Early Wednesday morning, May 12th, 2021, the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) responded to a call where homicide detectives found a person dead in a West Side neighborhood, An spokesman APD spokesman said officers were called to a disturbance just after 1 a.m. in the 9500 block of Sun Dancer NW, near Unser and Paradise. When they arrived, they found “an individual who did not have a pulse.” Emergency medical personnel determined the person was dead.
In the afternoon of May 12, 3 people were found fatally wounded at the Presbyterian Kaseman Hospital, near Wyoming and Constitution NE. APD police responded around 3 p.m. to multiple gunshot victims arriving in a single vehicle. Paramedics on the scene found 3 people fatally injured, one of whom died after they attempted life saving measures. It is not clear if the 3 people were killed at that scene or elsewhere. On the northwest side of the hospital, police wrapped crime scene tape around a car, its windows full of what appeared to be bullet holes.
Links to local news coverage are here:
As of May 12, 2021, there have been 45 murders. During the same time period in 2019, there had been 28 murders. With 49 homicides in the first 4 months of 2021, it’s likely the city will break another record number of homicides for a 4th year in a row.
In 2017, 72 homicides were reported. In 2018, the first full year of Mayor Keller’s term there were 69 homicides. In 2019, during Mayor Keller’s second full year in office, there were 82 homicides, the highest number of homicides ever recorded in the city in one year. The previous high mark was in 1996, when the city had 70 homicides. The year 2020 ended with 76 homicides, the second-highest count since 1996.
On Friday, May 7, Kyle Hartsock, the Deputy Commander of APD’s Criminal Investigative Division Kyle held a news briefing to outline what the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) is finding in terms of locations, motives, weapons and victim behavior. Hartsock outlined plans to tackle killings across the city. Hartsock previously headed the 2nd Judicial District Attorney’s Crime Strategies Unit and was hired by APD to bring “a fresh perspective into APD’s investigative processes.”
According to Commander Hartsock, APD is attempting to get a much better understanding of what is behind the city’s increased homicide count. Commander Hartsock released the following data:
1. 18 homicides have been tied to robberies, seven to domestic violence and five to “individual disrespect.”
2. Of the 42 homicides, 28 were committed with a gun and six with a knife or blade.
3. Nine of those killed were selling drugs, 7 were in a domestic argument, 6 were homeless and 3 were buying drugs.
4. At least 10 homicides have happened at hotels, a number that is “absolutely on the rise.”
5. In half of the cases, the murders took place in the victim’s hotel room.
6. The other half of the murders took place in a third party’s hotel room.
7. Seven homicides have occurred at apartments.
Commander Hartsock said the location analysis allows police to patrol hot spots and meet with hotel owners to discuss how they can deter the violence. APD also compiles data on “victim behavior” to see if any services can be offered to higher-risk communities to curb the chance that someone might become the next victim or suspect.
INCREASING APD DETECTIVE MANPOWER AND TRAINING
It was last year on September 3, 2020 that APD announced it was increasing the Homicide Investigative Unit to keep up with the increasing number of cases. The APD Homicide unit was investigating 53 homicides at the time in 2020, which was ahead of the record-breaking pace in 2019. According to APD Spokesman Gilbert Gallegos at the time, APD was adding another sergeant to the Homicide Investigative Unit, which increased the size of the unit to 10 detectives and 2 sergeants.
Fast forward to the 2021, there are still 10 homicide detectives that are operational with upwards of 4 in training. The national standard is four to 6 new cases a year per detective.
Sgt. Rick Ingram had this to say about the homicide case loads:
“… We’re looking at each of those 10 guys with about 4 cases. … Some of them vary quite a bit, and we’re in month 5, so we expect that to go up as the year goes on.”
APD Deputy Commander Hartsock announced that APD is trying to increase the homicide unit up to 16 full time detectives but that process “doesn’t happen overnight.” Hartsock said 16 homicide detectives will spread the resources to work cases “quicker, faster and with better results.”
APD has initiated a 2-week detective academy, a first for APD, that will begin in June. The first one will be for current detectives, but other officers will have the opportunity to join. The academy will teach 40 APD officers at a time, including some current detectives. The course will cover everything from “court accepted interview techniques” and using social media to build up cases to forensic evidence collecting and report writing. The academy will also be offered to patrol officers.
According to Hartsock:
“Allowing patrol officers to also attend the training is always a benefit because they are always the first on scene. … The evidence is the freshest when they arrive, so giving them the training and the tools and the confidence to handle these things before the call-out occurs is always going to be beneficial. … All these things together… we’re really confident it’s going to improve our ability to solve these cases and solve them quicker and, hopefully, it’s going to stem the violence that we’re seeing as well. ”
In addition to increasing the size of the homicide unit, Hartsock announced APD will be adding a full-time victim advocate to help better address the needs of grieving families. The use of victim advocates has been going on for decades in the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office. Hartsock said APD is also making moves to improve communication with those affected by violence and investigative abilities of those tasked with solving cases. The goal is to get more victim advocates to communicate with victims’ families. All too often detectives are unable to return phone calls or answer questions while victim advocates will be able to help.
Hartsock had this to say about the use of victim advocates:
“With the increase in homicides, it just makes the detectives really, really busy, and unfortunately they are not always able to return phone calls or answer certain questions the family might have and families deserve to have their questions answered. ”
Links to source material quoted are here:
LONG STANDING NEED FOR TWO HOMICIDE UNITS AND MORE DETECTIVES
During an October, 2019 City Council meeting, APD management said it was working on “new strategies” to ease the workload on APD sworn officers and homicide detectives. APD Commander of Criminal Investigations Joe Burke had this to say:
“I would say in the long term if I was looking at a long-term solution—I believe we need two homicide units. I think the best practices around the nation normally have two homicide units. Detectives should be balancing between three to five investigations and we’re nearly double that.’
… We absolutely need detectives in criminal investigations. … I was happy when I went over at the end of July and was briefed on the status of the unit that there’s a plan in place within the executive staff that when cadets are graduating from the academy that we’re going to get a certain percentage specifically for the criminal investigations bureau.”
CITY’S HISTORICAL LOW HOMICIDE CLEARANCE RATES
Each year since 1995, the FBI has released annually its Crime In The United States Report. Following are the national clearance rates for the last 4 years:
In 2016, the national clearance rate for murder offenses was 59.4%.
In 2017, the national clearance rate for murder was 61.6%.
In 2018, the national clearance rate for murder was 62.3%.
In 2019, the national clearance rate for murder was 61.4%.
APD’S CLEARANCE RATE SUBSTATIALLY BELOW NATIONAL CLEARANCE RATE
For the past three years, Albuquerque’s homicide clearance percentage rate has been in the 50%-60% range, well below the national averages.
According to the proposed 2018-2019 APD City Budget, in 2016 the APD homicide clearance rate was 80%.
In 2017, under Mayor Berry the clearance rate was 70%.
In 2018, Keller’s first full year in office, the homicide clearance rate was 56%.
In 2019, the second full year of Keller’s term, the homicide clearance rate was 52.5%, the lowest clearance rate in the last decade.
In 2020, Keller’s third full year in office, the clearance rate dropped to 50%.
In 2021 the clearance rate has dropped to less than 29% thus far this year.
Further, of the 75 homicides thus far in 2020, half remain unsolved.
During an August 18. 2020 press conference, Mayor Keller was asked questions about APD’s homicide clearance rates. APD reported at the time that it was making arrests for about half of all homicides. Keller had this to say about the clearance rates:
“We know that the clearance rate is a little bit lower than it has been. It’s not out of line with the national standards … But, I will say the reason why we’re challenged is because there are so many homicides. So, the more homicides there are, the lower the clearance rate is going to be.”
APD HOMICIDE UNIT HAS DUBIOUS HISTORY OF BOTCHED INVESTIGATIONS
The APD Homicide Unit has a dubious history of botching a number of high-profile murder investigations. The APD Homicide Unit has compiled a history of not doing complete investigations, misleading the public, feeding confessions to people with low IQs, getting investigations completely wrong and even arresting innocent people.
A listing of homicide investigations reflecting negligence include:
2005 to 2008: Robert Gonzales: A a mentally retarded young man was arrested by APD and charged with the rape and murder of an 11 year old neighbor. Weeks after the arrest DNA evidence confirmed Gonzales was not the offender. The Homicide and the Bernalillo County DA never turned this evidence over to the court and defense attorneys. Only after Gonzales spent 965 days in jail for a crime he didn’t commit and and only after he was released by the judge was the DNA evidence exposed.
2007 to 2011: Michael Lee and Travis Rowley, working as a group of salesmen, were arrested and charged with the murders and rape of an elderly Korean couple. Both Lee and Rowley had below normal IQs. Lee confessed to the murders, Rowley did not. Shortly after the arrests, DNA evidence excluded both men and confirmed that Albuquerque serial killer, Clifton Bloomfield was the offender. APD and the DA kept both men locked up for over a year before they were released.
2015 to 2016: Christopher Cruz and Donovan Maez are wrongly arrested for the murder of Jaydon Chavez Silver. They spent10 months in jail before the Bernalillo County DA reviewed the entire case sent to them by APD Homicide, finding that there was no evidence that Cruz and Maez were involved. APD Homicide is alleged to have fed witnesses information for them to repeat in interviews and threaten witnesses to provide false information.
THE MOST EGREGIOUS FAILED MURDER INVESTIGATION
The most egregious negligent murder investigation was the murder investigation of 10-year-old Victoria Martens. On August 24, 2016, she was murdered, dismembered and here body was burned in a bathtub. The initial APD Homicide investigation alleged that it was Jessica Kelley that stabbed 9-year-old Victoria Martens and that Fabian Gonzales strangled her while Michelle Martens, the child’s mother, watched the murder.
Gonzales was accused of drugging, raping and killing 10-year-old Victoria. After further investigation, Bernalillo County District Attorney Raul Torrez was forced to abandon the prosecution’s theory of the case and forced to drop the rape and murder charges against Gonzales. DA Torrez then accused Gonzalez of helping his cousin dismember the body of 10-year-old Victoria Martens after the child was reportedly killed by an unidentified man who was looking for Gonzales for revenge.
It was revealed that Jessica Kelley did not murder the child. Michelle Martens falsely admitted to committing the crimes. Forensic evidence revealed she and her boyfriend Fabian Gonzales were not even in the apartment at the time of the murder, they did not participate in the murder and that there was an unidentified 4th suspect in the case who committed the murder with supposedly DNA evidence found on the child’s dead body. The unidentified 4th suspect in the case is still at large.
On November 20, 2019, it was reported that Defendant Fabian Gonzales was released from jail pending his trial. He was released to the court’s pretrial services division, which is tasked with finding an appropriate place for him to live until his trial and keep tabs on his whereabouts. According to court documents filed on May 17, 2021, the trial for Fabian Gonzales is now set to begin on January 3, 2022, and his trial is expected to last three weeks from January 3 through January 21, 2022.
CHARGING AND JAILING AND INNOCENT CHILD FOR MURDER
On December 5, 2020, a 17-year-old Albuquerque High School Student Gisell Estrada was arrested and charged with a murder she played no part in. She was never arrested before and had absolutely no criminal record of arrest and conviction of any crime, misdemeanor nor felony. She spent 6 full days in jail on a case of “mistaken identity.” Estrada has been described as a “shy student who would often eat lunch in her teacher’s office” a far cry from someone who would be involved with or commit a murder.
According to news reports, an APD homicide detective asked for help identifying a murder suspect from a Facebook photo and an Albuquerque Public Schools employee cooperated. The APD homicide Detective did no follow up with witnesses to confirm the identification of the minor child nor her involvement with the murder. No contact was made with the child nor her parents.
The 17-year-old child was charged by a criminal complaint that was sealed. The sealed complaint left Estrada’s Public Defender attorney blind to the allegations against her. According to Estrada’s defense attorney, the sealed complaint and the homicide’s detectives unwillingness to share any case details, including the victims’ names, witnesses and dates, left the Public Defender’s Office no choice but to advise Estrada to not make a statement to police, but to turn herself in, which she did. According to APD, Estrada’s refusal to speak left them with no choice but to book her on the charge of murder.
On November 8, Estrada was booked into the juvenile detention center on an open count of murder, armed robbery and conspiracy charges in the July 10 slaying. The Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office then filed a motion to detain her until trial alleging:
“The community is not safe if she is not detained. … There are no conditions of release this court can impose which will prevent her from planning another robbery or prevent someone else from dying.”
Notwithstanding the motion for detention, Estrada was released six days later after she was arrested and the charges were dismissed. Review of the motion for detention, it is clear it contains “boiler plate language” with the District Attorney’s Office failing to conform the motion to the actual facts of the case.
PRIOR EFFORTS TO TRAIN APD HOMICIDE UNIT OSTENSIBLY FAILED
On December 26, 2019, it was reported that the firm “Law Enforcement Training and Consulting Services” were retained on a three-month, sole source contract for $75,000 to train the APD homicide unit on investigations. All APD sergeants, detectives and lieutenants, who investigate and supervise violent crime investigations, were given the training.
A total of 126 APD personnel went through and completed the training and instructions provided by a former retired APD homicide detective now with “Law Enforcement Training and Consulting Services”. At the time of his retirement from APD, the former APD homicide detective had a 95% clearance rate, one of the highest in the country, and has been qualified as an expert witness in high profile cases on a national level.
Law Enforcement Training and Consulting Services reviewed the arrest warrant regarding Gisell Estrada and concluded it went against everything APD officers had been trained on. The firm stated they could provide no reason why the homicide division made such “colossal” mistakes contrary to all they had been trained and the arrest could have been prevented had the detective followed basic follow up practices to confirm identity. Instead, the detective ran with the information he had without even an attempt to verify, either out of being lazy or incompetence.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
The longer a homicide case takes to complete an investigation or is neglected because of lack of personnel, the less likely the cases will be solved and prosecuted. Adding to the crisis is the emotional toll an unsolved murder takes on the families of the victims.
Given the sure number of homicides and the pathetic homicide clearance rate, the Homicide Investigation Unit needs to be increased from 11 detectives to at least 25 detectives. Further, given the units low clearance rate and past performance, more needs to be done with respect to recruiting and training.
APD is still in a crisis mode and it needs to concentrate on recruiting seasoned homicide detectives from other departments if necessary. At the very least, APD needs to ask for temporary assignment of personnel from other agencies such as the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Department or the New Mexico State Police to help clear out the cases.
There is no doubt the Keller Administration will never ask for help from the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s office seeing that the Sheriff wants to be Mayor. The thing is that Manny Gonzales has been just as hapless of managing the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office as Keller has been managing APD.