ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A special prosecutor has been named to consider filing criminal charges against an Albuquerque police officer who repeatedly kicked a fleeing suspect in the head after a traffic stop – but not against the officer who held the suspect on the ground, officials said.
District Attorney Clint Wellborn of Socorro said he received an appointment on Oct. 21 from the office of District Attorney Kari Brandenburg in Albuquerque to handle the case against APD officer John Doyle.
Doyle wrote in his incident report that he kicked 32-year-old Nicholas Blume after a short vehicle and foot pursuit in Northeast Albuquerque on Feb. 13 because he feared Blume might have a gun and didn’t want to encumber his hands by grappling with him. He has been on administrative leave since mid-May, when the incident came to the attention of Police Chief Ray Schultz.
Officer Robert Woolever, who held Blume facedown on the ground while he was kicked, has been on desk duty since then.
Blume, who has a long criminal record, was arrested on auto theft, resisting arrest and two firearms charges. He told officers after his arrest that he had been smoking crack, according to Doyle’s report.
Bernalillo County Deputy District Attorney Gary Cade said he doesn’t think there is reason to charge Woolever based on his review of APD Sgt. Ryan Buckner’s investigation into the beating and a surveillance video caught by a security camera in the parking garage where the incident took place.
“I didn’t see anything in the video that would give me pause with regard to officer Woolever’s conduct,” Cade said in a telephone interview. “I don’t think we could prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he committed a crime; he was attempting to handcuff a fleeing suspect. Obviously I can’t look into the officers’ heads to know what they were thinking. But in the case of officer Doyle, it could be viewed as force beyond what was reasonable and necessary.”
He said the case was sent to Wellborn’s office to avoid a conflict of interest. Doyle is a witness in 21 cases the DA’s Office in Bernalillo County is handling.
Wellborn said neither he nor the prosecutor assigned to the case has yet reviewed the file. If there is information that incriminates Woolever, he could ask Brandenburg for an appointment to handle that case as well.
Neither Woolever nor Doyle could be reached for comment. Both officers have been with APD about four years.
Meanwhile, the APD Internal Affairs Division has finished its investigation into the beating and has recommended discipline, Chief Schultz told the Journal on Tuesday.
Schultz said he could not discuss the recommendations, which he is reviewing. He said he expects to make a decision on how or whether to discipline Doyle and Woolever by the end of the week.
The final stages of his review will include watching a “cleaned up, enhanced” version of the surveillance video of the incident. The digital enhancements were done in-house at APD, Schultz said.
He said he watched the original video in May and told the Journal a few months later that “the use of force went far beyond not meeting our policies and rose to the felony level.”
He said he asked the FBI to “monitor the progress of the criminal case because of the possibility of it being a civil rights violation with the excessive force.”
The incident took place in the parking garage of the Barcelona Hotel near the intersection of Marble and Louisiana NE, according to a criminal complaint filed in Metropolitan Court.
On Feb. 13, Blume was driving north on the 500 block of Chama NE; the truck’s license plate wasn’t visible, Doyle wrote.
Doyle and Woolever, who were riding together, followed the truck and, before Doyle could turn his emergency lights on, it stopped, the report states. Doyle got out of his police vehicle, and the truck drove away.
The officers again followed the truck until it crashed into the side of a building on Louisiana NE, according to the report. At that point, a man later identified as Blume got out and fled.
The officers gave chase, according to the report, and Doyle “realized (Blume) fit the description of a male who gang detectives were looking for.”
During the foot chase, Woolever yelled to Doyle that Blume was “reaching for his waistband,” the report states. Eventually, Woolever chased Blume into the hotel parking garage and pinned him to the ground “facedown with his hands underneath of him.”
Doyle wrote that he gave Blume commands to show his hands, but Blume did not comply.
“With the subject’s hands at waist level, the possibility of him being armed, and the fact he was refusing verbal commands, I did not want to give up my advantage to get my firearm by going to the ground with the subject,” Doyle wrote. “After the subject’s refusal of verbal commands and because I thought he could be armed, I threw several kicks striking the subject on the side of his head.”
The officers got Blume into handcuffs and under arrest, the report states. Investigators later learned the truck had been stolen. Inside it they found a stolen firearm.
Blume told officers he had been smoking crack. He was taken to University of New Mexico Hospital to have his blood drawn and for medical attention.
From there, Blume was booked into the Metropolitan Detention Center, where he remained late Tuesday on a no-bond hold.
He was indicted in state District Court in March on charges of auto theft, receiving a stolen firearm, being a felon in possession of a firearm and resisting arrest. Blume is facing additional charges in state and federal court stemming from other incidents.
Blume’s attorney, Ray Twohig, said his client could not speak with the APD detectives who investigated the beating without a promise of immunity because he is under indictment.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal