Copyright © 2015 Albuquerque Journal
Tension between the city and District Attorney Kari Brandenburg, lingering below the surface for several weeks, boiled over Wednesday when Chief Administrative Officer Rob Perry called for a special prosecutor independent of Brandenburg’s office to be sent to the scene of officer-involved shootings.
In a letter to Brandenburg, Perry cited both the prosecution by Brandenburg’s office of two APD officers on murder charges and the fact she has been under investigation by APD for possible witness tampering and intimidation in connection with a burglary investigation involving her son.
He also labeled as “reckless” comments made by Brandenburg after Deputy City Attorney Kathy Levy barred one of Brandenburg’s prosecutors from the scene after a convicted felon fired a weapon and was shot and killed by Albuquerque police officers Tuesday night.
Perry said it was “imperative that both our agencies work together.”
Brandenburg’s spokeswoman said the office had not received Perry’s letter as of Wednesday evening.
Just two days earlier, Brandenburg announced at a press conference that she was filing murder charges against two APD officers in the shooting death of homeless camper James Boyd in the Albuquerque foothills last March. It was the first time Brandenburg brought charges against a police officer for a shooting since she took office in 2001.
Perry’s letter pointed out that the same prosecutor from Brandenburg’s office, Deborah DePalo, who signed the charges against officer Dominique Perez and retired Detective Keith Sandy, had been on the scene of the Boyd shooting, where she gave legal advice and interviewed officers.
Perry said that would make her a potential witness and that she should not have been involved in filing charges.
He also brought up the fact that Brandenburg has been under investigation by APD burglary detectives for interfering in an investigation involving her son.
“Our community and officers have the right to know that the attorney that is involved in both the investigation and prosecution of these cases is completely unbiased, personally uninvolved and free of all appearance of conflict of interest,” Perry wrote.
But the DA’s office told other news media that not allowing its prosecutor to be present at the scene Tuesday night violated the city’s agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice.
“A chief deputy district attorney was called out to the scene and was turned away from the briefing,” Kayla Anderson, spokeswoman for the DA’s office, said. “She was told no legal advice was needed.”
Brandenburg was quoted in other media that barring her staff from the briefing could compromise the integrity of the investigation and violated the recently finalized settlement agreement between the city and the DOJ that calls for access to shooting scenes by the DA’s office.
But Perry pointed out in the letter that a serious problem already exists with the prosecution of Perez and Sandy and said that some of Brandenburg’s comments about her prosecutor being denied access were “reckless” and made it clear she was “already judging the integrity of the investigation.”
Brandenburg was quoted in other media as saying the city had “violated” its agreement with the DOJ and a memorandum of understanding with other agencies about how police shootings would be investigated.
Perry wants Brandenburg to appoint a special assistant district attorney from outside her office to work on police shootings in the future to avoid any appearance of conflict of interest and problems like the one that occurred Tuesday night.
In his reference to the investigation involving Brandenburg and her 26-year-old son Justin, Perry said that it was turned over to the Attorney General’s Office for “multiple reasons not the least of which is the fact that you are the prosecuting authority on police shootings.”
APD detectives found probable cause to charge Brandenburg, but Perry said he wasn’t passing judgment on the case.