District Attorney Kari Brandenburg is not running for a fifth term – so for the first time in 16 years Bernalillo County will have a new top prosecutor, one who will face a backlog of police shooting cases and a high dismissal rate for criminal cases.
On the Democratic side of the race, Edmund Perea, a retired police officer and lawyer, is up against Raúl Torrez, who has worked as a prosecutor at the local, state and federal levels for eight years and has three years of experience in private practice.
Both said they would restructure the office to better handle prosecutions and prevent cases from being dismissed, which both candidates said is a problem in Bernalillo County. They both agreed that one needed change is to have prosecutors stay on cases from the time a crime is charged through the trial and beyond.
Torrez, 39, said the most senior prosecutors will be assigned to defendants who data
suggests pose a greater threat to the community.
“The reality is, you need to organize the office around the seriousness of the offender, not the type of crime,” he said. “You could have a very serious offender, who has a history of violence, who has a history of using guns, who has a history of gang affiliation, come in on a drug crime.”
Perea, 56, said he would create trial teams and assign them to work a variety of cases in front of particular judges. He said he also would create teams of prosecutors that focus on particular crimes – such as violent crimes, sex crimes and domestic violence – and one group of prosecutors that focuses on defendants with long criminal records.
Even though he’s never worked as a prosecutor full time, Perea said, he has intricate knowledge of the criminal justice system. He said that his experience as a police officer would help the District Attorney’s Office improve its relationship with Albuquerque police, and that he can help officers make sure they’re gathering all the evidence needed to prosecute the case.
“Bill Belichick didn’t play extensively every single position. But he understood the positions. He understood what he expects from his quarterbacks … receivers, defense and offense,” Perea said, referring to the New England Patriots’ championship-winning football coach. “That’s what a good leader does. A good leader understands all positions and is able to lead, train and inspire.”
But Torrez said police officers would get on board with his ideas because he would rely on police data to build prosecutions against the worst offenders and use the same data to make decisions to not prosecute some offenders – instead offering them a chance at getting therapy for drug addiction or mental health problems.
“I think we’re in the early stages of a broad awakening in the country,” he said. “I think people have started to recognize the powerful impact we can have by treating people and providing help and services and hopefully breaking that addiction rather than locking people away.”
There have been about 30 police shootings dating back to 2013 in Bernalillo County that are still being reviewed to determine whether charges will be filed. Both Perea and Torrez said special prosecutors outside the local District Attorney’s Office should be involved to avoid conflict of interest because the office works closely with local law enforcement agencies. But they propose different ways for that to happen.
Torrez said that after he took office, his staff would review the pending shooting cases and also work to create protocols for having special prosecutors review police shootings in the future.
“I’ll be working hard to establish that kind of system,” he said. “That system doesn’t currently exist, so under the law I have an obligation to review those cases (already pending) and we’ll make a determination based on the evidence. There’s a short-term job that has to get done, and there’s long-term structural reform that needs to take place.”
Perea said he would make it a priority to find a special prosecutor to review all police shootings and any case in which an officer has been accused of a crime.
“We need to clear them out. It’s going to be my No. 1 priority to make decisions in these cases,” he said. “We’re going to have to work extra hard to identify prosecutors who can review these cases and make a determination.”
Perea retired from the Albuquerque Police Department in 2005 as a lieutenant. During his career, his assignments included being a sergeant in the gang unit and a lieutenant in internal affairs. He graduated with a law degree from the University of New Mexico in 2008 and has since been working as a part-time special prosecutor in the 13th Judicial District Attorney’s Office and as a criminal justice professor at CNM.
Torrez has a bachelor’s degree from Harvard, a master’s from the London School of Economics and a law degree from Stanford. He has worked as a prosecutor in the 13th Judicial District Attorney’s Office, the Attorney General’s Office and the U.S. Attorney’s Office. He also spent a year as a White House Fellow, where he was counsel to the deputy attorney general.
Campaign contributions and endorsements indicate that many of Albuquerque’s most prominent attorneys are lining up with Torrez, while many former law enforcement officials, bondsmen and others support Perea.
Torrez has received donations from attorneys Shannon Kennedy, Jason Bowles, Vincent Ward and Frances Carpenter, among others. He has endorsements from former Attorney General Patricia Madrid and former Lt. Gov. Diane Denish, U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-N.M., and U.S. Sen. Martin Henrich, D-N.M.
Perea has donations and endorsements from Joe Bowdich, a former Bernalillo County sheriff and longtime Albuquerque police officer, and former Albuquerque Police Chiefs Joseph Polisar and Sam Baca.
Perea’s contributors also include several Albuquerque bail bondsmen and former Attorney General Gary King.
Torrez has reported $261,000 in contributions and $119,000 in expenses, according to the secretary of state’s website.
Perea has reported $81,000 in donations and $41,000 in expenses.