Portales Deputy Police Chief Lonnie Berry is accused of destroying traffic tickets issued to a woman and her boyfriend.
The accusations are part of a 19-page affidavit filed Thursday in District Court after Berry was arrested and charged with three felony counts of tampering with public records.
Berry, a 26-year career Portales officer, was booked into Roosevelt County jail and later released on $2,000 bond, according to District Attorney Matt Chandler. Berry also resigned from the department shortly after his arrest. He was scheduled to retire at the end of the year.
Berry declined comment.
Police Chief Jeff Gill called it a sad end to an otherwise stellar police career.
The investigation by Chandler culminated with the execution of a search warrant Nov. 30 at the Portales Police Department. Chandler was tipped by a Portales officer who was later reprimanded for going outside of his chain of command, according to the affidavit.
Chandler’s investigator, Dan Blair, also alleges in court records that Berry falsely claimed the citations against the woman and her boyfriend were dismissed in exchange for the pair agreeing to work as confidential informants for the Region Five Drug Task Force.
The woman is identified as Mary Romano, 36, of Portales, and her boyfriend is identified only as Danny Lucero.
Portales Detective Nate Hyde, spokesman for the Region Five Drug Task Force, said neither Romano nor Lucero were informants.
The maximum penalty is 18 months and or $5,000 on each of the counts against Berry, according to Chandler.
According to the affidavit:
—- During interviews with Blair, Romano described Berry as having a “grandfather”-like influence over her son.
She said she had also purchased a Chevy Lumina from Berry for $300 and Berry had given her son and neighbor children unclaimed bicycles from the police evidence compound, saying “they could take any bike that did not have an evidence tag.”
Berry admitted he had destroyed three original citations issued to Romano on March 28 for driving on a suspended license, expired vehicle registration and no insurance. She was stopped by Officer Tyler Marney.
Romano called Berry on her cell phone during the stop. Berry showed up a few minutes later. “Marney asked Berry if Romano was a family member or friend and Berry advised Marney that Romano was his niece. At that time, Berry told Marney, go ahead and do what you have to do.”
—- A few months later, Marney observed Romano’s vehicle parked in a driveway near his home. When he checked the plate, it once again came up as expired. Marney began investigating, telling his supervisor, Sgt. David Meeks, his suspicion the tickets he wrote had been removed from police records division and never delivered to municipal court.
During his investigation Marney was told by a records clerk at the police department that “Lonnie Berry often tells the clerks to save certain citations and then he (Lonnie Berry) shreds the citations.” Marney then went to Deputy District Attorney Donna Mowrer, setting off the chain of events leading to the investigation.
—- On June 15, Mowrer called Blair, saying the police chief had asked her if Marney had talked to her about the Romano citations. “Chief Gill then told Mowrer the citations were taken because the person that was issued…was working for the Drug Task Force. Mowrer said that Chief Gill was upset with Marney because he had ‘jumped his chain of command.’”
—- Also on June 15, Berry asked Blair if Marney had talked to him about the tickets. When Blair said he had talked to Mowrer, Berry said he had turned Romano over to the Metro Drug Task Force and admitted he (Berry) “had pulled the citations that Marney had issued. Berry said he does this often to obtain informants.”
Berry said he forgot to tell Marney that he (Berry) pulled the tickets.
—- The same day, Gill issued a “letter of counseling” to Marney saying the chief had investigated the matter and concurred with Berry’s actions to dismiss two traffic citations in exchange for intelligence on felony drug activity. Gill’s letter was also critical of Marney for not following chain of command by contacting the district attorney’s office.
Gill warned Marney that “this letter would be his one and only warning…and failure to follow chain of command in the future would cause Marney to face disciplinary action up to and including termination of employment.”
—- In September, another Portales officer, Mikel Aguilar, showed up in the district attorney’s office saying he suspected tickets he had written didn’t make it to court and had been destroyed by Berry.
Aguilar provided Blair with photo copies of four tickets issued — three to Romano and one to Lucero. The photo copies were made by a clerk who said she saw Berry remove the citations from files.
—- On Dec. 1, Portales Officer Adam Lem told Blair and DA Investigator Dan Aguilar that Romano had been stopped by two other officers at two or three in the morning. Lem said Romano called Berry, then told him that Berry wanted Lem to call him.
“Berry told Lem that Romano is trying to get a stolen police radio back. Lem told Berry that there were two warrants for the female (Romano) out of Clovis and they had state police coming to arrest her on (outstanding)…warrants. Lem also told Berry she had a suspended license, no insurance or registration.”
Lem said Berry asked him if he could just issue Romano one citation for a suspended license “and cut her loose on that.”
Lem told Berry, “Whatever you want to do Captain.”
Lem said Berry did not specifically say not to arrest Romano, but Lem “took what the ‘Captain said as a recommendation’ not to arrest Romano.
Romano was not issued a citation and let go.
Distributed by MCT Information Services
Dec. 9, 2011 9:03 a.m. — Portales Police Captain Facing Tampering Charges
By The Associated Press
A Portales police captain has been arrested for allegedly tampering with public records.
Ninth Judicial District Attorney Matthew Chandler announced Thursday that Capt. Lonnie Berry is facing three counts of tampering. Each count is a fourth-degree felony offense and punishable by up to 18 months in jail and/or a $5,000 fine.
Berry was placed on administrative leave with pay by the city Dec. 2. He agreed to resign from the police department Thursday.
The investigation has been ongoing since June. The probe began when a Portales police officer reported to the District Attorney’s Office that Berry allegedly was removing and shredding traffic citations issued to a citizen of Portales before the citations were able to be logged and filed with the appropriate court for record and/or disposition of the citation.
Dec. 1, 2011 6:54 p.m. — Portales Deputy Police Chief Placed On Leave; Department Reviewing Policies
By David Stevens / Clovis News Journal
Portales’ deputy police chief is on paid administrative leave and the department is reviewing its policies and procedures related to paperwork, Chief Jeff Gill said Thursday.
Chief Deputy Lonnie Berry is on paid leave until the district attorney’s office completes an investigation it started on Wednesday, Gill said.
Berry, long the department’s public information officer and its most visible representative, confirmed he’d been placed on leave but declined to answer questions.
Gill said he’s not sure of the full scope of the prosecutors’ investigation, but “traffic citations is something they’re looking at.”
He said he spent much of Wednesday night and Thursday reviewing and reinforcing department policies with officers and staff. Specifically, he said keeping track of police records and following procedure for access to records and disposal of records has been a focus of his meetings with personnel.
“I can assure the public that Portales police officers are honest and doing their jobs to the best of their best abilities,” Gill said.
“To the best of my knowledge, this (investigation) is limited to an isolated issue and one person. We’ve tightened up our policies and procedures.”
Portales City Attorney Steve Doerr said District Attorney Matt Chandler told him investigators were “doing a search” at the Portales Police Department in connection with an investigation of an undisclosed nature.
Doerr said Chandler told him the prosecutor’s office had obtained a court order related to the search of police records but that order has been sealed.
Chandler did not return phone calls on Wednesday or Thursday.
Berry has worked for Portales police for more than three decades, according to Portales News-Tribune files.
He began his law enforcement career as a patrolman in 1985. He was promoted to captain in 1996 and designated as deputy chief in the fall of 2009.
During his time with the department, Berry has received numerous commendations, including the 1994 Governor’s Award for Children Advocacy.
He’s headed the “Santa Cop” program, in which police gather toys for kids, since its inception in 1998.
Berry also writes a weekly column for the Portales News-Tribune, mostly chronicling his efforts to stay in shape as he ages.
Berry announced his retirement from Portales PD last month, with his last day scheduled Dec. 30.
Gill said he does not believe the investigation is connected to Berry’s retirement plans.