Thursday, May 14, 2009
18 Months Later, Cop Still on Payroll
By T.J. Wilham
Journal Staff Writer
Albuquerque police officer Levi Chavez has made more than $63,000 the past 18 months, but he hasn't made an arrest, taken a call, filed a police report or even gone into work.
The financial boon? He's been on administrative leave since November of 2007 because he's been named as a suspect in his previous wife's death.
However, he hasn't been charged with anything, and nothing has been turned over to the District Attorney's Office in Valencia County, where Chavez and his wife, Tera, lived.
Chavez has since married an Albuquerque police officer and continues to receive a city paycheck. And that could go on for months.
Albuquerque Police Chief Ray Schultz said Wednesday that he is frustrated by how long the investigation is taking. Schultz said his hands are tied because, if he starts an internal investigation into Chavez and disciplines him, it could taint the criminal case.
"This is upsetting. Unfortunately (Valencia County investigators) have put us in an untenable position," Schultz said. "They have made the allegations that Levi Chavez is a suspect in a homicide investigation and in a fraud investigation. I can't in good conscience put him back to work protecting the community with those allegations out there looming."
Valencia County District Attorney Lemuel Martinez said Schultz could conduct his own internal investigation and discipline Chavez without tainting any criminal case, because anything Schultz finds out could not be used in criminal proceedings.
Investigators in Valencia County said they are waiting for forensics tests and hope to have the case completed by the end of the year.
"It's unfortunate these things take time, but you don't want to swing and miss on a case like this," said Valencia County sheriff's detective Aaron Jones. "This is something we work on on a daily basis."
Tera Chavez's death was originally ruled a suicide, but Levi Chavez has since been named a suspect in the October 2007 shooting, and Tera Chavez's family has sued APD claiming there was a cover-up.
Levi Chavez's service gun was used in the shooting.
The suit claims APD officers, who came to the home as "grief counselors," trampled the crime scene, possibly destroying evidence that would be needed for a murder investigation.
Levi Chavez called 911 early Oct. 22, 2007, from a separate location and reported that his wife had killed herself.
Chavez met the arriving Valencia County deputies, who found Tera Chavez, 26, dead of a gunshot wound. Investigators found a suicide note and a small quantity of marijuana at the scene.
But questions arose days later. Investigators requested that the Office of the Medical Investigator change its ruling from suicide to undetermined after becoming suspicious of the note and the way Tera Chavez appeared to have shot herself. They also discovered that both Tera Chavez and her husband were involved in extramarital affairs with APD officers.
Once these questions arose, Schultz placed Chavez on paid administrative leave.
More recently, a grand jury was called in Bernalillo County to investigate Chavez and other Albuquerque police officers for insurance fraud. Schultz said the Attorney General's Office is conducting the investigation into the fraud.
Investigators said the Chavezes' truck was stolen a few weeks before Tera Chavez's death.
A grand jury subpoena was served to APD in October 2008 asking for dispatch logs, cell phone records, police reports, e-mails, car assignments and internet activity for seven APD officers, including Chavez and his new wife.
Martinez said Chavez has not given any statements to investigators.