Thursday, November 19, 2009
Ex-Cop: I Broke 'Blue Wall of Silence'
By Scott Sandlin
Journal Staff Writer
What happened to former Albuquerque police officer Sam Costales after he testified against sheriff's deputies in a high-profile 2006 case provided plenty of fodder Wednesday for questioning of APD Chief Ray Schultz.
As the mayor-elect was announcing Schultz's reappointment as chief and the appointment of Sheriff Darren White as head of public safety, both of their names were getting plenty of air time in U.S. District Court in Santa Fe, where the civil case filed by Costales was in its third day of trial.
Costales claimed in a federal civil rights lawsuit that he was defamed by Schultz and retaliated against for violating the "blue wall of silence" in such a punishing manner that the 23-year APD veteran, at the time a "rehire," was forced to quit APD.
The phrase "blue wall of silence" refers to a monolithic showing of solidarity by police officers that is at the heart of Costales' case and the very existence of which is disputed by Schultz and Lt. Brian Carr. Both had testified earlier in the day.
Costales testified for the defense at the 2006 trial of 68-year-old four-time Indy winner Al Unser Sr. in Metropolitan Court. He said he saw deputies at a SWAT roadblock pull Unser from his vehicle and throw him to the ground for refusing to obey an officer and resisting arrest. Unser later was acquitted.
His testimony contradicted that of the sheriff's deputies and prompted White to call Schultz afterward. Schultz testified Wednesday that White wanted to know why he hadn't gotten a heads-up about the testimony.
But Costales' testimony also started a series of events that Costales claims left him fearful about not having backup from other officers and so stressed that he became physically ill.
A story in the Journal described Schultz as having been "riled" by the testimony. The story also said Schultz was launching an investigation into whether Costales violated department policy by failing to report perceived misconduct of other officers through his chain of command.
Grilled by Costales' attorney Randi McGinn, Schultz acknowledged that his comments to the reporter were made before he had looked into the matter. Schultz said that, even after he learned Costales had told Carr, his lieutenant, right after Unser's arrest that "it didn't have to happen that way," he had not made efforts to set the record straight.
Meanwhile, rumors and gossip critical of Costales were rampant at the police department and on the police union Web site, according to trial testimony.
Costales sought psychological help and a transfer back to the radio and communications unit, and Carr testified that he recommended such a "hardship transfer" be approved.
But Costales was instead offered a transfer to the records room of an auto burglary detail that operated jointly with the sheriff's office which, McGinn suggested in her questioning, would have put him in contact with the very people he wanted to avoid.
A city attorney will put a different cast on Schultz's actions as she questions the chief Friday, when the trial resumes.