Albuquerque Journal Reporter Joline Gutierrez Kruger in her Upfront column did an exceptional job of reporting on a Santa Fe District Court hearing where the family of deceased civil rights attorney Mary Han is seeking to have her death certificate change by the Office of Medical investigator from “suicide” to “undetermined”. (See January 28, 2017 Albuquerque Journal article “Shocking testimony back’s kin’s claims in Mary Han case)
According to the Journal report, the courtroom testimony was very dramatic and revealed just how bad the investigation of Mary Han’s death was conducted by the Albuquerque Police Department.
The hearing was the first time any testimony under oath in a courtroom has been given in the case.
The first officers on the scene were both from the Albuquerque Fire department and the Albuquerque Police department.
The first officers on the scene testified that they classified Han’s death as suspicious and a possible crime scene, but the APD officers testified they were thwarted in their efforts to conduct a proper investigation when “dozens” of high ranking APD officers and city officials showed up to Han’s home.
As many as 30 to 50 people showed up to the Han home.
Suspicious circumstances were testified in court on how the body was found and the scene itself.
Mary Hans’s law practice partner who was at the scene called her death an apparent “accidental suicide”.
What is deeply troubling and reported on is how high ranking APD command staff interfered with the investigation and were even seen “rifling through folders” on a table in the Han home.
This is not the first time someone has expressed the opinion that the death certificate should be changed from “suicide” to “undetermined”.
On August 16, 2013, then New Mexico Attorney General Garry King issued a case review report that Mary Han may not have killed herself , but getting at the truth of the circumstances surrounding her death was proven difficult because high-ranking APD officials “terribly mishandled” the investigation at Han’s death scene. (See August 16, 2013 Albuquerque Journal report “AG: Mary Han’s death may not have been suicide”.)
Attorney General King said he believed the manner of death for Han, who frequently sued APD and the city for civil rights violations during her career, should be changed from “suicide” to “undetermined.”
In 2013, Attorney General King said “the real cause of death for Albuquerque attorney Mary Han may never be determined because of the puzzling police investigation”.
King also said “the evidence does not definitively indicate she took her own life”.
“We have completed our review of the circumstances and APD’s handling of the death scene and we found that it was terribly mishandled due to inappropriate directions from high-ranking police and civilian administrators with the city of Albuquerque,” King said in his news release at the time.
Among those at Han’s home that day were then-city public safety director Darren White and his spokesman, T.J. Wilham now head of the Real Time crime scene unit, then-APD Deputy Chiefs Beth Paiz and Paul Feist, both now retired; then-Deputy Chief Allen Banks, who later became APD Chief; then Valley Area Commander Rae Mason; then-City Attorney Rob Perry, now Chief Administrative Officer; police crime lab director Marc Adams; and four sergeants, including a designated APD spokeswoman.
Attorney General King’s investigators reached several “principal findings,” including:
• The large number of APD personnel given access to Han’s home “materially interfered with the investigation process.”
• “Significant” items were either removed from Han’s death scene or were “otherwise missing,” further complicating the case by thwarting scientific analysis and evidence collection.
• A high-ranking APD official, who was not named in King’s release, made a “precipitous decision” to label Han’s death a suicide before any investigation had been conducted.
I have always believed that the New Mexico Attorney General or the Bernalillo District Attorney should have called for and convened a special grand jury to investigate the suspicious death of Mary Han.
All those who were in fact at Han’s home the day her body was found should be required to testify under oath to get to the bottom of what really happened.
An explanation as to why so many city officials felt it necessary to go to her home, gawk at Mary Han’s body and take cellphone photos as was reported has never been given by the City in a courtroom setting.
Our new District Attorney Raul Torrez or Attorney General Hector Balderas should seriously consider convening a special grand jury investigation in the case and try to determine if Mary Han’s death was in fact a suicide or a murder and by whom.