Thursday, March 17, 2005
APD Puts Evidence Room Whistle-Blower on Leave
By T.J. Wilham
Journal Staff Writer
The Albuquerque police captain who brought to light the recent destruction of drug evidence from hundreds of cases has been asked to turn in her badge, gun and squad car.
Capt. Marie Miranda was placed on paid "administrative leave" Wednesday pending the outcome of an internal investigation into allegations that she violated the department's standard operating procedures, said police spokesman Jeff Arbogast.
Miranda was brought in to oversee the evidence unit after problems surfaced last spring; she left in February to take over the Foothills Command.
Arbogast would not say which procedures she allegedly violated or if they were related to the evidence room controversy. He said the action to place her on administrative leave was "absolutely" not retaliation.
Last week, Miranda's attorney, Rob Perry, wrote a letter to Police Chief Gilbert Gallegos claiming evidence from hundreds of drug cases was destroyed after a chemical leak and cleanup.
Perry's letter also was sent to the district attorney.
Police later confirmed that evidence involving more than 200 cases had been damaged or destroyed after a methamphetamine leak. They have said they haven't found any cases that have been compromised.
Miranda also made a motion at a recent union meeting for a vote of "no confidence" against Deputy Chief Ed Sauer. Several officers had complained about issues surrounding the evidence room, which falls under Sauer's chain of command.
The vote passed, but no action was taken because only about 40 of the union's 1,000 members were present, union officials said.
Since Miranda's letter surfaced, five city councilors have said they want to look into the evidence room problems and several defense attorneys said the destruction of evidence could "shake up" the criminal justice system.
Another police captain, Ron Paiz, who started an Internal Affairs investigation recently into several "high-ranking members" of the department over the ongoing evidence room problems, had the internal affairs unit removed from his responsibility earlier this month.
Arbogast said Wednesday he would answer questions for Chief Gallegos concerning the investigation into Miranda.
"We are investigating possible violations of our standard operating procedures. That is it," Arbogast said. "It is her possible violations we are investigating, not her attorney's."
Arbogast said Miranda would be on leave until the investigation was complete. Once it is, a decision will be made on whether disciplinary action will be taken against her.
Perry would not say what explanation was given to his client. He did say that what happened to Miranda and Capt. Paiz is a "little suspicious."
"It doesn't take a rocket scientist to say 'I smell a rat,' '' he said. "For the sake of every taxpayer in the city of Albuquerque, I hope this isn't retaliation against a whistle-blower on issues of extreme public importance. Because if it is, it could be very costly."
APD's evidence room already had been under heavy scrutiny because of missing evidence and allegations of other problems before Miranda took over the unit in April 2004. The problems first surfaced in internal audits. Someone later circulated an anonymous memo claiming a cover-up, three federal lawsuits have been filed, two evidence room employees were transferred and later fired, and the attorney general started a criminal investigation.
Gallegos has said his administration inherited the evidence room problems and has taken steps including calling in the attorney general to get to the bottom of the problems.
Perry said Miranda could not comment Wednesday because his client was ordered by APD officials not to talk to the media.
However, her father, Adolph Saenz, a former Albuquerque police officer, secretary of corrections and a retired U.S. Customs agent, told the Journal he believed the department was retaliating against his daughter because she had spoken out.
"If you step back a minute, it seems to me there is a lot of manipulation to mislead people from the truth," Saenz said. "As a father, a retired law enforcement officer and as a citizen, I am disappointed. Why are they investigating her? We should be investigating what is going on in that evidence room."