Norton was harassing her. After his demotion, he continued to wear his deputy uniform despite his animal control supervisors telling him not to, according to board documents.

• APD Officer John Doyle, who in February 2011 kicked suspect Nicholas Blume multiple times during an arrest attempt.

Both he and Officer Robert Woolever were fired as a result of the incident. Doyle’s attorney, Thomas Grover, said he will appeal the board’s decision. Woolever, whose certification was earlier revoked, has already filed an appeal.

In addition to the appeals, Woolever and Doyle have filed a lawsuit against the police union alleging the union conspired with APD administrators to fast-track their firings in an attempt to stop the Department of Justice from investigating APD. Doyle also has appealed his firing.

Kenneth Ellis Sr., whose son was shot and killed by Albuquerque police in 2010, told the board during a public comment period he supported Doyle and Woolever.

“Mr. Doyle and Mr. Woolever were thrown under the bus by the Albuquerque Police Department,” Ellis said. “We’ve got officers like Mr. Doyle and Mr. Woolever who are good at what they do and are sound in their judgements about their use of force.”

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Also on Wednesday, the academy board voted to issue cautionary letters to two Albuquerque police officers who responded to a suspected child abuse call involving 9-year-old Omaree Varela in June 2013 and didn’t make a report or contact CYFD. The child was killed six months later and his mother and stepfather have been arrested in connection with his death.

In addition to the cautionary letters, the two officers, Gil Vigil and Scott McMurrough, must take 40 hours of mental health and domestic violence training.

APD has fired Vigil because of the incident and suspended McMurrough.

Vigil’s attorney, Sam Bregman, told the board his client investigated the call properly but didn’t find any signs of abuse. “Gil Vigil was treated as a sacrificial lamb in the unfortunate and tragic death of a child,” Bregman said.

In another case involving Omaree Varela, the board rejected the hearing officer’s recommendation to take no action against APD Officer Jennifer Jara. She responded to Omaree’s elementary school in October 2012 on suspected child abuse. Omaree had bruises and a swollen eye and injuries to his hip and leg. He said his mother, Synthia Varela, beat him with a belt. The District Attorney’s Office told Jara to arrest the mother on misdemeanor charges.

Ex-APD officer Jennifer Jara, left, appears before the New Mexico Law Enforcement Academy Board with her attorney Frederick Mowrer on Wednesday. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Ex-APD officer Jennifer Jara, left, appears before the New Mexico Law Enforcement Academy Board with her attorney Frederick Mowrer on Wednesday. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Jara told the board she thought Synthia Varela should be charged with a felony, and didn’t arrest her at all.

“I wasn’t willing to go misdemeanor when this was obviously a felon in my opinion,” she told the board.

Jara said she sent a felony arrest warrant to the District Attorney’s Office, but prosecutors said they never received the warrant for review.

Jara also told the board she thought CYFD should take Omaree into state custody for at least 48 hours, but a CYFD employee said she didn’t think it was necessary.

Jara has resigned from APD, according to KOAT-TV.

Jara’s misconduct case will be sent back to the hearing officer, who will make another recommendation for the board to review at its next meeting.

The board also voted to suspend the certification of APD Officer Patrick Hernandez, who was arrested in December 2013 on suspicion of drunken driving.

The board on Wednesday also agreed to issue cautionary letters to three other APD officers.

• Officer Stephanie Lopez, the police union president, violated police policy in March 2013 when she responded to a domestic violence that involved a police officer she had a personal relationship with. She wrote a police report that had her own opinions in it, according to board documents.

• Officer Joe Moreno punched a man in the face in a Hooters parking lot in August 2012 while off duty. Moreno had complained about his waitress, and a man who knew the waitress followed him into the parking lot where a fight ensued, according to board documents.

• Officer Ron Surran in May 2012 put his foot on a suspect’s neck as the man was being handcuffed, according to the documents.

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