Thursday, August 28, 2008
APD: Sued Cops Were Off Duty
By T.J. Wilham
Journal Staff Writer
Albuquerque Police Chief Ray Schultz says all but one of the officers who showed up at the home of a fellow officer after his wife was shot to death in the couple's Valencia County home were there on their own time.
Schultz said an internal affairs sergeant was there on APD's behalf because the gun used to kill Tera Chavez was department-issued. But the other Albuquerque officers were either union representatives or friends who showed up on their own time to "assist with grief counseling" for officer Levi Chavez, Schultz said.
Tera Chavez's death was originally thought to be a suicide. But since the October shooting, Levi Chavez has been named a "person of interest" in the death, and Tera Chavez's family has sued APD claiming a cover-up.
The suit claims the APD officers trampled the crime scene, possibly destroying evidence that would be needed for a murder investigation. Also named as defendants are Schultz, APD and union President Ron Olivas.
Levi Chavez called 911 early Oct. 22 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 from a gunshot wound.
According to sheriff's department reports, Levi Chavez was "crying and kept saying why did this happen? I wish she was still alive."
Investigators said they had no reason to doubt Chavez, saying they found a suicide note and a small quantity of marijuana at the scene.
But days later, questions started to arise. Valencia County investigators requested that the Office of the Medical Investigator change its ruling from suicide to undetermined.
Investigators became 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, Valencia County investigators said.
Once these questions arose, Schultz placed Chavez on paid administrative leave.
"At the start of this, we truly believed it was a suicide," said Aaron Jones, the lead investigator for Valencia County. "Once we started looking at some things we didn't have knowledge of until days later, we realized it might not be a suicide. By then, the damage had been done to the investigation. We have learned a lot from this investigation."
Schultz said he believes one of his commanders called the Valencia County dispatch center the night of the shooting to offer help. He said his department has resources that could have been used, including its crime lab and experienced homicide detectives.
"Had they (taken) us up on our offer, a lot of the questions that linger ... now would not be present," Schultz said. "(Those questions) would have already been answered, but hindsight is 20-20."
Valencia County Sheriff Rene Rivera said this week that he hadn't heard about the offer and that he wouldn't have had a problem allowing APD to help.
"If there was an offer to assist, I don't see why not," he said. "But I would have left that decision up the detectives or the district attorney. I allow them to conduct their own investigation."
Jones said he also was unaware APD had offered its assistance but added that he wouldn't have taken them up on the offer.
"I don't know it would be appropriate to have them involved due to the fact it is one of their own possibly being accused," Jones said. "I would think that could cause problems further down the road."
The lawsuit filed last week on behalf of Tera Chavez's estate alleges nine APD officers arrived at the scene and participated in a cover-up. Schultz said he has opened an investigation into the claims made in the lawsuit to determine if the officers acted inappropriately at the scene.
According to sheriff's department reports, deputies wrote that Levi Chavez's lieutenant had been contacted to assist with grief counseling. The lieutenant showed up at the scene with a sergeant and one other officer.
Chavez remains on paid leave.