On Sunday, August 16, 2020, the Albuquerque Journal published what can only be considered the most scathing editorial against APD command staff and Mayor Tim Keller in some time. The editorial comes on the heels of two front-page stories of APD Chief of Staff John Ross being investigated by Internal Affairs for improper conduct and the the release of APD’s tactical plan for the June 15 protest over the Juan de Onate statute. Below is the Journal editorial in full with the link provided followed by further Commentary and Analysis:
Editorial: It’s high time for APD brass to clean up their act
BY ALBUQUERQUE JOURNAL EDITORIAL BOARD
Sunday, August 16th, 2020 at 12:02am
“Are the wheels coming off at the highest levels of the Albuquerque Police Department?
It sure looks that way in light of recent events that portray department leadership as inept and dysfunctional, with a touch of possible corruption and administrative meddling by the Mayor’s Office thrown in for good measure.
The issues here range from riot planning to doggie doo – with a lot in between.
It took awhile, but APD finally released crucial information on how it planned to react, or mostly not, during the June 15 protest over the Juan de Oñate statue at the Albuquerque Museum that ended in chaos and gunfire.
Having learned little from taking a mostly hands-off approach to rioting and looting May 31 that still has much of Central Avenue Downtown boarded up with plywood (many preemptively to prevent damage), APD’s tactical plan had officers in riot control gear holding back, out of sight unless there was a threat to “life or if major property damage occurs.”
The kicker? The plan didn’t consider the Oñate statue by renowned artist Sonny Rivera to be property worth protecting. So in essence APD was fine with protesters armed with pickaxes and chains taking down the statue, so long as they didn’t try to set the museum on fire.
Of course that wasn’t OK with Oñate supporters and members of the so-called Civil Guard. A counter protester, Steven Baca, eventually fired a handgun, seriously wounding a protester.
District Attorney Raul Torrez adds APD bungled the shooting investigation, and State Police have stepped in.
The responsibility for this debacle lands squarely at the doors of Chief Michael Geier, and the person who hired him, Mayor Tim Keller.
Meanwhile, a Journal story published Thursday by reporter Elise Kaplan – who also filed the public records requests and wrote the APD Oñate plan story – lays out a scenario that comes close to the “you can’t make it up” threshold.
Among other things, it involves allegations Geier’s chief of staff, John Ross, bypassed city rules to buy a $2,400 Apple laptop computer and a $200 Apple TV box that didn’t appear to have any work purpose. And, Geier said, he found out that Ross – who moved to APD with Geier from Rio Rancho – was trying to buy himself a ballistic vest from a vendor who hadn’t been approved yet.
Geier didn’t put Ross on administrative leave – as he should have – but ordered up an investigation, saying he believed Ross may have violated standard operating procedures along with altering or making false statements in reports and failing to safeguard department property.
Ross allegedly used Geier’s signature stamp – which now supposedly is locked up in the chief’s desk – to make purchases.
The person who dropped the dime on Ross was Geier’s secretary, Paulette Diaz, who for her troubles has been temporarily transferred to Animal Welfare and is lawyered up with a former APD officer-turned-attorney.
So Ross is still holding forth at headquarters while his accuser is over with the dogs. The city says it’s typical to move people administratively while such matters are being investigated, but that begs the question of why she was moved and Ross wasn’t.
The Ross-Geier-Diaz matter has a lot more to it. Diaz claims Ross wrangled himself a “significant” pay raise without the chief’s approval by lobbying Chief Administrative Officer Sarita Nair and says Keller and Nair gave Geier conflicting directives on how to address issues with Ross. According to the city website, Ross is now making about $140,000 a year, just $5,000 less than a deputy chief.
Geier, perhaps predictably, doesn’t recall signing off on the raise because he signs a lot of stuff, but in a memo he says he reminded Ross of earlier conversations about “the possible implications of receiving such a large raise.”
And then there is Sophie. That would be Ross’ dog, who according to a memo from Diaz, came to work with Ross because his wife wouldn’t let the pup stay at home. “The dog’s behavior became more unmanageable, and she was aggressive toward people, including employees and visitors,” Diaz wrote in a memo to the chief. “In addition, Sophie would poop and pee on the carpet in the offices.”
With all the above going on, why should the public have confidence this Keystone Kops-like leadership can do its job investigating two fatal shootings by officers in the past week?
APD performs perhaps the single most important function in city government. Public safety. And it has a budget of roughly $200 million and about 1,000 sworn officers to do its job. The rank-and-file on the mean streets of this city deserve so much better than they are getting from leadership.
Keller needs to step up and publicly say how his administration intends to right the ship at APD. Is he confident Geier is the right person to lead at this point? And is Geier even being allowed to lead, for that matter? Keller should say so, and clearly.
No more maneuvering. The City Council should weigh in as well.
These elected officials and Geier are accountable to the public. It’s past time for them to report to their bosses.”
BACKGROUND EMAILS DETAILING NEFARIOUS CONDUCT
On July 13, Chief Geier’s Administrative Support Coordinator Paulette R. Diaz sent Chief Geier an interoffice memo alleging Chief of Staff John Ross was “abusing his position for what appears to be [for] personal gain or otherwise evading [Standing Operating Procedures and] City procedures.” The memo was sent only after she met with Geier in private and believed that the complaints were serious enough to place in writing and to document the incidents. The Keller Administration order the transfer Paulette R. Diaz from the Chief’s Office to the Animal Control Department.
The link to the entire 7 page memo is here:
On July 20, Chief Geier forwarded the Diaz memo to APD’s Internal Affairs unit asking for an investigation into his Chief of Staff Ross. Chief Geier essentially confirmed Diaz’s allegations in his memo to Internal Affairs and offered an explanation. Geier’s Administrative Support Coordinator Paulette R. Diaz.
The link to Chief Geier’s memo to Internal Affairs is here:
On Thursday, August 13, the Albuquerque Journal on its front page and the on line news agency ABQ Reports published reports that APD Chief of Staff John Ross, who was hired by APD Chief Michael Geier, is under investigation by APD’s Internal Affairs Department for a series of nefarious conduct. Notwithstanding, the Chief of Staff is still on duty and the person who reported the incidents has been moved from APD to Animal Welfare.
In response to questions about the transfer of Diaz, City Attorney Esteban Aguilar Jr. said APD administrative investigations are a routine process to determine whether employees followed policies. City Attorney Aguilar had this to say:
“Temporary reassignment of employees is a common option to protect both sides during an investigation and is not retaliatory Unclassified, exempt employees are also subject to reassignment or other status changes at any time. Here, the allegations being investigated have to do with the compromise of confidential information, so reassignment is advisable.”
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
The litany of complaints by Paulette Diaz can only be characterized as abuse of authority for personal and financial gain by John Ross. If there is any truth to any of the allegations, it is a reflection of greed and self-entitlement that any one of APD’s high command can do whatever they want, whenever they want, and get away with it with a double standard for subordinates such as Paulette Diaz.
Bypassing the city’s purchasing procedures and ordinances is extremely serious. It is an abuse of authority and under the State and City purchasing code and ordinances is a misdemeanor. What is far more serious is the unauthorized use of a signature stamp and pad for memos and documents without Chief Geier’s knowledge or coercing another employee. If true, such conduct can be characterized as forgery or fraud to secure personal gain, and any prosecutor worth their salary would bring criminal charges for such conduct.
APD COMMAND STAFF HAVE BECOME A “MASH UNIT”
Chief Geier’s memo to the Internal Affairs is tantamount to a defense of his Chief of Staff to avoid any disciplinary action. The facts that Geier and CAO Sarita Nair have not placed Ross on Administrative Leave without pay until the IA investigation is completed, have not ordered Ross to return the $2,400 laptop, nor have they rescinded the pay raise are clear indications they intend to do absolutely nothing. What is even more troubling is that it was Paulette R. Diaz, who likely falls under the legal definition of a whistle blower, has been transferred to a completely different department, the Animal Welfare Department.
When Chief Geier says “I did not remember seeing the actual amount of the raise being listed on his memo or did not look at it with any scrutiny since I trusted John” you can only envision that John Ross is APD’s version of “Radar” O’Reilly and APD Chief Geier is APD’s version of clueless Lieut. Col. Henry Blake on the TV series MASH where Pvt. Radar O’Reilly was always slipping orders and documents to be signed and not read by Col. Blake.
POLITICIZING A LAW ENFORCEMENT DEPARTMENT
When Diaz makes references of interference from Mayor Tim Keller and CAO Sarita Nair, saying they have provided Geier with conflicting directives about how to address the issues with Chief of Staff John Ross, it is clear proof that the CAO and the Mayor are getting involved into the minutia of enforcing personnel rules and regulations which is very troubling. Diaz wrote:
“Those directives do not support you running this department and the Mayor’s office should not be entertaining private discussions with John, or even [Deputy Chief of Police] Medina for that matter, that run contrary to adherence to the chain of command or are done for their own personal reasons.”
The transfer of Paulette Diaz form the 5th floor Offices of APD’s Main Office as Chief Geier’s Administrative Support to the Animal Control Department, and the comments made by City Attorney Estaban Aguilar and APD Spokesman Gilbert Gallegos smack of political retaliation against a whistle blower.
The Chief Administrative Officer Sarita Nair does have the duty and responsibility to enforce the city’s personnel rules and regulations. However, no Mayor has any business getting involved with personnel matters as described by Diaz and it smacks of political influence over a department that should be devoid of politics. Chief Geier has over 40 years of experience in law enforcement and is a former Rio Rancho Police Chief, he should know what he is doing when managing the Department, yet Nair and Keller, neither who has ever managed a law enforcement department and getting involved, sends the wrong message to APD’s chain of command.
REPUGNANT COMMENT REFLECTING INCOMPETENCE
After reading both the July 13 memo to Chief Geier from Paulette R. Diaz and Chief Geier’s to APD’s Internal Affairs unit asking for an investigation into his Chief of Staff Ross, it’s downright repugnant that APD Chief Michael Geier would actually say “This is nothing more than petty water-cooler talk.”
If APD Chief Geier actually feels that way, Chief Geier needs to be thanked for his services by Mayor Tim Keller and be terminated along with his Chief of Staff John Ross. Mayor Tim Keller needs to get hold of a broom and sweep all of Sophie the dogs “dog poop” from the 5th floor along with APD’s Chief, Deputy Chief’s and the Chief of Staff.
For a related blog article see:
A Police Chief Of Staff Engaging In Nefarious Conduct For Financial and Personal Gain Is Not “Petty Water Cooler Talk”; Geier Needs To Go And Take His Chief of Staff With Him