Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal
“Frankly, if any other group of individuals were acting the way APD has allegedly been acting, some of us in law enforcement might refer to them as a continuing criminal enterprise and/or engaged in the act of racketeering. I appreciate how bold a statement that is.”
Albuquerque’s outgoing district attorney, in her final days in office, slammed the Police Department one last time – accusing it of cover-ups and other problems.
“Frankly, if any other group of individuals were acting the way (the Albuquerque Police Department) has allegedly been acting, some of us in law enforcement might refer to them as a continuing criminal enterprise and/or engaged in the act of racketeering,” then-District Attorney Kari Brandenburg wrote. “I appreciate how bold a statement that is.”
Brandenburg made the comments in a Dec. 29 letter to Damon Martinez, the U.S. Attorney for the District of New Mexico; Ed Harness, the director of the Civilian Police Oversight Agency; and James Ginger, the independent monitor overseeing police reforms.
“I take strong exception to the baseless allegations the former district attorney made against the dedicated men and women of this Department as she left office. Albuquerque Police Department officers work tirelessly day after day to keep our community safe,” Police Chief Gorden Eden said in a statement.
“APD worked diligently over the years to maintain a professional working relationship with the District Attorney’s Office. Unfortunately, Ms. Brandenburg’s letter shows her response to those efforts.”
Eden said police officials already have had several productive meetings with District Attorney Raúl Torrez, who took office Jan. 1.
Brandenburg’s criticism of the department was directed at the police’s administration, not the officers on the street, who Brandenburg said perform honorable jobs under trying circumstances.
Brandenburg said in her letter that despite the settlement agreement between the city and the U.S. Department of Justice, there are ongoing problems within APD, including with its crime lab.
She referred to allegations that police have altered lapel camera evidence in police shooting cases. She also said the department has refused to cooperate with, and hindered investigations by, Albuquerque civilian police oversight groups.
Reynaldo Chavez, Albuquerque police’s former records custodian, made the allegations in October about edited police videos in a sworn affidavit filed as part of a lawsuit being brought by the family of Mary Hawkes, who was 19 when she was shot and killed by a police officer.
The city has strongly disputed the allegations by Chavez, who was fired, and has said it is ordering an independent investigation of the video tampering claims.
The DOJ has said it is investigating the matter as well.
Beth Mohr, chairwoman of the Police Oversight Board, has written emails filed in court that said Albuquerque police have shut out civilian oversight members from many aspects of the ongoing reforms underway by the department.
Albuquerque police are involved in a yearslong reform effort brought on by a DOJ investigation, which found a pattern of excessive force.
Brandenburg, who did not seek re-election and has been at odds with the department, particularly after APD concluded she improperly interfered in a burglary investigation of her son, also said in the letter that recently there have been problems with Albuquerque police’s lab and DNA analysis.
Attorney General Hector Balderas found that Brandenburg had not broken any laws in regard to the investigation of her son. But he said his investigation did find “leadership failures” by both Brandenburg’s office and the police.
Regarding the DNA allegation, Brandenburg cited a specific case: the prosecution of Mark Angelo Chavez on felony kidnapping charges.
A jury found him guilty of kidnapping Tuesday afternoon.
The former district attorney didn’t specifically say what problems existed with DNA evidence collected from the victim’s fingernails. But documents she included in her letter showed that APD’s crime lab experts weren’t able to testify in court to the conclusions they reached in the lab.
Rachel Walker Al-Yasi, Chavez’s attorney, said she didn’t know the district attorney had those concerns but said she had tried to get DNA testimony excluded from the trial.
“If the DA is citing my case specifically, I should have been informed,” she said. “I would have presented that to a jury.”
Adolfo Mendez, a spokesman for Torrez, said issues with DNA evidence were litigated and there was other evidence against Chavez.
“The case was strong,” he said. “And the issues with DNA were disclosed and litigated.”