Keller Angers APD Oversight Progressives With Two Hires

Mayor Tim Keller has angered a number of progressives with the recent hiring of two high ranking officials and paying them six figure salaries to work for the Albuquerque Police Department (APD).

The first Keller appointment is Former United State Attorney Damon Martinez as the Senior Public Safety Advisor to APD Chief Michael Geier and as an APD policy writer.

The second appointment is Leonard Nerbetski to manage APD’s Real-Time Crime Center.

Keller’s Chief Administrative Officer Sarita Nair recently met with 20 police oversight activists, who represented community groups, including Black Lives Matter, Millions For Prisoners and Save the Kids who are highly critical of both appointments.

Many of the police oversight activists who met with CAO Nair took credit for and proclaimed they were instrumental in getting the Department of Justice to come to Albuquerque to investigate APD for excessive use of force and deadly force.

Many of the activists also worked on Tim Keller’s campaign to get him elected Mayor.

The group went as far as to demand that Damon Martinez be fired.

Many of the police oversight activists who met with CAO Nair told her bluntly that they worked hard to get Keller elected Mayor and many felt betrayed by Mayor Keller with both of the hires.

One activist went so far as to say she felt like she had been “punched in the gut” by Mayor Keller when he gave Damon Martinez a six-figure job.

The group expressed serious doubt about the commitment Leonard Nerbetski, who Keller appointed Director of APD’s Real Time Crime Center, to fully support the Department of Justice mandated reforms given his past record of civil rights violations and excessive use of force as a New Jersey State Trooper.


On October 18, 2018, the Keller Administration announced that former U.S. Attorney for New Mexico Damon Martinez was hired full time as a Senior Public Safety Advisor for APD Chief Michael Geier and to write APD police policy.

Damon Martinez is being paid $118,000 a year.

As US Attorney for New Mexico, Mr. Martinez was instrumental in leading the DOJ efforts to get the Albuquerque Police Department to agree to a reform effort and a Court Approved Settlement Agreement (CASA).

Mr. Martinez will also serve as APD’s primary civilian liaison with the 2nd Judicial District Attorney, 2nd Judicial District Court, the District Court for the District of New Mexico, tasks that are normally a function of the City Attorney.

Mr. Martinez is tasked with overseeing the development of strategic policies designed to improve APD’s ability to fight crime and ensure the successful prosecution of criminals.

The Keller Administration said Martinez was hired to help turn around a troubled APD Crimes Against Children Unit and modernize its evidence lab and he will help to craft APD policies.

Damon Martinez will not be involved with the ongoing APD reform efforts mandated by the Federal Court Approved Settlement Agreement (CASA).

CAO Nair told the police oversight activist during her meeting that the Keller Administration did not use a competitive hiring process or gather resumes to fill the newly created position filled by Damon Martinez and that Martinez approached city officials about a job.

Mr. Martinez recently ran for congress in the June 5, 2018 Democratic primary and came in second to progressive Democrat Debra Haaland for the Democratic nomination.

During his campaign for congress, Damon Martinez’s oversight and participation as United State Attorney in a four-month undercover operation by the federal bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) in southeast Albuquerque in the spring and summer of 2016 became a major issue and contributed to his loss.


To call the meeting the police oversight activists had with the CAO Sarita Nair over the hiring of Damon Martinez as being “heated” is a serious understatement of the true hostility expressed against Damon Martinez by many during the meeting because of the smear tactics and the false accusations made against him.

You can view the entire one-hour meeting with CAO Nair and the APD oversight activists at the below link to YOUTUBE:

The APD oversight activists used words like “outrageous” and “disgusting” to describe the hiring of Damon Martinez and calling Martinez “unqualified”.

One activist went so far as to say that Keller “hired the worst of the worse” with Damon Martinez inflicting on Albuquerque’s “communities of color” an unwarranted sting operation.

One activist noted that Keller campaigned on making the city safer, but Keller turned around and hired someone who targeted our “black and brown” communities.

One activist stated that Damon Martinez had the “audacity” to call himself a progressive during his recent congressional race accusing him of being the most conservative candidate in the field of 8 Democrats.

Damon Martinez was accused of being a “racist” with many “enemies within the community”.

Another activist bragged about and took credit for organizing opposition to Damon Martinez in his congressional race to make sure he would lose the election after polls showed he was the front runner.

The single most disturbing, inflammatory and in all likely false accusation made during the meeting about Damon Martinez was that he hired a CI, or confidential informant, to go to the home of an activist to shoot up her house with an automatic rifle so that he could hold onto power.

The group demanded Mayor Keller and CAO Nair “find a way to get rid of this guy”.

On October 27, 2018, Mayor Tim Keller announced that he was standing by his appointment of Damon Martinez and had this to say:

“[My] issues are with the ATF and the operation, and that’s who I believe is responsible for what happened there. I think for accusations like [racial profiling], I don’t agree … I don’t think [Damon Martinez] was directly involved in that. And I also believe that the ultimate decision on an issue that big should be a judge or something like that. I don’t think it’s really our place to judge whether or not he broke civil rights violations based on either my opinion or [anyone’s research].”


The 2016 ATF sting operation in the Southeast heights of Albuquerque was highly controversial leading to allegations of racial profiling as well as federal lawsuits.

A total of 103 people were arrested in the ATF sting operation, all mostly very low level drug users as opposed to major drug dealers.

Of the 103 arrested, 57.28% were Hispanic, 27.18% were African American, 14.56% were white (anglo) , and less than 1% were Native American.

There is a dramatic contrast between the arrests made and the city’s ethnic breakdown which led to the accusations of racial profiling.

According to the United States Census bureau, the ethnic breakdown of Albuquerque’s population is 46.7% Hispanic, 42% Anglo, 3% African American, and 4.6 Native American.

27.18% of the arrest made during the sting were African American, while African Americans comprise of only 3% of Albuquerque’s general population.

You can read New Mexico In Depth investigative reports here:

Accusations of racial profiling and admonitions from federal judges have occurred in other parts of the county against the very ATF team involved in the ATF sting operation in Albuquerque.

Damon Martinez defended the 2016 ATF Sting Operation saying ATF was invited to Albuquerque “in the middle of a crime wave” when APD was too short-handed to deal with it.

As United States Attorney, Martinez touted the large number of arrests made and argued that guns and drugs had been taken off the streets.

New Mexico In Depth Report (NMID), a nonpartisan, online news organization reported that Damon Martinez was among those who invited the ATF to Albuquerque to conduct the 2016 sting operation.

Federal documents obtained by NMID detail the U.S. Attorney’s’ Office specific roles in monitoring undercover ATF operations , including the use of confidential informants, such as the one carried out in Albuquerque.

What is problematic for Mayor Keller is that when he was running for Mayor, he condemned in no uncertain terms the 2016 ATF Sting operation calling it “racial profiling”.

During a mayoral forum hosted by the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), then candidate Tim Keller went so far as to condemn the ATF tactics saying they were “wrong” and the arrest were the result of racial profiling.


On October 18, 2018, Keller Administration and APD announced the recruiting and hiring of Leonard Nerbetski to manage APDs Real-Time Crime center.

Leonard Nerbetski is an out of state law enforcement veteran who has worked 20 plus years as a New Jersey State Trooper.

Real Crime Time Center Director Leonard Nerbetski was accused 19 years ago in lawsuits of using excessive force while conducting a traffic stop as a New Jersey state trooper.

In 1996, newly appointed APD Real Time Crime Center Leonard Nerbetski was accused of twisting the arm of an Egypt-born woman in her 20s and holding a gun to her head.

In 1999, Leonard Nerbetski was also named as one of two New Jersey State troopers accused of using excessive force and roughing up Laila Maher and Felix Morka, both minorities and both law students at the time, during a traffic stop on the New Jersey Turnpike.

The lawsuit, which also included racial profiling claims stemming from other incidents involving other troopers, was eventually settled, with the State of New Jersey paying out $750,000 in settlements.

While the State of New Jersey admitted to no wrongdoing under the settlements, the traffic stop involving Nerbetski and the other state troopers led to changes in how the New Jersey State Police handle complaints of misconduct.

On October 20, 2018, it was reported that APD and the Keller Administration were standing by its decision to hire Leonard Nerbetski to head up the real time crime center.

APD also said it would reach out to Leonard Nerbetski’s former employer to get more information about his background.

The Keller Administration said the Nerbetski hire came highly recommended by the Federal Court appointed Monitor.

CAO Sarita Nair during her meeting with police oversight activist notified the group that Leonard Nerbetski will not be a sworn police officer for APD but a civilian and will not carry a gun nor a badge and that he took a pay cut to come to Albuquerque.

CAO Nair told the activists that a national search was conducted for the position and by far Leonard Nerbetski “was the most qualified candidate” for the position because of his experience in running a real crime time crime center in New Jersey.

CAO Nair also said she was aware of Mr. Nerbetski’s past “excessive use of force” cases and that it did not matter because the incidents occurred 20 years ago.

The police oversight activists who met with CAO Nair found it very difficult to believe that no one else could be found who did not have a history of excessive use of force in their background.


With the hiring of former New Mexico United States Attorney Damon Martinez as policy writer for APD and Public Safety Advisor for the APD Chief, Mayor Keller did not understand or comprehend the extent to which he would anger many within the police oversight community and alienate many within the progressive base that elected him.

One police oversight activist who meet with CAO Nair predicted that if Mayor Keller decided to keep Damon Martinez and stick to the appointment it could turn into a “watershed moment” for Mayor Keller and cost Mayor Keller the support of a broad swath of the progressive base that helped Keller win by a landslide.

What is problematic for Damon Martinez is that his appointment looks to many city hall observers and APD insiders as nothing more than a political appointment to provide a six-figure paying job to a prominent Democrat who came in second in a congressional race.

Shawn Willoughby, the president of the Albuquerque Police Officers Association (APOA), had this to say about the hiring of Damon Martinez:

“[Martinez’s hiring] doesn’t make any sense. … It’s concerning for the APOA that the [Keller] administration would find it beneficial to hire an attorney who doesn’t have any extensive police policy writing in his background to deal with policies that aren’t related to the consent decree. … We are talking about policies that are very benign and that should be written and overseen by chief of police and his command staff. … policies about how cops wear their uniforms and take-home cars.”

A major problem for Mayor Keller is that he and his CAO Nair admitted that they never asked Mr. Martinez about the 2016 ATF sting operation in the Southeast heights, feeling that it was not important.

Notwithstanding the accusations leveled against Damon Martinez, Mr. Martinez is a seasoned and talented trial attorney needed within the City Attorney’s Office, not the Mayor’s Office and surely not in APD answering to the Chief of Police.

Mr. Martinez has far superior credentials to many of the appointments made by Mayor Tim Keller.

Another opinion expressed by APD insiders is that Damon Martinez has been relegated to a position far below his pay grade as an APD policy writer assigned to the Chief of Police as a Public Safety Advisor.

Mayor Keller has given Mr. Martinez very little authority to make meaningful decisions that will have an impact other than serving in a public relations position for the Keller Administration.

When Keller ran for Mayor, he said he wanted to reach out to the most vulnerable within our community and help the homeless community and those suffering from drug addictions, which is a progressive agenda.

The 2016 ATF sting operation, given the arrests made, was contrary to what Keller advocated as a candidate for Mayor and even now as Mayor.

It cannot be ignored or explained away, as Mayor Tim Keller is trying to do now, that Damon Martinez was involved and responsible for the 2016 ATF sting operation seeing that he invited ATF to Albuquerque and his office oversaw the operation and Martinez publicly expressed satisfaction with the operation.


The accusation made that Damon Martinez held himself out as a “progressive” during his Congressional race and accusing him of being the most conservative candidate in the field of 8 Democrats reflects remarks from people who do not really know Damon Martinez or have an axe to grind against him.

Given Mr. Martinez’s background, his years of experience as a public servant, his work as an attorney and military service to our country as a reserve officer, he was the most qualified person running for the first congressional district out of the 8 candidates running.

Being the most qualified candidate running for office has never guaranteed a win in an election, but only gets your foot in the door for consideration when running for office.

The majority of Damon Martinez’s career has been that of a US Federal prosecutor.

Damon Martinez is a progressive Democrat and he has worked for former US Senators Jeff Bingaman and Tom Udall in Washington, DC and was appointed New Mexico’s US Attorney by President Barack Obama, all three who are progressive as they come.

Damon Martinez is no “Bernie Sanders” progressive, but he is a Progressive Democrat.

Bernie Sanders is a Socialist Independent, and has never been a Democrat, even though he sought the Democratic nomination for President.

The progressive wing of the New Mexico Democrat strongly supported Bernie Sanders for President in 2016 over Democrat nominee Hillary Clinton and the divisions within the Democratic party still remain.

The progressive wing of the New Mexico Democratic all to often shuns and at times condemns anyone who is viewed as not “progressive enough” in their eyes, which is the perception many progressives have of Damon Martinez because he is a career prosecutor.

To accuse Damon Martinez of being a racist and committing a crime of hiring someone to shoot up a person’s home is disgraceful and should be condemned and not tolerated, even by Bernie Sander Democrats.

CAO Sarita Nair failed to fully explain the rationale for hiring Damon Martinez but what was most egregious is she allowed many slanderous statements to be made without taking exception or demanding proof claiming she attended the meeting only to listen.


The hiring of Leonard Nebreski’s as the Director of the Real Time Center hires contradict what Mayor Keller said on the campaign trail to get votes by advocating APD reforms to prevent excessive use of force and deadly force versus what he is doing now with the hiring of Leonard Nebreski.

Law enforcement bad habits, attitudes and philosophy are difficult to overcomer, even with new training.

Leonard Nebreski is now part of APD management but with his own history of use of force costing taxpayers thousands of dollars.

What is very troubling is that CAO Sarita Nair admitted that the Keller Administration was fully aware of Real Time Crime Center Director Leonard Nebreski’s past regarding the civil lawsuits for excessive use of force while he was a New Jersey state trooper, but it did not matter to them when it should have.

Mayor Keller and CAO Nair have essentially said the public needs to look the other way when it comes to the hire because what he was accused of happened 19 years ago as a state trooper and he is a now management hire.

The Keller Administration prefers to ignore that the conduct led to changes in how state police handle complaints of misconduct so the conduct must have been pretty egregious and then it did not result in much of an Internal Affairs investigation.

This is the type of hire and justification for the hire that creates a credibility gap with the public and the Keller Administration that proclaims it is doing a stringent vetting process.

The city cannot afford to pay another $61 million in police misconduct cases for excessive use of force and deadly force cases nor have anyone in APD management who has a history of excessive use of force and who may have no problem with such conduct and who may look the other way when it does happen.


Not at all surprising is that Mayor Tim Keller is standing by his appointments of Damon Martinez and Leonard Nebreski to their respective positions.

What remains to be seen is their job performance.

What also remains to be seen is how long Mayor Tim Keller will stand by his appointments out of sense of loyalty if there is a poor job performance and creating controversy that may affect Keller’s own approval rating as Mayor.

A message that should be conveyed loud and clear by Mayor Keller to police oversight advocates is that making false accusation of racism and malicious false accusation of criminal activity of threats has no place in any discussion involving any one appointed to a position within APD.

Only time will tell if both hires were good hires by Mayor Tim Keller.

This entry was posted in Opinions by . Bookmark the permalink.


Pete Dinelli was born and raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He is of Italian and Hispanic descent. He is a 1970 graduate of Del Norte High School, a 1974 graduate of Eastern New Mexico University with a Bachelor's Degree in Business Administration and a 1977 graduate of St. Mary's School of Law, San Antonio, Texas. Pete has a 40 year history of community involvement and service as an elected and appointed official and as a practicing attorney in Albuquerque. Pete and his wife Betty Case Dinelli have been married since 1984 and they have two adult sons, Mark, who is an attorney and George, who is an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT). Pete has been a licensed New Mexico attorney since 1978. Pete has over 27 years of municipal and state government service. Pete’s service to Albuquerque has been extensive. He has been an elected Albuquerque City Councilor, serving as Vice President. He has served as a Worker’s Compensation Judge with Statewide jurisdiction. Pete has been a prosecutor for 15 years and has served as a Bernalillo County Chief Deputy District Attorney, as an Assistant Attorney General and Assistant District Attorney and as a Deputy City Attorney. For eight years, Pete was employed with the City of Albuquerque both as a Deputy City Attorney and Chief Public Safety Officer overseeing the city departments of police, fire, 911 emergency call center and the emergency operations center. While with the City of Albuquerque Legal Department, Pete served as Director of the Safe City Strike Force and Interim Director of the 911 Emergency Operations Center. Pete’s community involvement includes being a past President of the Albuquerque Kiwanis Club, past President of the Our Lady of Fatima School Board, and Board of Directors of the Albuquerque Museum Foundation.