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Judge orders prosecutor to reprimand Brandenburg

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — In an unusual twist on court proceedings, special prosecutor Randi McGinn was ordered Tuesday to reprimand District Attorney Kari Brandenburg – the person who hired her to prosecute two former Albuquerque police officers – and caution her about making comments that could prejudice jurors in the former officers’ trial later this month.

Special prosecutor Randi McGinn indicates on August 3, 2016 how James Boyd was shot by APD officers. (Dean Hanson/Journal)

Special prosecutor Randi McGinn in court on August 3, 2016. (Dean Hanson/Journal)

Defense attorney Monnica Garcia, who has been working with Sam Bregman in the defense of former officer Keith Sandy, said in a written motion and oral argument that both McGinn and Brandenburg should be sanctioned for violating rules of professional conduct barring potentially prejudicial pretrial comments about a pending case.

Attached to the request were three exhibits: an article from the Albuquerque Free Press nearly a year ago, a BuzzFeed piece published online last month, and an Albuquerque Journal article in which Brandenburg responded to statements she allegedly made in the BuzzFeed article.

Speaking to the Journal, Brandenburg denied ever calling Mayor Richard Berry a “psychopath,” as the article reported. The BuzzFeed reporter stood by the quote.

Brandenburg also said publicly that she worried for her and her family’s safety after her office decided to bring charges against Sandy and then-officer Dominique Perez in the fatal March 2014 shooting of James Boyd in the Sandia foothills, and that she and Albuquerque Police Chief Gorden Eden no longer speak.

Brandenburg was removed from the case by the judge on a defense request because of a potential conflict of interest based on an APD investigation of her. Brandenburg then asked – unsuccessfully – for another district attorney’s office or the attorney general to step forward and handle the prosecution. McGinn was approached to be a special prosecutor but initially rejected the request. She ultimately agreed to take the case for the same pay contract public defenders get for first-degree murder cases – $5,400.

McGinn said she has only spoken publicly to media about the process. In response, McGinn also said that once Brandenburg recused herself from the case, she no longer had any obligation to be silent about it or APD.

Second Judicial District Judge Alisa Hadfield, who is presiding over the case, said the defense had not met its burden of showing prejudice by McGinn’s limited statements.

Comments by Brandenburg, she said, “are definitely more concerning” because her office investigated the case and made the initial decision to prosecute. She ordered McGinn to send a letter cautioning Brandenburg about commentary that could affect the trial.

Perez did not join in the motion.

A different judge, Neil Candelaria, conducted a preliminary hearing and found probable cause for Perez and Sandy to be bound over for trial on second-degree murder charges in the shooting of Boyd, who’d been living under a tarp in the foothills for a month before the fatal confrontation. The shooting was caught on police video, which was picked up by national news and sparked local protests against APD’s use of force.