The City’s Police Oversight Agency (CPOA) has completed its investigation against Albuquerque Police Department’s (APD) public information officers Celina Espinoza and Fred Duran for providing false information to the news media and to the public about APD’s contact with nine (9) year old Victoria Martin and her family prior to the child’s brutal murder.
The details of the investigation were released during a meeting of the Police Oversight Board’s Case Review Committee.
Victoria Martens is the nine (9) year old child that was drugged, raped, murdered, mutilated, dismembered and burned allegedly by her mother, her mother’s boyfriend and his cousin.
The murder is one of the most heinous crimes in Albuquerque history of an innocent child, and the three (3) defendants are in custody pending a trial on multiple felony charges.
Five months before the child was killed, the Children Youth and Families Department (CYFD) had received a complaint that one of the mother’s boyfriends tried to kiss the nine (9) year old child which at the very least merited consideration and investigation for possible assault on a child or even child abuse.
CYFD said it did not investigate the allegation because the boyfriend was not a relative and did not live in the child’s home but CYFD reported the complaint to APD and turned it over to APD.
The CPOA investigation specifically found that no APD personnel ever visited nine (9) year old Victoria or her mother to investigate the allegations.
The CPOA investigation concluded that officer Fred Duran and civilian Celina Espinoza lied when they told a reporter earlier this year that APD detectives had investigated a report that the boyfriend of the child’s mother had tried to kiss the 10-year-old girl several months before she was murdered in August of 2016.
Joanne Fine, the Chair of the Police Oversight Board detailed the investigation’s conclusions before the entire board when she said:
“The investigation showed that absolutely officer D[uran] did lie, set up and lie[ed] about the involvement of APD” … That Celina Espinoza was not guilty of making up the lie; she was guilty of repeating the lie that she was told by officer D[uran]. But subsequently, she said that when she discovered the truth that she went to the chief and that she called the reporter. I don’t know if she went to the chief, but she did not call the reporter. The reporter called her.”
According to the CPOA investigation, APD officials were told last December that no department personnel investigated the child abuse allegations even though APD officer Fred Duran insisted to an Albuquerque Journal reporter in January that APD investigated the case.
What is very disturbing is that the CPOA investigation found that APD Chief Gorden Eden was told of the lie in January, but APD waited six weeks to tell the truth and only told the truth after being confronted by an Albuquerque Journal reporter.
The CPOA probe also found that it was a civilian APD employee who made the decision to not investigate the complaint regarding the boyfriend after the state’s Children Youth and Families Department made the referral to APD last year.
What the CPOA investigation found was that APD has no written policy on how to handle referrals about potential child abuse from CYFD and no one oversees the civilian who to determine whether the referral decision is the proper one.
INCONSISTENCIES IN TAPED INTERVIEWS
When you listen to the Albuquerque Journal interview tapes with the APD Public Information Officers, you quickly understand why so many people do not trust APD and why it has a serious credibility problems with the community.
There are six (6) major inconsistencies in the taped Journal interviews:
FIRST: Public Information Officer (PIO) Celina Espinoza told the Albuquerque Journal reporter that APD had investigated the CYFD report which was not true and was a total fabrication.
SECOND: Officer Fred Duran told the Journal reporter that APD detectives interviewed the child and her mother about the CYFD complaint.
Specifically, Fred Duran said “Detectives went and talked to the family and that’s where we got the information that the mother had taken care of the situation by telling the boyfriend to leave and not come back.”
Duran on the audio taped interview with the Journal reporter specifically says he was confident APD went out to the home, says he actually talked to the detectives and no reports were filed because no probable cause was found of a crime.
The truth is APD detectives never went to the child’s home, never interviewed the child and never interviewed the mother.
Had there been interviews, a written report would have been required and any statements given would have to be transcribed and attached to the written report as per APD standard operating procedures.
THIRD: When Fred Duran was asked specifically why APD Detectives made no police offense report about the investigation and interviews, Duran said no report was made because making such a report would violate the child victim’s rights and amount to “police surveillance”.
This is absolute nonsense. Interviews of potential victims and witnesses in a case by police is standard operating procedure in any criminal investigation and are not surveillance.
FOURTH: PIO Celina Espinoza contradicted PIO Fred Duran on her audio interview with the Journal by saying that no APD detectives went to the home and that they did not follow up on the CYFD complaint because APD policy dictates that APD officers only follow up on criminal allegations and that “a kiss in not a crime”.
Espinoza also said there were no reports filed because there was no evidence of a crime.
How would APD know if no crime was committed if APD Detectives never had contact or interviewed the child or the mother in the first place?
FIFTH: When the Journal asked about the contradicting information, a conference call was set up with Espinoza, Duran and the Journal reporter.
The Journal was told APD detectives did interview the family, the detective dealt with the reported kiss, but that they did not make any reports because there was no evidence of a crime.
The CPO Chair Fine specifically took issue that there was no evidence of a crime when it was pointed out that Officer Duran is a sworn officer, he should know the difference between not completing a kiss and an assault and they should have gone forward and done an investigation.
The Journal was told that the names of the detectives could not be released because they work on FBI high profile cases and releasing the detective’s names would jeopardize pending cases.
In the audio recording, Espinoza opines that “attempted kissing” is not a crime and there was no evidence of criminal sexual penetration.
Espinoza states that because there was no probable cause of a crime, no reports were required to be written by the detectives.
The truth is that police offense reports are public record, they contain the names of investigating officers, and the CYFD complaint had nothing to do with any federal charges.
SIXTH: PIO Espinoza says in the conference call “Everybody did everything they were suppose to” even though previously Espinoza had said APD detectives had not followed up on the complaint from CYFD.
Disciplinary recommendations made by the CPOA board include an 80-hour suspension for Officer Fred Duran and a reprimand for Public Information Officer Espinoza.
The CPOA investigation recommends that APD develop a written policy on how to deal with referrals from CYFD.
Given the serious nature of the allegations that APD failed to provide accurate information and lied to the public and the press, you would think the CPOA recommendations would be more serious.
What is tragic is that a child had to suffer and her life was taken in such a brutal manner when she possibly could have been saved had the CYFD Department and APD been a little more vigilant and dedicated to doing their jobs.