On October 25, KRQE News 13 reported a Larry Barker follow-up investigation on the reinstatement of APD Lieutenant Jim Edison. The story is as hard hitting as it gets and raises more than a few disturbing questions. Below is the full transcript of the news story followed by the link to review the new account:
“ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – It is a well-documented case of high-level wrongdoing at the Albuquerque Police Department. While assigned to the Chief’s office, Lieutenant Jim Edison pocketed tens of thousands of dollars in illicit overtime. Over a 12-month period, the lieutenant was paid $242,758. That’s more than the police chief and even the mayor.
It began in 2020 after Lt. Edison was tapped to lead APD’s COVID-19 response. His duties included coordinating testing, contact tracing, compiling stats, and responding to virus-related emails and phone calls. Even though his assignment was a day shift desk job, Lt. Edison padded his pay with thousands of hours in time and a half call-out overtime. Homicide Detectives receive call-out O/T when they respond after hours to a crime scene. Lieutenant Edison claimed call-out overtime for after-hours emails and phone calls. He told a supervisor he was allowed two hours of call-out overtime for any phone call he received outside regular working hours.
For example, Saturday, January 16, 2021. Edison hit up taxpayers 12 hours of overtime for making phone calls and sending emails on his day off.
January 22, 2021. The lieutenant documented seven minutes of off-duty work and claimed eight hours of overtime.
Sunday, January 31, 2021. Edison accounted for 22 minutes of work and claimed ten and a half hours of overtime.
Edison put in for overtime hours practically every day for a full year, even Christmas. On December 25, 2020, Edison claimed eight hours O/T. And there must have been some kind of email emergency on New Year’s day 2021 because, instead of celebrating, the lieutenant said he was doing police work and claimed 11 hours of overtime.
Last year, APD launched a series of Internal Affairs investigations aimed at the lieutenant’s timecard practices. In a memo from an Internal Affairs Investigator, Edison was informed, “It is alleged you have committed fraud by being paid over 40k for the first two months of 2021.”
Internal Affairs informed Chief Harold Medina, “…a reasonable likelihood of a criminal prosecution exists against Lt. Edison.” Following extensive investigations, IA Investigators concluded Lt. Jim Edison had violated numerous APD Codes of Conduct, Rules, and Regulations.
Earlier this year, then Interim Superintendent For Police Reform, Eric Garcia, told KRQE News 13 that Edison’s violations were “very serious.”
“Lt. Edison decided to claim overtime when it wasn’t appropriate. Lt. Edison wasn’t truthful with his supervisor. … He was abusing the system,” Chief Medina said in a February interview.
Edison was fired from APD last November. Because any police officer who violates New Mexico police standards can have their Law Enforcement Certification revoked, APD is required to report Edison’s misconduct to New Mexico’s Law Enforcement Academy for investigation. “The relationship that exists between the citizens of the state of New Mexico and the licensed professionals who are charged with delivering public safety to them is critical. Public trust in those licensed professionals is paramount,” said Benjamin Baker, the New Mexico Law Enforcement Academy Interim Director.
APD’s leadership violated state law by failing to report Edison’s misconduct to the Law Enforcement Academy. “I’ve corresponded with the leadership at the City of Albuquerque Police Department, alerting them to this matter being brought to my attention … and the absence of a filed complaint from their office with the (Academy) Board,” said Benjamin Baker.
In late August, APD finally reported Jim Edison’s misconduct to the Law Enforcement Academy. His Police Officer Certification is under review by the Academy’s Board.
End of story? Not quite. You see, he’s back. In June, APD rehired Jim Edison. Today, he’s a police Lieutenant assigned to the Airport. And what about that documented timecard misconduct? The city wiped it clean like it never occurred.
Here’s what happened. Edison appealed his firing to the City Personnel Board. However, after he threatened to sue the city for civil rights violations, APD did an about-face and apparently decided Edison’s misconduct wasn’t so bad after all. City officials negotiated an out-of-court settlement behind closed doors. Jim Edison was reinstated retroactively to November with full back pay and benefits. And, just to make sure there are no hard feelings, the city handed Edison something extra, a bonus check for $20,000.
As part of the Settlement Agreement, Edison will be demoted and his misconduct discipline will be reduced from termination to a two-week suspension. Disciplinary actions arising from the timecard wrongdoing will be removed from his personnel record.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” says former police officer Tom Grover. Grover is an attorney specializing in police misconduct cases. “It’s a public record. I don’t think you can just make it disappear. I’ve never seen a disciplinary record be removed. They did the investigation. There were findings. There was a final decision to discipline. It just goes away?” Grover said.
Jim Edison’s firing last year was based on violations of APD’s internal Codes of Conduct. Because Edison’s timecard activity may violate state statutes, APD referred the matter to the Attorney General for a criminal investigation. So will Jim Edison be charged with a crime? We may never know. As part of the Settlement Agreement, APD pledged not to refer allegations of Edison’s misconduct to outside law enforcement agencies. And if a referral has already been made, APD must retract the referral.
“I thought, how strange is this? How can you withdraw a complaint of commission of a crime,” says retired state prosecutor Steve Suttle. Suttle says, in his 30-year career, he’s never seen a provision like that. “Facts are facts. And if there are facts here, after investigation, that reveal acts of crimes, the D.A. or the A.G. is perfectly within their power to pursue those with the bringing of charges or an indictment,” Suttle said.
BACKGROUND OF THE INVESTIGATION
On July 1, it was reported that APD Lieutenant Jim Edison who was fired in November 2021 for overtime pay abuse had been reinstated by the city at the same rank pursuant to a settlement reach between Edison and the City. Edison had been with the department for 14 years. He was terminated after an Internal Affairs investigations found he had claimed more overtime hours than he had worked, that he lied to investigators and that he retaliated against the supervisor who initiated the investigation into his conduct. Edison appealed his termination by APD alleging he did nothing wrong and that he was entitled to the overtime claimed and paid.
Lieutenant Jim Edison’s alleged overtime pay abuse dates back to early 2020 during the first days of the pandemic. At the time, he was transferred to the Chief’s Office to head up APD’s COVID-19 response. Edison was responsible for coordinating testing, contact tracing, pandemic-related stats, emails and phone calls. Edison’s job in the Chief’s Office was primarily administrative desk work. When he was transferred to the Homeland Security Division, his new commander raised questions about the hours he was claiming.
PREVIOUS KRQE NEWS 13 INVESTIGATIVE REPORT
According to a March 14, 2021, KRQE 13 Investigative Report, over the course of one year, Lieutenant Jim Edison was paid $242,758 which consisted of a base pay and overtime pay. To put this staggering amount into perspective, hourly based pay for APD Lieutenants in 2020 and 2021 was $40 an hour or $83,200 a year. In other words, Edison was paid $159,558 in overtime in addition to his $83,200 base pay resulting in $242,758 paid in the one year reviewed. Edison was paid $186,944 in 2020 and $173,672 in 2021. In 2020, more than $95,000 was paid in overtime.
Edison was paid upwards of 3 times his base pay all because of overtime which is paid at the rate of time and a half. KRQE reported that in order for Lieutenant Jim Edison to be paid $242,758 yearly figure in 2021, Edison “cheated” on his overtime pay claims every day for a full year. Even though Edison’s overtime pay claims violated APD personnel rules and regulations, APD’s top command staff in the chief’s office failed to oversee it and approved it without any questions.
WHAT THE INTERNAL AFFAIRS INVESTIGATION FOUND
The Internal Affairs investigation found that Lieutenant Jim Edison was frequently claiming 2 hours or more of overtime for any task he did outside of work hours. An example given is that he would send a master spreadsheet of COVID-19 numbers to his supervisor every morning around 3 a.m. and claim two hours of overtime when the actual time worked was routinely under half an hour. The Internal Affairs investigator concluded that “overall, Lt. Edison could have combined work or completed [his work] during his shift to cut down on overtime.”
The Internal Affairs investigation found that:
“the department failed to adequately re-address and supervise Lt. Edison’s behavior in January 2021 and February 2021, which allowed Lt. Edison to continue to violate the same and additional policy violations.”
Internal Affairs also found that Deputy Chief Michael Smathers failed to ensure Edison was correctly coding his overtime hours and failed to identify that what he was claiming was not within department policy. Smathers received an 8-hour suspension and a letter of reprimand.
CITY SETTLEMENT TERMS WITH EDISON
Edison appealed his termination and reached a settlement agreement with the city in May. Edison’s private Attorney Tim White said Edison was reinstated and was assigned to the Aviation Department.
Edison threatened to file a lawsuit against the city for wrongful discharge and retaliation based on alleged violations of his civil rights and the New Mexico Whistleblower Protection Act.
The major terms of the settlement agreement negotiated between the city and APD Lieutenant Jim Edison include the following:
1. The city agreed to withdraw its decision to terminate Edison and removed the discipline from his record.
2. The city agreed not to refer allegations of criminal conduct to any outside law enforcement agency agree if a referral had already been made, APD must retract the referral.
3. The city agreed to pay all of Edison’s his back pay since the date of his termination and agreed to pay Edison an additional $20,000. At the time of his termination Edison was paid $40 an hour or $83,200 a year. According to the city’s transparency portal, Edison is now making $43.20 per hour and has earned more than $50,000 so far this year which includes his back pay.
4. Although Edison returned to the department as a lieutenant, he agreed to “self-demote” and undergo an audit of his previous pay records to determine whether he was overpaid. No later than November 18 Edison will “voluntarily and irrevocably demote to the rank of sergeant or to patrol officer” and he will not be eligible for any promotions.
5. Instead of the 120-hour and 80-hour suspension he was initially handed, Edison agreed to serve a 96-hour suspension with 16 hours held in abeyance for six months as long as he isn’t subject to further discipline.
6. It was agreed that the the city will conduct an independent audit of Edison’s pay records from February 2020 through May 21, 2021, and “determine whether his claims for overtime were consistent with the law.” If the audit determines Edison was overpaid “the city will first confer with employee for reimbursement and may thereafter pursue collection of overpaid amounts through appropriate judicial process.” If the audit finds that Edison was underpaid, he will be paid as required by the City and Police Union Collective Barging Agreement (CBA).
7. The settlement perovides that Edison “retains all rights to deny audit findings and to oppose reimbursement for any reason.”
8. Edison denies in the settlement he committed any misconduct, and the city denies all allegations he had raised against it.
At the time when the settlement was reported on, Chief Harold Medina said that Edison “wasn’t exactly breaking the law” when it came to his overtime claimed. Medina said Edison was taking advantage of the union collective bargaining contract which allows the management positions of Lieutenant to be part of the police union, which violates New Mexico statutory law that prohibits management to join unions.
The collective bargaining agreement between the city and the police union includes patrol officers, detectives, sergeants and lieutenants. The police union contract provides that when officers are called into work outside of regular hours, they are guaranteed to be paid a minimum of two hours at the rate of time and a half, no matter the actual time worked, which could be a matter of a few minutes.
The link to the quoted news source material is here:
TWO SEPRATE COMPLAINTS INVESTIGATED
An anonymous complaint to Albuquerque’s Civilian Police Oversight Agency (CPOA) launched an Internal Affairs investigation into Lieutenant Jim Edison’s overtime pay abuse. The CPOA investigator concluded Lieutenant Jim Edison violated rules, regulations and codes of conduct by cheating on his overtime. He was given a two-week suspension by APD Chief Harold Medina.
Despite APD’s investigation, Edison continued to misrepresent overtime on his timesheets which led to a second Internal Affairs investigation. Edison’s supervisor was Deputy Chief Mike Smathers. Even though Edison’s daily overtime clearly violated APD policy, Deputy Chief Smathers never questioned the overtime work claimed by Edison on his timesheet and routinely approved his time on the department’s payroll system.
The Internal Affairs Investigator concluded Deputy Chief Smathers violated multiple rules and regulations by failing to review Edison’s timesheets. Smathers received a one-day suspension for his conduct as a result of the civilian police oversight agency investigation.
In a second Internal Affairs probe, the Investigator concluded Smathers violated APD rules and policy a second time by failing to review Lt. Edison’s timesheets. According to internal affairs Detective Anastacio Zamora:
“There is no evidence Deputy Chief Smathers conducted any follow-up with anyone [except Lt. Edison] to ensure things were done correctly.”
Deputy Chief Smathers was given a written reprimand for his role in the Internal Affairs case. Albuquerque’s Superintendent for Police Reform, Sylvester Stanley, who retired after 8 months on the job, made the final decision to discipline Deputy Chief Smathers.
APD Police Chief Harold Medina bent over backwards to defend Deputy Chief Smathers saying the one-day suspension was appropriate. Medina had this to say:
“Up here on the fifth floor of the Police Department, the executive staff, we’re so busy that to go through the fine details of looking through somebody’s timesheets is not something that we’re going to be carving out time for. … Jim Edison deceived Deputy Chief Smathers and Deputy Chief Smathers took accountability for that and was disciplined.
The biggest thing that Deputy Chief Smathers did wrong is he had faith and belief in Jim Edison. Jim Edison betrayed that trust. And it’s very difficult for me to paint a negative brush on Deputy Chief Smathers for being a good leader, respecting his people, listening to his people and believing in his people.”
MORE THINGS CHANGE, THE MORE THEY STAY THE SAME
During the last 10 years, the Albuquerque Police Department has consistently gone over its overtime budget by millions. In fiscal year 2016, APD was funded for $9 million for over time but APD actually spent $13 million. A March 2017 city internal audit of APD’s overtime spending found police officers taking advantage of a system that allows them to accumulate excessive overtime at the expense of other city departments. A city internal audit report released in March 2017 revealed that the Albuquerque Police Department spent over $3.9 million over its $9 million “overtime” budget. For the last 3 years, APD has exceeded its overtime budget by as much as $4 million or more each year. In 2019, APD spent $11.5 million paying sworn police overtime when the budget was $9 million.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
It is very difficult to accept that as part of the civil Settlement Agreement that the Mayor Tim Keller Administration and APD would agree not to refer allegations of criminal conduct to any outside law enforcement agency. What is even more disgusting is that the Keller Administration and APD would agree if a referral has already been made, APD would retract the referral. What also does not pass the smell test is that an additional $20,000 was added to the settlement, which was on top of payment of backpay. The settlement ultimately stands for the proposition that APD sworn officers who engage in overtime pay fraud and who collect thousands in overtime pay are “above the law” and will not be prosecuted for their misconduct.
APD Police officers earning excessive overtime is nothing new. It has been going on for years and is very common knowledge. From a personnel management standpoint, when you have a select few that are taking home the lion’s share of overtime, it causes moral problems with the rest. Excessive overtime paid is a red flag for abuse of the system, mismanagement of police resources or the lack of personnel. The answer to end the historical APD overtime pay abuses once and for all has always been to initiate criminal prosecutions for fraud and civil lawsuits for reimbursement of fraudulent overtime pay. That will never happen as long as Mayor Tim Keller and Chief Harold Medina have no problem with the conduct.
When Tim Keller was New Mexico State Auditor, he carefully crafted a public persona of a “white knight” government watch dog who combated what he called “waste, fraud and abuse”, so much so that he established a fraud division within the State Auditor’s Office. After serving less than 2 years of a 4-year term as State Auditor, Keller announced for Mayor in 2017 and rode his public persona as a white knight to a landslide victory. As State Auditor, Keller relished the publicity over his efforts to combat “waste fraud and abuse” in government and by government officials. As Mayor of Albuquerque, Tim Keller refuses to hold his own police department accountable for “waste, fraud and abuse” in police overtime.
The settlement has raised more than a few eyebrows within APD and city hall observers. Rumors circulating at city hall are that APD Lieutenant Jim Edison has very damaging and very sensitive information on the conduct of APD Chief Harold Medina and Mayor Tim Keller that he has witnessed and has covered up. The public will never know the truth of the rumors given the confidentiality provisions of the settlement.
Notwithstanding the settlement, the Bernalillo County District Attorney and the New Mexico Attorney General are not parties to the settlement. Neither the District Attorney nor the Attorney General are bound by the terms of the settlement and they are totally within their rights and authority to conduct a criminal investigation into the matter and even charge for overtime fraud if they wanted to.
A criminal investigation is not at all likely to happen anytime soon, if at all, given the fact that Bernalillo County District Attorney Raul Torrez is now running for Attorney General and Attorney General Hector Balderas is leaving office on January 1, 2023. Besides, for the last 2 years during this whole sordid mess, both have chosen to ignore the APD overtime pay abuse scandals even after the City and the New Mexico State Auditor has issued audits confirming what has happened and essentially delivering completed investigation to them both.