Friday, June 8, 2007
Special Conduct Alleged in DWI Stop
By Jeff Proctor
Copyright © 2007 Albuquerque Journal; Journal Staff Writer
A retired Albuquerque Fire Department captain was arrested on suspicion of DWI, taken to jail, booked and released on his own recognizance several hours later, officials said.
It was not an uncommon situation except for the allegation made by the arresting officer in the report he wrote April 17.
APD officer Bret White wrote that the chief ordered the booking process for Ralph Ortega, who is Fire Chief Robert Ortega's brother, to be "expedited."
"When I was ready to transport the offender to the (Prisoner Transfer Center), I was directed to take the offender to the (Metropolitan Detention Center) myself and to expedite the booking process," White wrote in his report. "I was told that this direction came from the chief. Due to the orders, I allowed the offender to call his girlfriend so they could start the process to get the offender released."
APD spokeswoman Trish Hoffman said Police Chief Ray Schultz gave no such order but said she did notify the chief of the arrest as she would "in any potentially high-profile case like that."
Hoffman said she asked White's sergeant if the officers could take Ortega, 50, directly to the West Side jail skipping the usual stop at the Prisoner Transfer Center Downtown, where defendants are usually taken to await transport to the jail.
"We didn't want the fire chief's brother to be in danger at the PTC because of his position," she said. "You just never know what might happen to anyone in law enforcement or with a high-profile family member if the other inmates learn who he or she is."
Hoffman said she then learned that the holding center was not in use on the night of Ortega's arrest a Tuesday.
"And that was the end of it," she said. "After that, he was taken to jail and waited like everyone else to be released."
Jail officials said Ortega spent about five hours at the Metropolitan Detention Center, which is "about standard for a Tuesday night."
"We've reviewed the tapes and interviewed everyone involved here at the jail, and we found nothing that smells of preferential treatment or impropriety," jail spokeswoman Priscilla Ress said.
Ortega was charged with aggravated DWI first offense, failure to maintain a traffic lane and having no insurance, according to a criminal complaint filed in Metropolitan Court.
He pleaded not guilty and is scheduled for a pretrial conference on June 28.
Ortega was traveling north on 4th Street near Candelaria NW about 8 p.m. when police saw him swerve across the center line several times and drive straddling the double line, according to the complaint.
White administered several field sobriety tests, which Ortega "performed poorly on," according to his report.
Ortega at first said he had one beer after work, the complaint states. He later recanted that statement and told the officers he had stopped at a bar and drunk "a couple of beers over a three-hour period."
He twice refused to submit to a breath-alcohol test, saying he didn't "believe in the entire process," according to White's report.
That refusal resulted in the aggravated enhancement on Ortega's charge.
The suggestion to expedite processing is the second "professional courtesy" incident to surface recently.