Tuesday, August 28, 2007
Officer Who Testified For Unser Sues Police
FOR THE RECORD: Randi McGinn's name has been corrected in this story.
By Carolyn Carlson
Copyright © 2007 Albuquerque Journal; Journal Staff Writer
Did breaking the "blue wall of silence" cause retaliation for an Albuquerque police officer who testified during racing legend Al Unser Sr.'s resisting arrest trial in December?
A federal jury will be asked to answer that question.
During Unser's trial, officer Samson "Sam" Costales described Bernalillo County deputies' actions in arresting Unser Sr. near a SWAT roadblock on the West Side as "unprofessional."
He claims in a federal civil rights lawsuit filed Thursday that APD Chief Ray Schultz, Sheriff Darren White and James Badway, an APD officer and police union official, defamed, slandered and retaliated against him after his testimony.
Costales, 52, also names the Albuquerque Police Department and the Bernalillo County Sheriff's Department.
Spokeswomen for the Sheriff's Department and APD said that they had not seen the lawsuit, and that they don't comment on pending litigation.
Unser was arrested Aug. 9, 2006, on his private roadway for refusing to obey an officer and resisting arrest.
In December, Costales testified that he saw deputies pull 68-year-old Unser Sr. from his vehicle and throw him to the ground. Costales said the deputies acted unprofessionally. His testimony contradicted the deputies' testimony.
A Metropolitan Court jury acquitted Unser Sr.
The lawsuit says that despite the strong societal interest in protecting truthful testimony, both APD and the Sheriff's Department have strong unwritten policies commonly known as the "blue wall of silence" that prohibit officers from making statements that implicate other officers in any wrongdoing.
Among the lawsuit's claims:
Upon learning about the content of Costales' testimony the same day it was given, White did nothing to investigate the testimony of his three deputies. Instead, he placed a telephone call to Schultz to complain about Costales' testimony and to pressure Schultz to launch an internal APD investigation regarding Costales for "sucker-punching" the deputies at the trial.
The lawsuit says that "mere hours" after Costales testified and while the Unser trial was still ongoing, Schultz publicly said he would launch an investigation into Costales' testimony, his alleged failure to report the misconduct of the deputies up the APD chain of command and for wearing his police uniform when he testified.
Costales said he had reported his concerns about the deputies' actions to his superior and to the chief's public information officer, according to the lawsuit and his testimony.
Within days, APD's investigation found no wrongdoing on Costales' part.
"Chief Schultz's and Sheriff White's comments were made with the understanding that, as the heads of the two major law enforcement agencies in Albuquerque, they were leading those under their command to ostracize and retaliate against the truthful officer rather than the untruthful deputies," Costales attorney Randi McGinn wrote.
"And they were discouraging other law enforcement officers from testifying truthfully and exposing the falsehoods of other 'brothers in blue,' '' the lawsuit says.
Their comments encouraged union official Badway to engage in an e-mail exchange with White "denigrating Sam Costales, calling him a traitor to his brothers and sisters in blue for having the temerity to testify truthfully at trial," the lawsuit says.
It says White transmitted the e-mail to the media so it would be disseminated as a lesson to other officers.
McGinn said these actions created a hostile and potentially life-threatening work environment for Costales, who depends on other officers and deputies to back him up.
"Sam Costales has suffered extreme anxiety, stress, panic and sleeplessness knowing that the leaders of the two law enforcement agencies in Albuquerque have conducted a public smear campaign against him," McGinn wrote.
Costales, who retired from APD in 2001, had been rehired at APD's request.
After the trial, because animosity from other officers, Costales had asked to be taken off street patrol and transferred back to the communications center, where he had worked after returning to APD, the lawsuit says.
Costales' transfer has been denied.
The lawsuit also says Badway defamed Costales by suggesting Costales had committed perjury to get Unser off. It also said Badway tried to persuade officers and deputies to do whatever they should do to informally punish Costales.
Badway could not be reached for comment.
The lawsuit asks for a jury trial and for punitive damages, costs, and reimbursement for past and future lost employment opportunities, lost earning capacity, future lost wages, mental anguish and distress.