Editorial: Timing of ex-district attorney's anti-APD screed doesn't help - Albuquerque Journal

Editorial: Timing of ex-district attorney’s anti-APD screed doesn’t help

After 15 years and 363 days as Bernalillo County district attorney, Kari Brandenburg had an astounding change of heart regarding the Albuquerque Police Department.

Her caustic Dec. 29 letter likening APD to “a continuing criminal enterprise and/or engaged in the act of racketeering” is a sea change from her long-preferred modus operandi of taking police shootings to special investigative grand juries, which sounded very imposing but in reality was pretty much a sham in which every officer was cleared. The only thing that got Brandenburg to stop that dog-and-pony show and bring those cases out into the light of open court in 2015 was, in fact, the courts – and perhaps the sour grapes of an APD investigation that found she improperly interfered in a burglary investigation involving her own son.

Brandenburg, who did not seek a fifth term and left office at the end of the year, glosses quickly over that little nugget in her three-page letter (plus attachments) 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. Instead, she cites her “major areas of concern,” including officer-involved shootings, use of unreasonable force, noncompliance with public records requests “to cover up wrongdoing,” tampering with lapel-cam video, and problems with the crime lab and DNA analysis.

No real evidence, mind you. Just concerns in a cheap parting shot.

Chief Gorden Eden responded in a statement: “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. … 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.”

Brandenburg goes on to assert that the state’s largest law enforcement agency hands promotions to “those who have ‘kept quiet’ ” and has been “grossly noncompliant” with reforms required under a U.S. Department of Justice settlement agreement. Talk about a hard 180-degree turn. In 2013, Brandenburg was ready to ignore the state Supreme Court’s support of attorneys’ concern that the system was a “sham” and resume her grand jury farce regarding police shootings. Never mind that in three decades the special grand juries had never found a single shooting by a police officer to be unjustified. It took a decision by the 2nd Judicial District’s then-Chief Judge Ted Baca, presiding criminal Judge Charles Brown and grand jury Judge Stan Whitaker to end the practice.

Brandenburg maintains in the letter that her 2014 decision to prosecute two police officers in the fatal shooting of a homeless, schizophrenic camper prompted the mayor and other top-level officials to orchestrate efforts to get her out of office. Yet when those officers were charged, the city and APD had just embarked on a yearslong reform process under the guidance of the DOJ.

The former DA writes, “I regret the need to write this letter, but believe failure to do so would be a dereliction of my responsibilities to the people I have been elected to serve.” Those people also might want to know what role her office played in the revolving-door justice system in which repeat offenders quickly resume their life of crime. And it is hard to believe such serious concerns just popped up in the DA’s Office after 15 years and 363 days on the job.

The letter ends with Brandenburg saying she wrote it “in the spirit of acknowledging the problems so they can be successfully and completely resolved.” She is right that all of Albuquerque, civilians and police officers, “are deserving of a police force that operates honestly and with transparency, truly serving its people.”

The question is why, if she truly was interested in trying to help make that happen, she waited to write this on her way out the door.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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