This blog article reports on the November 19, 2019 murder of Jacqueline Vigil, age 55, the mother of two New Mexico State Police officers. Vigil’s slaying became Albuquerque’s highest profile unsolved homicide for 8 months until the FBI stepped in to help. APD never made an arrest in the case, but the FBI made 5 arrests.
This blog article is an in-depth report how the murder investigation became embroiled in a turf battle to claim credit for solving the case. The backdrop is a Presidential election year with Mayor Tim Keller and Chief Michael Geier engaging in political gamesmanship and winding up with egg on their faces.
For 8 months, the murder of Jacqueline Vigil was reported as unsolved by the Albuquerque Police Department (APD). It has now been reported that a suspect had been identified in January, 2020 by the APD homicide unit, a fact never disclosed to the family by APD. In August, it was finally disclosed to the family by the New Mexico United States Attorney but only after a Presidential Press conference where the husband of the victim was used for public relations to offer a $25,000 reward for someone already identified and in custody since January.
DETAILS OF MURDER REVEALED IN FBI AFFIDAVIT
In the early morning of November 19, 2019 at 5:00 am, Jacqueline Vigil, the mother of two New Mexico State Police officers, was murdered in her car as she tried to leave her home for the gym. At the time, two violent criminal suspects were roaming the area casing the neighborhood for something to steal. The murder shocked the city to its core in that there was no obvious motive for the killing. Rumors ran rampant that the murder was about retaliation against law enforcement involving the victims two sons.
According to the FBI, information was obtained from multiple sources, including APD homicide detectives and special agents with the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office that lead to identifying Luis Talamantes as the prime suspect in the murder of Jacqueline Vigil. Talamantes is identified as a member of Juaritos Maravilla, a street gang operating in Albuquerque.
In a sworn affidavit filed in a pending immigration case to support criminal charges against Talamantes, FBI Special Agent Bryan Acee provides a detailed account of Luis Talamantes activities in Albuquerque. Talamantes was in the United States illegally. For two months he engaged in a crime spree that ended with the killing of Jacqueline Vigil. After killing Vigil , Talamantes fled New Mexico and was picked up by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents in San Antonio, Texas after the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) received a number of Crime Stoppers tips.
FBI Agent Acee reported what happen that fatal day to Jacqueline Vigil. At 5:00 am on November 19, 2019, Vigil was leaving her garage in her car when she apparently noticed a vehicle parked on the street behind her blocking her exit. She hit her car’s horn, alerting her husband, Sam Vigil, who was in the house. By the time he went outside, he saw the vehicle speeding away. Sam Vigil found his wife of 18 years slumped over in the driver’s seat dead and he called 911.
FBI Agent Bryan Acee wrote in his affidavit:
“On this particular morning, Jacqueline Vigil suffered the tragic misfortune of opening her garage door and backing her car onto her driveway at the same time defendant was lurking nearby as he was looking for items to steal. … Talamantes approached the driver’s side door and likely tried to open the car door. Because the vehicle was in reverse, the doors were locked and Talamantes could not open the door. For reasons unknown, Talamantes stood just outside Jacqueline Vigil’s driver side window, leveled his pistol at her head, and pulled the trigger. Jacqueline Vigil was struck in the head and succumbed to her wounds.”
Seconds after Jacqueline Vigil was shot at close range killing her, the assailants sped away from her home so fast they blew a tire on their Jeep Cherokee. Around the corner from the Vigil home where the shooting occurred, and in the dark, and while Vigil’s husband, paramedics, police and others responded to the crime scene, Talamantes and his accomplice realized they had no spare tire for the Jeep. They stole a tire from a parked vehicle, changed out the flat, and made getaway without getting caught. APD found the blown-out tire, seized it and processed it for evidence including for fingerprints.
Notwithstanding all the evidence gathered, APD never made an arrest. The evidence gathered in the case by APD includes witness statements and ballistics that matched a bullet casing from the scene of the homicide to a casing found days later outside Talamantes’ Jeep Cherokee. There are several recorded phone calls that includes one where Talamantes “confessed” to an inmate at the Metropolitan Detention Center later the day of the killing. Talamantes told a jail inmate over the phone that he “had messed up and what happened was not supposed to happen.” He also allegedly confessed to someone else, saying he had “blacked out” during the incident and was going to San Antonio, Texas, to “lay low.”
FBI INVOLVEMENT IN PROSECUTING CASE
In July, the Albuquerque FBI violent crimes task force partnered with APD’s homicide unit and the office of Bernalillo County District Attorney Raúl Torrez to investigate Vigil’s murder. According to an FBI affidavit, “specific violent crimes [including] a string of firearm-related crimes that occurred in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in and around the time of the [Vigil] homicide” were being investigated. The FBI investigation “focused on firearm-related crimes perpetrated by a group of repeat offenders who are affiliated with a violent southeast Albuquerque gang … [known as the Juaritos Maravilla].”
On August 11, Luis Talamantes, age 33, was to be sentenced for the illegal reentry into the Unites State for 4TH time. The United State Attorney’s Office sought a continuance because of new evidence that Talamantes was involved with the killing of Jacqueline Vigil. On August 19, Luis Talamantes was identified in federal court records as the primary suspect in Jacqueline Vigil’s murder.
According to the court filings in U.S. District Court in San Antonio, Texas, Talamantes has been in federal custody in Texas since late January on felony immigration charges for his fourth illegal reentry into the United States from Mexico. The husband and family of Jacqueline Vigil were not told until August that Luis Talamantes had been identified as a suspect in January and that he was in custody. APD never told the Vigil family that Talamantes had been in custody since January. The family were eventually told by United States Attorney John Anderson in August.
Federal criminal complaints have been filed against Talamantes’ two sisters, a nephew and an alleged criminal gang associate. All 4 are being held in federal custody on charges relating to immigration crimes, firearms and drugs. Charges for illegal re-entry into the United Sates have been filed against Talamantes’ sisters, Elizabeth Zamora and Veronica Villela-Romero. Zamora is also charged with drug and firearms offenses. Zamora, who has been deported from the United States to Mexico twice since 2007, is alleged to have helped her brother Talamantes flee to San Antonio, Texas, after the murder. Zamora’s criminal complaint alleges that Talamantes was deported to Mexico for the third time in early September 2019, but returned “a few days later” to live with his sisters in Albuquerque.
Villela-Romero is also accused by Bernalillo County sheriff’s investigators of intimidating a witness in Vigil’s homicide. Zamora’s son, Ricardo Barron Jr., is charged with possession with intent to distribute marijuana and knowingly leasing, renting, using or maintaining a place for the purpose of manufacturing, distributing or using any controlled substance. The fourth defendant, Eduardo Aguilar, aka “Lalo,” is charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm and ammunition.
PENDING SENTENCING IN IMMIGRATION CASE
Based on his criminal history, Talamantes is facing a federal sentence ranging from 4 years to 5 years in federal prison for illegal reentry. The United States Attorney’s office is requesting the Federal judge to deviate from federal sentencing guidelines and impose a sentence of 20 years in prison in light of the Vigil homicide. Talamantes’ federal sentencing has been postponed until September
Luis Talamantes felony criminal record includes arrests in Colorado and Albuquerque for domestic violence, criminal damage to property, aggravated stalking, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, receiving stolen property, shooting at a dwelling or occupied building and commercial burglary, with convictions dating back to 2006. Talamantes has served time in both state and federal prison.
Luis Talamantes has not been charged by state or federal prosecutors in Albuquerque for the murder of Jacqueline Vigil but such charges are highly likely after Talamantes is sentenced in the immigration case. Bernalillo County District Attorney Raul Torrez has pledged to file murder charges against Talamantes, yet APD has not sent his office the completed case.
SEVEN MONTH DELAY IN NOTIFYING FAMILY SUSPECT INDENTIFIED
It was reported that the family of Jacqueline Vigil, including her husband Sam B. Vigil and their two sons, who are NM State Police Officers, were never told by APD that Luis Talamantes had been identified back in January as the primary suspect in the homicide nor that Talamantes had been in federal detention in Texas for months. Sam Vigil said he would get regular calls from APD reminding him detectives were working the case but he was left “with that anxiety that not enough was being done.” According to Vigil, it was in July when the FBI-led Operation Legend took over the investigation that he began to see progress.
On Wednesday, August 19, Sam Vigil received a phone call from U.S. Attorney for New Mexico John Anderson. Vigil was told by Anderson that Luis Talamantes, had been picked up and arrested back in January based on a number of anonymous tips to Albuquerque Police Crime Stoppers in the weeks after the November 19, 2019 murder of Jacqueline Vigil.
On December 18, 2019 at a news conference in Detroit, Michigan, US Attorney General William Barr announced that the Department of Justice (DOJ) was initiating a major crackdown aimed at driving down violent crime in 7 of the nation’s most violent cities in the country. Albuquerque was one of those cities. The other 6 cities are Detroit, Baltimore, Cleveland, Kansas City, Memphis and Milwaukee.
All 7 cities have violent crime rates significantly higher and above the national average. AG Bar dubbed the initiative “Operation Relentless Pursuit”. The federal agencies that were identified to participate and be involved were the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and the U.S. Marshals Service.
While US Attorney General William Barr was having his press conference in Detroit, Michigan, U.S. Attorney for New Mexico John Anderson had his own in Albuquerque and explained what the money will mean for Albuquerque and said:
“We are committed to bringing the weight of federal charges against the most dangerous violent criminals plaguing our city. … We will deploy all the tools at our disposal to bring an end to the plight of gun violence in our city.”
Full implementation of “Operation Relentless Pursuit” was halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic. After the passage of six months, “Operation Relentless Pursuit” was renamed and called “Operation Legend”. It was on Wednesday, July 21, 2020 President Donald Trump and Attorney General William Barr announced during a White House news conference that 35 federal agents were being sent to Albuquerque as part of “Operation Legend” with the very same 6 other cities sent law enforcement agents to deal with violent crimes.
The murder of Jacqueline Vigil was highlighted during the July 21 Presidential Press conference. Sam Vigil, Jacqueline’s husband, spoke emotionally and recounted during the press conference the day his wife was killed. It was reported that no arrests had been made in the murder at the time, but federal authorities offered a $25,000 reward.
Sam Vigil said:
“It’s been eight months and there have been no arrests at all. … There are other victims in Albuquerque that are in the same boat.”
Immediately after President Trump’s press conference, U.S. Attorney for New Mexico John Anderson, who was present, said the goal of the operation is to reduce gun violence in Albuquerque and had this to say:
“Any effort to compare Operation Legend to what’s going on in Portland is baseless and misguided. … There is no connection between those two. The federal law enforcement resources that are being deployed are directed at reducing gun violence; they are not directed at arresting or controlling protesters; they are not being directed at restricting anyone’s right to protest. … They are not being directed at immigration enforcement, and they are not being directed at protecting statues. It’s limited to the exclusive goal of eliminating the scourge of gun violence.”
Jim Langenberg, the FBI special agent in charge of the Albuquerque Division, added that if there’s a crime, there has to be a federal link like firearms, carjacking, drugs or gang structure. In other words, there must be a federal crime. What was made clear is the law enforcement personnel would not be attending local protests dressed in military garb as was the case in Portland Oregon.
The FBI said federal agents will be working in plainclothes alongside APD and BCSO for pre-existing task forces. Those task forces could be the joint task force “Operation Relentless Pursuit,” which aims to take high-profiled criminals off the streets. It’s an initiative U.S. Attorney General William Barr established in Albuquerque in 2019.
MAYOR KELLER AND APD CHIEF GEIER REACT TO “OPERATION LEGEND”
In a statement reacting to Operation Legend announcement by President Trump, Mayor Tim Keller said Trump was ready to incite violence in Democratic cities and is forming a reelection strategy “built on gaslighting immigrants and people of color ” and said:
“We always welcome partnerships in constitutional crime fighting that are in step with our community, but we won’t sell out our city for a bait and switch excuse to send secret police to Albuquerque. Operation Legend is not real crime fighting; it’s politics standing in the way of police work and makes us less safe. … There’s no place for Trump’s secret police in our city. … If this was more than a stunt, these politicians would support constitutional crime-fighting efforts that work for our community, not turning Albuquerque into a federal police state.”
APD Chief Michael Geier said:
“We coordinate with our federal law enforcement partners every day. … What is being described is not real crime-fighting; it’s politics standing in the way of police work.”
MAYOR KELLER AND CHIEF GEIER REACT TO TALAMANTES INVESTIGATION AND ARREST
On August 19, Mayor Tim Keller and Chief Michael Geier released the following statements reacting to the arrest and custody Luis Talamantes.
Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller statement
“This senseless murder shook Albuquerque because we all felt the loss of Jacqueline Vigil. We vowed to bring the killer to justice and to continue the fight against violent criminals in our city. For many months we have been aware that we were making real progress on the case but couldn’t comment publicly, or push back on a lot of myths being said about our police department. We are fortunate that APD has been doing the hard work over the last nine months to identify a suspect and ensure he was locked up and not able to commit additional crimes while they investigated the murder. We are all calling again on the prosecutors to move this case forward swiftly so the killer is brought to justice for the harm he has caused to our community.”
APD Chief Michael Geier statement
“For the last nine months, our homicide detectives used many of their investigative tools, including our aggressive tracking of guns used in crimes, to build a case, and track down the suspect in Texas. We also benefited from Crimestoppers and productive tips from concerned citizens, to assist detectives. While we haven’t been able to publicly discuss this investigation, I hope the people of Albuquerque realize that we don’t give up on victims of violent crime.”
KELLER SAYS “GET IT IN WRITING”
On August 18, in a press conference, Mayor Tim Keller discussed a wide range of topics dealing with crime, including Operation Legend. The city was offered financial help to combat crime if it participated in Operation Legend. Mayor Keller had the city decline the help because he did not believe Operation Legend is in line with the “values” of the city.
During the August 18 press conference, Mayor Keller said he is not aware of any federal agent doing anything out of line with the city’s values and said:
“The federal government can do what they want to do and not tell the mayor about it. … So, I’m just saying I have not heard anything, but that’s all I can speak to. I can’t speak for those organizations.”
Keller said he is willing to work with federal agencies if he has something in writing that states that their objective aligns with the city’s values.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
Pathetic. Keller says that ‘Operation Legend” is “not in line with the values of the city.” What the hell does Mayor Keller mean by that statement? The purpose and value of law enforcement is to keep people safe and arrest and prosecute violent criminals. The August 19 statements issued by Mayor Tim Keller and APD Chief Michael Geier regarding the FBI actions against Luis Talamantes can only be described as them wiping the egg off their faces for embarrassment of not being able to do what the feds did for the city: arrest a violent felon.
Instead of thanking the FBI and the United State Attorney’s Office in the immigration case, Keller and Geier were far more interested in making sure APD got all the credit for the work they performed. It would have been just as easy to thank the feds and said APD was delighted to have helped and outline what APD did to help. Instead, the statements came across as petty for not being able to take credit for making arrests in the case.
It is painfully obvious that Mayor Tim Keller is very sensitive as to who should get credit when he said that Luis Talamantes was:
“identified and arrested as a result of the work of APD homicide detectives long before Operation Legend and the U.S. Attorney got involved . … For many months, we have been aware that we were making real progress on the case but couldn’t comment publicly, or push back on a lot of myths being said about our police department.”
It is also very pathetic that APD Chief Michael Geier felt it was necessary to educate the public that APD does not give up on violent crime victim’s even though APD’s clearance rate is an embarrassment. Unsolved and pending homicide cases is essentially a message to victims’ families that APD is not up to the task of doing its job.
When Mayor Tim Keller and Chief Michael Geier issued both of their press releases regarding the arrest and prosecution of Luis Talamantes, it would have been decent for them to acknowledge that their fears they expressed of “Operation Legend” simply have not materialized. The City and APD are in fact benefiting from the additional and traditional federal resources that have been sent to combat crime.
The Talamante investigation and arrest makes it clear that “Operation Legend” is not a “bait and switch excuse to send secret police to Albuquerque” as Mayor Keller asserted. “Operartion Legend” is indeed “real crime” fighting contrary to what Chief Geier asserted. When federal law enforcement makes an arrest, it’s the federal criminal justice system that kicks in. The federal penalties and sentencing are much stiffer than the state. Federal help also brings new resources to the crime fighting effort, such as the FBI’s $25,000 reward for information about the murder of a Jacqueline Vigil
REALITY IS NOT MYTH
The reality is that Albuquerque is not Portland. If anything, the protests in Albuquerque have subsided significantly. Those protests that do occur are peaceful and there are no armed troops on the streets of Albuquerque to quell protests like that in Portland for 50 straight days. Simply put, the city needs help from the federal law enforcement to deal with its high crime rates.
The problem for Keller and Geier is that it’s no myth but a sobering reality that for the past two years during their time at the helm of APD, the homicide clearance percentage rate has been in the 50%-60% range. According to the proposed 2018-2019 APD City Budget, in 2016 the APD homicide clearance rate was 80%. In 2017, Mayor Berry’s last year in office, the clearance rate was 70%. In 2018, the first year of Keller’s term, the homicide clearance rate was 56%. In 2019, the second year of Keller’s term, the homicide clearance rate was 52.5%, the lowest clearance rate in the last decade.
What is also no myth is that the city’s homicide rates have continued to spike during Mayor Tim Keller’s term in office. In 2018, during Mayor Keller’s first full year in office, there were 69 homicides. In 2019, during Mayor Keller’s second full year in office, there were 82 homicides. Albuquerque had more homicides in 2019 than in any other year in the city’s history. The previous high was 72, in 2017 under Mayor RJ Berry. Another high mark was in 1996, when the city had 70 homicides.
As of August 22, there have been 50 homicides reported in Albuquerque for 2020. With 50 murders thus far for 2020, the city is on track to match or exceed the all-time record of 80 homicides in one year or come very close to it by the end of the year.
VIOLENT CRIME RATES
What is no myth is that the city’s violent crime rates continue to increase during Keller’s term. In 2017, during Mayor RJ Berry’s last full year in office, there were 7,686. There were 4,213 Aggravated Assaults and 470 Non-Fatal Shootings. In 2018 during Mayor Keller’ first full year in office, there were 6,789 violent crimes There were 3,885 Aggravated Assaults and 491 Non-Fatal Shootings.
In 2019, the category of “Violent Crimes” was replaced with the category of “Crimes Against Persons” and the category includes homicide, human trafficking, kidnapping and assault. In 2019 during Keller’s second full year in office, Crimes Against Persons increased from 14,845 to 14,971, or a 1% increase. The Crimes Against Person category had the biggest rises in Aggravated Assaults increasing from 5,179 to 5,397.
HEIGHT OF CRUELTY TO KEEP FAMILY IN DARK IN ORDER TO USE THEM AS POLITICAL PROPS
The murder of Jacqueline Vigil was without a doubt was one of the most vile and heinous murders seen in Albuquerque in recent memory. However, there is absolutely nothing more disgusting than a politician and prosecutors such as Trump and Barr and United States Attorney John Anderson to use victims of crime or victim’s family as props to score political points, especially for a President of the United States exposing them to the glare of the national media.
That is exactly what happened on July 21, 2020 when President Donald Trump and Attorney General William Barr, with United States Attorney for New Mexico John Anderson present, announced during a White House news conference that 35 federal agents were being sent to Albuquerque as part of “Operation Legend”. When Sam Vigil, the husband of Jacqueline Vigil, was asked to speak and talk about her murder, he was not told before he spoke that a suspect had been in custody since January.
Trump and Barr have no decency. It is doubted that they had any real empathy nor can understand the pain the Jacquelin Vigil family was going through. Exposing the Vigil family to the national news spotlight at the White House, having them recount the murder of a love one without telling them a suspect was in custody and to announce funding and law enforcement initiatives was just plain cruel.
United States Attorney for New Mexico John Anderson was underhanded and equally cruel when he also did not tell the Vigil family that Talamantes was in custody with Anderson in all likely knowing full well his office would be taking action against Talamante in his immigration case. It is now obvious that the $25,000 reward offered by the FBI in the Vigil case was nothing more than a fraud for the benefit of the press. Rewards are not offered when a suspect is identified and in custody.
What was also cruel was for APD not tell the family that they had identified back in January a primary suspect in the homicide and that person had been in federal detention in Texas for months. The family of Jacqueline Vigil did not have to be told the name, but could have been given far more assurances than they had as they wanted and hoped for justice to be served. It is highly likely that the family could have been entrusted with far more information than normally under such circumstances given the fact that Jacqueline Vigil’s two sons are New Mexico State Police Officers and they family was fully aware of the importance of confidentiality.
Mayor Tim Keller has already made it known he intends to seek a second 4-year term in 2021. As has been the case in the last 3 elections for Mayor, in 2021 crime rates will likely be the biggest determining issue in the race. Voters will no doubt decide if Mayor Tim Keller has in fact failed to deliver on his campaign promises to reduce high crime rates. Voters will be deciding if Keller deserves another 4 years. Mayor Keller no doubt will be using the Covid 19 epidemic as an excuse for his need for another 4 years to finish what he started.
Going forward, Mayor Tim Keller and Chief Michael Geier would be wise to forgo press releases trying to take credit for cases and concentrate on APD’s Homicide Unit. Keller and Geier need to work on increasing APD’s clearance rate, arrest rate and sending the cases over to the District Attorney’s office for prosecution. Otherwise, they will be wiping egg off their face once again when other agencies are able to do what APD in incapable of doing: getting violent criminals off the streets of Albuquerque. In otherwords, Keller and Geier both need to knock it off with their political gamesmanship in that at this point, people want results not press releases.