Saturday, November 21, 2009
Ex-Cop Describes the 'Blue Wall'
By Scott Sandlin
Journal Staff Writer
SANTA FE — As a sworn Albuquerque Police Department officer for two decades, Sam Costales said he saw dozens of instances of police misconduct but never saw anyone reported for it, nor did he see any officer written up for failing to report the misdeeds, despite official policy requiring it.
"So long as you stayed behind the 'blue wall of silence,' nothing happened to you?" his attorney Randi McGinn asked Costales on Friday during testimony in Costales' civil lawsuit against APD and its once and future police chief Ray Schultz.
"Yes," he said.
McGinn wants to show a jury that the culture at APD rewards keeping your mouth shut, while Deputy City Attorney Kathryn Levy tried to turn his previous failures to report against him.
Costales spent most of the day testifying in federal court on his claims of defamation and that retaliation by management ultimately forced him to quit. The lawsuit also named Sheriff Darren White and police union official James Badway, but claims against them have been settled.
The background to the events Costales sued over was the 2006 arrest of racing legend Al Unser Sr. at a SWAT roadblock near Coors and Bluewater NW, during which Costales said officers were rude and unprofessional.
Costales said he saw Unser thrown to the ground and his arm wrenched behind him by officers. He said he was not in a position to stop them and went to his police car to cool down when he got a message from his lieutenant asking for anyone who knew about the incident to call the police public information officer. Costales did and said the response was the laughing comment that it was "just the Unsers."
Costales testified that he told his lieutenant "the whole story," including what he witnessed during the Unser arrest.
Costales' later testimony at Unser's trial was at odds with the deputies' statements. Unser was acquitted, White called Schultz to complain, and Costales saw his name in print more than once. Schultz was quoted as saying he wanted an internal investigation of whether Costales had followed proper protocols.
A department spokesman acknowledged in later news stories that Costales had followed procedures. But in the meantime, the police union Web site had been filled with nasty commentary on Costales. White called Costales' testimony "a work of fiction" and said it had "sucker-punched" deputies.
Costales said he became fearful, started vomiting regularly and that his blood pressure soared. He began seeing a psychologist. But he said he kept working because he'd promised his daughter he would help pay for her to attend private college.
In cross-examination by Levy, Costales agreed that when he had witnessed other misdeeds by officers — once, a prostitute being pushed and the officer later swearing to a sergeant that the woman had fallen — he had failed to report it. In that particular instance, Costales said he had given the woman his name and offered to testify for her.