Terri Sanchez and James Stewart, the mother and father of a seven year old girl have been charge by the Attorney General Hector Balderas with serious child abuse allegations.
James Stewart, 37, is facing charges including human trafficking, promoting prostitution, child abuse and criminal sexual contact of a minor.
Stewart’s wife, Teri Sanchez, is accused of child abuse.
The AG’s Office launched its investigation in April, 2018 after a school nurse reported that she thought the girl was exhibiting signs of trafficking and sexual assault.
Other school employees described seeing “hickies” on the child’s neck and chest.
In an April safe house interview, the child said Stewart made her touch other adults inappropriately.
One of the 7-year-old girl’s teachers found the girl’s underwear had caked blood on it, the child smelled of feces and urine.
The teacher called the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) and the Children Youth and Families Department (CYFD) to report suspected child abuse.
On November 14, 2017 a child welfare check was made at the hotel the child was residing with her parents and the girl’s teacher was interviewed at her school.
Last month, James Stewart’s case went to trial and the child testified against her defendant father James Stewart.
The District Court Judge was force to declare a mistrial in the jury trial after witnesses gave testimony about a topic that was prohibited.
A second trial will now have to be held and the child will have to testify again once again against her father.
LAPEL CAMERA VIDEOS RELEASED
The Albuquerque Police Department (APD) released three (3) lapel videos and recordings of the 911 calls of APD officers going to the hotel for the well fare check and the elementary school to interview the child’s teacher.
A November 14, 2017 lapel camera video of an APD Officer and a Children Youth and Families Department (CYFD) investigator was released of the 7-year old’s teacher being interviewed.
In the video, the teacher describes how she took the child to a bathroom located in the classroom to have her cleaned up and provide the child with clean clothing.
The teacher tells the APD Officer and the CYFD investigator she was “gagging because it smelled of feces and of urine”.
When the teacher took the child’s clothing and went to put it in a bag, she discovered the child’s underwear had caked blood on it with dried feces.
The teacher told the officers that the blood was not at all normal for a child of 7 who was not old enough to be menstruating.
The teacher told the police officer and the CYFD investigator it was not the first time she had to give the 7-year-old child clean cloths and it was an ongoing problem.
The teacher took the child’s clothing, bagged it, and saved it for police.
The teacher reported that she left the bag of the child’s clothing in a locked classroom bathroom and then left the classroom.
The teacher testified in a detention hearing that when the police officer came to the school the following day, the APD officer said they could not use the underwear as evidence.
She said the APD officer told her the underwear had not been kept in a secure location.
The police officer also said to the teacher “they’re going to have a field day if this ever went to court.”
Instead of taking and tagging the child’s underwear into evidence, the APD officer threw it into a school dumpster, saying it was not useful as evidence.
After the officer’s finish talking to the teacher, the APD Officer and the CYFD investigator had a discussion on what to do with the child’s clothing collected by the teacher.
The APD officer actually asks the question “Do you think it is a good idea to collect them?”
The CYFD investigator then tells the officer “That’s up to you guys. That ain’t my department.”
The APD officer attempted to call the APD Crimes Against Children Unit to get guidance on what to do with the clothing and apparently never received a response.
APD officers did not arrest the mother or father and the child was never taken into protective custody following the November 2018 interviews.
APD STANDARD OPERATING PROCEDURES
APD’s Standard Operating Procedures provide in part as follows:
“2-73 SUBMISSION OF EVIDENCE, CONFISCATED PROPERTY, AND FOUND ITEMS 2-73-1
A. … Officers will tag all found, safekeeping and evidence items using the Officer Input Module (OIM) evidence accounting tracking system. …
B. Items to be Tagged
2. All articles of evidence, safekeeping, and found items will be tagged/entered into evidence … Only a supervisor due to exigent or unusual circumstances can authorize exceptions to this; however, the evidence must be placed in a secure setting within a police building such as a safe or a locker or cabinet that can be secured under the direct control of the supervisor. … [T]he tagging officer will seal all evidence tagged either in plastic or paper bags. The officer will ensure that sealed evidence bag has the officer’s initials and date across the seal, using a permanent type marker, before placing the evidence in a locker. … The officer will ensure that sealed evidence bag has the officer’s initials and date across the seal, using a permanent type marker, before placing the evidence in a locker. …
KELLER’S FIRST SONG AND DANCE: “STAND BY YOUR MEN!”
On May 18, 2018, in a TV interview, Mayor Tim Keller stood by APDs claims that no one violated any policies or procedures, including when an APD officer tossed out the blood-stained underwear of the 7-year-old child rather than tagging it into evidence.
Mayor Keller showed an obvious ignorance of the law when he used a clever law enforcement catch phrase and said:
“There are rules of what you can take, there are laws against what you can take. … This is one of things we’re proactively doing is revisiting our evidence collection policies and we want to get as far to ‘bag it and tag it’ as we can under the law.”
The officer would not have violated the Fourth Amendment against unreasonable search and seizure had he collected the child’s underwear and tagged it into evidence.
A Channel 7 news report can be viewed here:
Both Mayor Keller and APD Chief Geier initially said no one with APD violated any policies or procedures even when an APD officer tossed out the evidence.
APD Chief Michael Geier in an interview did not say exactly what the officer did with the underwear, but he defended the officer’s investigation.
Both Keller and Geier doubled down and said that officers and detectives did everything they could with the information they had at the time.
Mayor Keller and Chief Geier saying APD did everything they could with the information they had rang extremely hollow when you’re dealing with a seven-year-old child and a teacher trying to do the right thing by reporting potential child abuse.
After Keller and Geier doubled down, it was reported that when two APD officers and two detectives with APD’s Crimes Against Children Unit looked into an allegation that the 7-year-old child had blood on her underwear someone from APD in fact accessed the states Children Youth and Families (CYFD) law enforcement portal and reviewed the family history of CYFD contacts.
It turns out that APD’s Real Time Crime Center had issued a policy directive months before to APD officers that they were to check and review the state’s CYFD law enforcement portal to review family history of CYFD contacts when investigating child abuse cases.
KELLER’S SECOND SONG AND DANCE: “SINGING IN THE RAIN”
On May 18, 2018 Mayor Keller called on APD to examine how they investigate possible child abuse or children’s safety issues in the wake of the case and the accusation of suspected sex trafficking of the girl by her parents with whom police had prior contacts.
Mayor Tim Keller ordered APD to undertake the following steps:
1. Review child abuse cases for patterns that raise red flags.
2. Work on trauma-informed interviewing techniques.
3. Use the Real Time Crime Center to identify people with repeat interactions with law enforcement or child welfare agencies.
4. Work with a state Children, Youth and Families Department task force to review prior cases.
5. Prioritize recruitment and funding for civilian and sworn positions that work on children’s cases.
6. Reach out to other law enforcement agencies, prosecutors, the courts, CYFD and child advocates to coordinate crimes against children cases.
7. Evaluate policies on evidence collection.
In a press release announcing what action he wanted APD to take, Mayor Keller said:
“We’re going to do everything we can to try to prevent this from happening [ever again]. It’s going to take all of us – law enforcement agencies, child advocates, prosecutors and the courts. … Today we’re stepping up ourselves, and we’re reaching out to all these partners to address coordination for cases impacting children’s safety. We’re asking all of these partners to review how they interact on child abuse, sexual assault and human trafficking cases, including the handling of evidence. We’ve got to figure out a way to build a system that protects our kids.”
KELLER’S THIRD SONG AND DANCE: “YOU CAN’T HIDE THEIR LYIN EYES”
On May 29, 2018, Mayor Tim Keller and APD Chief Geier held a press conference to announce an Internal Affairs Investigation regarding the evidence gathering in the case.
During the press conference, Mayor Tim Keller made the stunning admission that he and Chief Geier were not initially given the full story of the police department’s handling of the case when he said:
“This administration will admit to mistakes that it makes. … We will admit we must improve, and we are now drawing a line in the sand and saying that the weaknesses in the system that let our kids down are not acceptable anymore”.
Keller said the Internal Affairs investigation will produce a report detailing “the handling or mishandling of this case.”
Keller order APD to launched an Internal Affairs investigation to provide a more complete accounting of the department’s interactions related to the incident involving the parents and the child.
Mayor Keller declared at the time of ordering the IA investigation that:
“If we find protocol was violated, where they did any procedure was wrong, we will absolutely hold them accountable. … If there is nothing that an officer did wrong, I’m not going to discipline them just because people are angry.”
Mayor Tim Keller’s’ bold pronouncement of “drawing a line in the sand” and Chief Geier saying “we started digging” was a remarkable admission that both Mayor Keller and APD Chief Geier had their heads in the sand, or elsewhere, defending the actions of APD.
KELLER’S FOURTH SONG AND DANCE: “WIPE OUT”
After a week of intensive media coverage on the evidence gathering in the case, Mayor Keller went into damage control and made a trip to the Journal Center to talk with the Albuquerque Journal editors.
You always know when a Mayor has taken a very serious public relations hit whenever they make a special trip to the Albuquerque Journal Center and subject themselves to a wide-ranging interview with the Journal Editors and its reporters on a single topic.
On June 2, 2018, the Albuquerque Journal published a front-page story on Mayor Tim Keller’s interview entitled:
“Keller walks back defense of APD in child abuse case; Mayor: ‘Bunker mentality’ stalls reform in department”.
Mayor Keller is quoted in the article as saying:
“It was premature to go out with those kinds of statements [that no one with APD violated any policies or procedures and that officers and detectives did everything they could with the information they had at the time] … We should have waited. … What we learned is that you can’t make a few phone calls and say you have the entire picture, and we’re not going to do it again. I think we learned a lot through this. … ”
Mayor Keller’s admissions were pathetic both in scope and substance.
Keller’s mistakes made in his dealing with APD at the time could be explained then by his short time in office, lack of experience with police management and no understanding of law enforcement procedures and police culture.
KELLER’S FIFTH SONG AND DANCE: “ROLL OUT THE POLICY BARREL”
On June 6, 2018 Mayor Tim Keller and APD Police Chief Michael Geier announced major policy changes for the Albuquerque Police Department.
The goal of the “new policies” was to stop child abuse and neglect cases from being mishandled as was the case with the 7-year-old girl who was allegedly prostituted out by her family members.
During the press conference, Keller had this to say:
“We are taking action today to address shortcomings in old APD crimes against children policies. These special orders will help build a better system to protect kids in our city and help officers with guidance. We’re ending the confusion about the collection of potential evidence and making it clear that previous case information must be accessed. While the investigation into the specifics of the Stewart case is ongoing, we wanted to act now to make some commonsense changes to give officers clear guidance.”
The Special Orders issued were to apply to the entire Police Department.
All officers and new cadets were to get training on the policy changes to ensure they were successfully implemented.
The policy changes involved gathering evidence in potential criminal cases, accessing the New Mexico Children, Youth and Family Services Department’s child abuse database and the retention of lapel camera videos when officers are called out on child abuse and neglect cases.
The biggest change was that all officers who go out on child abuse and neglect cases would have to collect evidence if there if there is a reasonable suspicion of a crime, and regardless of whether the incident is a crime scene or a crime has been reported.
KELLER’S SIXTH SONG AND DANCE: “YOUR CHEATIN HEART INTERNAL AFFAIRS INVESTIGATION”
On March 18, 2019, Channel 7 Investigative Reports reported that it had secured a copy of a 492-page Internal Affairs Investigation in the case ordered by Mayor Keller.
The APD Internal Affairs Investigation determined that the APD police officers did nothing wrong when they failed to collect the blood-soaked underwear belonging to the 7-year-old child after her teacher called to report suspected abuse.
The Internal Affairs Investigation found that the officers did nothing wrong when they did not tag the underwear into evidence nor arrest the parents.
According to the Channel 7 report:
“The internal investigation did find some wrongdoing, including:
• While waiting to speak with the teacher, an officer had a conversation with a CYFD case worker. The officers on body camera was recording when the officer told the investigator, “she’s kind of high up there, huh?” That statement by the officer about the teacher got him a reprimand for being unprofessional.
• A dispatcher received counseling for not giving officers more information when they were called by the teacher.
• Another patrol officer who responded to a prior call was disciplined for not properly storing his lapel camera footage.
• Two officers in some of those prior calls with the family got verbal reprimands for not following through.
Ultimately, the APD investigator concluded he “did not find that there was widespread incompetence or negligence.”
KELLER’S SEVENTH SONG AND DANCE: “IA FOOLS ON THE HILL TRASHING AG INVESTIGATION”
The APD Internal Affairs investigation is highly critical of the Attorney General’s Office which conducted the separate criminal case against James Stewart and Terri Sanchez.
An APD detective in describing the attorney general’s investigation uses words such as “troubling”, “inconsistent”, “conflicting”, and “exaggerated”.
The APD also called the teacher’s credibility as a witness as “questionable”, even though she testified at length in the detention hearing of the defendants.
According to prominent Defense Attorney John Day, interviewed by Channel 7:
“This is … basically an attack on the credibility of the attorney general’s office investigation they put together and they don’t mince words at least APD doesn’t mince words … They didn’t have to necessarily go there, but they did and the fact that this did means that the [James] Stewart defense team in the trial is going to have a lot of ammunition on their side [to attack the A.G.’s case].”
APD Chief Geier declined to be interviewed by Channel 7 on the Internal Affairs report.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
Seven-year-old children do not have menstrual cycles.
The fact that a trained APD officer could not decide to take the blood-stained underwear of a 7-year-old child secured by a teacher who was trying to report child abuse and tag it into evidence is absolutely astonishing and heartbreaking.
There should have been absolutely no uncertainty about what to do with the girl’s blood-stained underwear, which was to take it and tag it into evidence.
The police offense report mentions the bloodstained underwear.
If the blood stain underwear merited mentioning in the written offense report, the cop had the obligation to take it from the child’s teacher and tagged it into evidence for further examination by APD’s forensic lab.
The lapel camera videos revealed that the teacher reported the child went to school unkempt and smelling of urine.
When the teacher helped the child change into clean clothes, the teacher saw the child had dried, caked blood on the crotch of her underwear.
A police officer telling a potential witness in a case “they’re going to have a field day if this ever went to court” and then “tossing evidence” is totally inappropriate and is a violation of APD standard policy and procedures.
It is a judge and not a cop that decides if tagged evidence is admitted as evidence in a court of law.
There was a violation of standard operating procedure of not tagging into evidence an item given to an officer by a witness to a crime.
The requirement of keeping evidence in a “extreme-secure location” applies only to evidence collected by law enforcement to ensure “chain of custody”.
There is no such requirement of “extreme-secure location” placed on victims or witnesses to crimes who turn over evidence to law enforcement, which is what the teacher was doing with the child’s blood-stained underwear.
The IA report is astonishing and very disappointing on many levels.
The fact that APD Internal Affairs (IA) wrote a 492-page report is clear evidence that IA broke its back bending over to find the officers did nothing wrong in not collecting the bloody underwear of a female 7-year-old the child.
The IA findings of wrongdoing were down played to such an extent that only minor disciplinary action was taken.
The Internal Affairs Investigation (IA) report reflects that nothing has really changed with APD and APD is incapable of policing themselves.
Chief Geier and Mayor Keller lost significant credibility when this case first broke over a year ago when they both said the cops did nothing wrong by not collecting the underwear, then they back tracked in double time, apologized to the public and media, announced new policies and ordered an Internal Affairs Investigation with the Mayor making a pilgrimage to the Albuquerque Journal to explain himself and what happened.
A year ago, you could attribute Keller’s ineptness and gullibility to the fact he was in office only a few months, but not anymore.
APD is now Mayor Keller’s department and he should have learned something by now: it is way too difficult for Internal Affairs detectives not to spin things in the most favorable way to help another fellow police officer they in all likely know and may have even worked with in the past.
Internal Affairs now makes the same finding as the Mayor Keller and Chief Geier initially did a year ago: that there was no violation of any policies or procedures when an APD officer tossed out the blood-stained underwear of an innocent 7-year-old child rather than tagging it into evidence and arguing APD did all it could do at the time.
Geier lost credibility by refusing to be interviewed but instead had an APD spokesman claim all sorts of policy changes have been made.
What happened with the physical evidence in this case makes one wonder what the hell are they teaching at the APD police academy when it comes to standard operating procedure policy and evidence collection.
The child’s school teacher knew more about the law of evidence using her common sense than the cop who investigated the case and wrote the report.
It is very tragic that an innocent seven-year-old child may have been victimized and perhaps sold as a sex object.
Since 2001, in New Mexico, no less than 22 children, ranging from ages of 5 weeks old to 3, 4, 5 months old to 3, 4, 5, and 11 years old, have been killed as a result of child physical and sexual abuse. (Re: August 31, 2016 Albuquerque Journal Editorial Guest column by Allen Sanchez.)
All too often, our elected officials express outrage over what happens in horrific child abuse cases, making promises to change policies such as what Keller did on May 18, 2018 in announcing changes in APD policy.
All too often people do not hear, or for that matter do not want to hear or even care about the horrific details of crimes against children.
What will be unconscionable is if the offenders are not brought to justice all because a police officer failed to understand APD standard operating procedures, declined to take evidence from a victim and a witness in a case and unilaterally made the decision to trash the evidence of a crime.
APD Internal Affairs takes things to an all-time new low by criticizing the Attorney General’s case to such an extent that it now results in offenders not being brought to justice and charges dismissed.
The SOP is pretty straight forward and APD failed this child while her own parents victimized her.
We have seen too much of this in New Mexico and it has to stop.
No doubt Keller wants to do a good job and portray a positive image, but a smile on your face and a grin in your voice all the time can only get you so far when it comes to a para-military department and law enforcement.
Mayor Keller needs to get far more aggressive in getting APD in line, including Internal Affairs under control, and if he has to fire people, including command staff he has hired, so be it.
Keller needs to be far more aggressive in getting a handle on the Internal Affairs Department and demand objective investigations designed to find the truth and not blame other law enforcement agencies.
The last song and dance we may be hearing is Jim Bowe’s singing “put on your dancing shoes and let’s dance” when Mayor Tim Keller and Chief Geier accept the findings of Internal Affairs and decide not to take any further personnel action.
Following are links to other blog articles containing news items on the story: