Two private investigators – one a retired U.S. Secret Service agent and the grandfather of a teenager once charged with murder – allege an Albuquerque police homicide detective misled a grand jury and possibly committed perjury while working to indict two young men in a high-profile murder case.
Dennis Maez, Donovan Maez’s grandfather, and Maurice Montoya, who is also a private investigator, filed a complaint with the local Civilian Police Oversight Agency on Monday against Albuquerque police Detective Jodi Gonterman and her supervisors.
Gonterman is the lead detective in the fatal shooting of Jaydon Chavez-Silver, a 17-year-old Manzano High School athlete who had been accepted into the U.S. Air Force Academy. He was sitting in a kitchen with friends when he was fatally shot in the neck.
A couple of months after the shooting, police arrested Donovan Maez and Christopher Cruz, who were 17 and 21, respectively, and charged them with Chavez-Silver’s murder.
Both men spent 10 months in jail awaiting trial before District Attorney Kari Brandenburg dismissed the case. She said in a statement that prosecutors didn’t believe it was “appropriate” to pursue charges against the two men.
“Our department met with the DA’s Office on several occasions regarding how to proceed with this very complicated case,” said Celina Espinoza, a police spokeswoman. “We will continue to meet with the DA’s Office if and when new information develops.”
The police still have charges pending against other suspects in Chavez-Silver’s death. Nicholas Gonzales pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of shooting at an occupied dwelling, and murder charges are pending against Esias Frank Madrid, who goes to trial in February, and Dominic Conyers, who goes to trial in May.
Both Maez and Cruz have filed notices of their intent to sue the city over their arrests.
John Day, Maez’s attorney, said the complaint with the civilian oversight system was a way for his client to find out where police made errors in their investigation.
“We’re essentially trying to get the ‘black box’ of this train wreck of a case,” Day said. “You’d think (APD would) want to investigate and find out where mistakes were made.”
The complaint accuses Gonterman of bullying and intimidating witnesses throughout the investigation, misleading the grand jury and getting “tunnel vision” while trying to bring charges against Maez and Cruz.
Donovan Maez’s mother, Stephanie Maez, was a member of the state House of Representatives, but she resigned after her son’s arrest.
Nicole Chavez-Lucero, Chavez-Silver’s mom, championed several tough-on-crime bills that were written in response to several high-profile crimes, including her son’s death. Chavez-Lucero now works for Albuquerque police in public relations and community engagement.
She said she continues to struggle with her son’s death and the long time it’s taken her and her family to get justice in the case.
“I will continue to trust in the judicial process and believe that we will get justice in the end,” she said. “I pray daily that all individuals responsible for my son’s death will be held accountable and serve time in prison.”
Edward Harness, the executive director of the Civilian Police Oversight Agency, said he assigned an investigator to the case Tuesday. He said a preliminary investigation will be done to determine if there’s a possibility that police officers committed crimes.
The CPOA is only allowed to investigate policy violations, not criminal acts by officers.
“The complaint will work its way through the CPOA process, and we will fully cooperate with their agency,” Espinoza said.