2024 NM LEGISLATIVE UPDATE ON GUN CONTROL: 14 Waiting Day Period For Gun Sales Passes 2 Committees; Rebuttable Presumption Killed In Committee; No Guns At Polling Places Passes Senate

Notwithstanding that the 2024 legislative session being a 30 short budgetary session, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham has announced her support of 21 measures she wants lawmakers to consider during the session to address public safety. The bills include raising the age to purchase a gun, regulating assault weapons, and increasing penalties for a range of crimes.  The governor is also asking lawmakers to discuss a handful of crime-related bills backed by both Democratic lawmakers as well as Republicans.

There are a number of gun control measures and crime measures that are now making their way towards passage by the 2024 New Mexico Legislature while others are being killed in committee. This blog article reports on 6 specific measures.

SENATE BILL  5  (BANNING FIREARMS NEAR POLLING PLACES)

On January 30, the New Mexico State Senate passed Senate Bill 5 on a 26-16 vote that will ban most firearms near polling places. It prohibits firearms within 100 feet of polling stations. An exception was created to allow voters to leave their guns in the car while casting a ballot. Postal boxes were removed from the 100-foot radius. People walking past, but not voting at, a polling place in the mall won’t be included. Off-duty law enforcement officers would still be allowed to carry their firearms. Violators would be charged with a petty misdemeanor and could face up to 6 months in jail and/or a maximum $500 fine.

Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, said he sponsored the bill after several poll workers in his district shared accounts of intimidation when people brought guns to their polling places. Wirth said this in a statement:

“Schools that act as polling places already have protections in place. … This bill simply levels the playing field and ensures that voters and our valued poll workers can feel safe and free from the threat of gun violence or intimidation at any polling location. Guns and voting simply don’t mix.”

https://www.abqjournal.com/news/local/senate-endorses-firearms-ban-at-new-mexico-polling-places/article_3afb692a-357a-569c-b50d-2f0dc254bbab.html

https://www.kob.com/new-mexico/bill-to-ban-guns-at-polling-places-in-new-mexico-passes-senate-committee/

Senate approves bill banning firearms near polling places

SENATE BILL 69 (14 DAY WAITING PERIOD TO PURCHASE GUNS)

On January 28, Senate Bill 69, which is the 14 day waiting period before a gun sale becomes final, passed the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee on a 4 to 2 vote as well as the Senate Health and Public Affairs Committee on a 5 to 4 vote. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Joe Cervantes is sponsoring the measure along with Democratic  state Rep. Andrea Romero carrying the House version.  In the House,  conservative Democrat Rep. Patty Lundstrom was unable to stop the bill.  Supporters of the bill argue the longer waiting period will  save lives taken by impulsive acts of suicide and domestic and other violence.  Opponents argued  it will  simply thwart legal gun owners while the illegal purchase of guns continue.

The Senate Bill 69 version carves out an exception to the 14-day waiting period for people who already have their concealed-carry license, which some commenters speaking in opposition still applauded. Bill sponsor Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, and a gun owner, said the 14-day period is based on other states that have adopted waiting periods that have not been challenged in court. Hawaii also has enacted a 14-day waiting period.

Cervantes said the measure would close a federal loophole that, regardless if a background check has been returned, allows someone to receive a gun after three days by “default.” Cervantes said this:

“We think that there’s a background check being run. … But the default is that if they’re behind, or they’re slow … the presumption is, you get a gun.”

Senate Republican Gregg Schmedes, R-Tijeras,  questioned whether the measure is constitutional because of a 2022 Supreme Court opinion from Justice Clarence Thomas asking that firearm regulations follow the “historical tradition” of restrictions in the United States. Schmedes ask:

“Naturally, my question … is, is a 14-day waiting period consistent with our historical tradition of firearm regulation?”

Cervantes responded by saying he anticipated the court would reverse that decision.

Supporters of Senate Bill 69 argued it could save lives by providing a “cool-off” period for people experiencing suicide ideation. Sen. Martin Hickey, D-Albuquerque, said people struggling with addiction or mental illness sometimes experience “flares” of instability or high emotion. Hickey said this:

“I am very afraid that without a law like this we are going to continue to see the deaths of people who really don’t mean it.”

HOUSE BILL 114 (FIREARMS INDUSTRY ACCOUNTABILITY ACT)

On Friday, January 26, House Bill 114, called the Firearms Industry Accountability Act would make members of the firearms industry subject to civil penalties in certain cases received a do-pass recommendation in the House Judicial Committee by a 7-4 vote.  The bill would allow the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office and district attorneys to bring civil actions against people involved in the sale, manufacturing and marketing of firearms.

The bill also would allow private individuals to file civil lawsuits “to recover actual or punitive damages against a firearm industry member” who fails “to exercise reasonable controls” over the sale and manufacture of firearms.

Bill sponsor Christine Chandler, D-Los Alamos, told committee members  that one intent of the bill is to provide civil remedies for people harmed by straw-buyers — purchases by a person on behalf of someone prohibited from legally owning a firearm.

The practice of straw-purchases already is illegal under criminal law in New Mexico.

https://www.abqjournal.com/news/senate-version-of-14-day-waiting-period-advances/article_51bd6a54-bcad-11ee-b248-7f84be11c896.html

HOUSE BILL 129 (PENALTIES FOR FAILURE TO ADHERE TO 14 DAY WAITING PERIOD)

On January 29, the House Judiciary Committee approved a House Bill 129  that sets penalties for those who fail to adhere to a 14-calendar-day waiting period to purchase a firearm with a party-line vote. The committee approved HB 129 on a 6-to-4 vote with Democrats voting in favor and Republicans voting NO.

The bill was updated to state that the waiting period is 14 calendar days instead of business days.

Many representatives as well as public commenters criticized the waiting period as “not a cooling off period.” Rep. Andrea Reeb, R-Clovis  said this: .

“I guess I’m trying to see how that correlates with what you think it will do for somebody who wants to commit a shooting, for example, as you all know, I prosecuted the library shooter and he got the guns from his parents saying that were locked up and he knew the combination and he went and just do, so you know, not really see how that would have prevented that situation from a mass shooting that occurred, you know, in New Mexico, so I’m trying to see why leaving the cooling off period would affect that. ”

The bill’s supporters presented data showing that some of the most recent mass shootings were with new firearms purchased within 14 days of the event including a shooting in Farmington in which the shooter bought one of the guns used on the shooting shortly after his 18th birthday in October 2022 along with  guns legally owned by a relative before the shooting last May.

Three other issues opponents argued was that the bill “discriminates against rural communities” due to gun purchases having to drive long distances to get the gun purchasing process started.  They claim the waiting period endangers domestic violence survivors who might want a firearm to protect themselves from their abuser and claimed the bill contained some Second Amendment constitutional issues.

House Bill 129 now goes to the full House floor for a vote.

https://nmpoliticalreport.com/nmleg/house-judiciary-advances-14-day-firearm-waiting-period/#:~:text=The%20House%20Judiciary%20Committee%20approved,in%20favor%20and%20Republicans%20opposed.

HOUSE BILL 137  (ASSAULT WEAPONS BAN BIILL)

House Bill 137 is the Assault Weapons ban bill. It would ban gas-operated semi-automatic guns. It would also prohibit detachable magazines that hold more than 10 bullets, bump stocks, and other “machine gun” attachments which are designed to increase the rate of fire. It mimics a bill U.S. Sen. Martin Hein introduced in the Senate known as the GOSAFE Act. There are exceptions in the bill for government agencies, as well as Native American tribes and pueblos.  

The New Mexico Department of Justice and the Administrative Office of the Courts warned the bill may result in lawsuits against the State of New Mexico. The estimated cost of defending against legal challenges is $450,000 and an additional $5,500 per event to provide security to court personnel. Analysts also noted the bill is expected to result in more people ending up in prison, raising the costs of housing inmates.  

On January 25 the bill passed the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee on a party-line vote. It was sent to the House Judiciary Committee.  

https://www.kob.com/tracker4/

SENATE BILL 122  (REBUTABLE PRESUMPTION)

On Monday, January 29, the Senate Health and Public Affairs Committee voted on a 5-4 vote to  table Senate Bill 122 know as the Reputable Presumption Bill.  The Reputable Presumption Bill provides that a criminal defendant who is charged with specified serious violent crimes, such as murder, is presumed to be a danger to the community and upon arrest must remain in jail until trial with no exceptions.

The aim of rebuttable presumption” is to make it easier for more defendants to be held in custody before they’ve been convicted and to keep them from committing new crimes. Proponents of rebuttable presumption say it will reduce violent crime.  Opponents of rebuttable presumption say courts can already keep a defendant behind bars and that reputable presumption shifts the burden of proof to defendants and violates the basic constitutional right of presumption of innocence until proven guilty.

Under the United State Constitution and the New Mexico Constitution, a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty and has the right to post bond  to be released until trial. Under existing New Mexico law, whenever prosecutors ask a judge to hold someone accused of a crime in jail until trial, they must prove that no release conditions will reasonably protect the safety of another person or the community.  The prosecution is required to prove “by clear and convincing evidence that (1) the defendant poses a future threat to others or the community, and (2) no conditions of release will reasonably protect the safety of another person or the community.”  Rebuttable presumption shifts the burden of proof from the state to the accused to show they are not a danger and should be released pending trial

The defeat of Senate Bill 122 came as no surprise. This is the third time that Rebuttable Presumption has failed to make it out of committee. Simply put, rebuttable presumption is unconstitutional.  The New Mexico Constitution is very clear that the prosecution bears the  burden of proof. The use of a rebuttable presumption and relying on different burden of proof and evidence by the prosecution to meet that burden is directly contrary to that constitutional provision. The New Mexico Supreme Court has also repeatedly made it clear the prosecutors burden of proof has two requirements: the accused person is dangerous, and no conditions of release will reasonably protect the community from them.

https://sourcenm.com/2023/01/31/some-lawmakers-unconvinced-rebuttable-presumptions-bill-would-make-it-through-the-courts/

Governor Lujan Grisham took strong exception to Reputable Presumption once again failing to pass and she  took note of the failure which was made possible by opposition from her own party. The Governor said this:

 I am dismayed that our Legislature has once again refused to undertake an honest, robust debate on the state of our pretrial release system. Crime is out of control and something needs to change. We have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in behavioral health services, education, economic opportunity – critical components that ensure every New Mexican gets a fair shake. However, I will not stand by as repeat violent offenders walk in and out of our courthouses without consequence. A rebuttable presumption is not an extreme policy, and ours is modeled after federal law that has been in place for decades. It is time for the Legislature and the public to stand up and give this proposal the robust debate that New Mexicans agree it deserves.

COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS

Simply put, when it comes to  all the gun control legislation Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham is supporting in the 30-day legislative session not much if any will actually be enacted. Much of it is either dead on arrival or will not make it through committee mainly because it’s a 30-day session and there is simply not enough time to give all 21 measures a fair hearing.  That is why the Governor should again consider calling a special session to deal with gun control measures immediately after the 2024 session to address all the proposed gun control legislation.

Until the New Mexico legislature get serious about New Mexico’s gun violence crisis and enacts reasonable gun control measures in conjunction with crime and punishment measures, we can expect our violent crime rates to continue to increase, and God forbid, yet another killing of a child which is what prompted the Governor to issue her executive orders in the first place.

If Governor Lujan Grisham is really serious about the State’s crime crisis and wants  to do something about it, she should be calling for the New Mexico Legislature to  enact an “Omnibus Gun Control And Violent Crime Sentencing Act” and do so during a special session of the legislature immediately following the 2024 session.  The message that must be sent out loud and clear to violent criminals by our elected officials is that New Mexico has a zero tolerance of violent crimes committed with firearms.  The only way to do that is with responsible gun control measures to reduce the availability of guns and to enhance criminal sentencings.

City Council, Public Defender and County Sherriff John Allen Push Back At Chief Medina And Mayor Keller Over Who Responsible For APD Police DWI Bribery Scandal; “Pivot, Deflect And Blame” Is Name Of Game For Keller And Medina; Time  For Mayor Keller To Invite Chief Medina To A “Geier Walk In The Park”

On January 19, a bombshell blew up that rocked APD and the legal community when the FBI raided 3 homes of APD officers and criminal defense attorney Thomas Clear, III allegedly involved in a bribery scheme that spanned a decade to dismiss DWI cases. 5 police officers have been identified which includes one Lieutenant.  Clear resigned his position as Chairman of the Public Defenders Commission. The DA’s office dismissed 152 DWI cases because of the scandal.  Mayor Keller and Chief Medina did not give the city council advanced warning of the FBI raid.

During the January 22 City Council meeting, City Councilors complained that they were frustrated and concerned that they were not given advance notice of the FBI raid.  City Councilors Dan Lewis, Dan Champine and Louie Sanchez accused APD Chief Harold Medina and Mayor Tim Keller of failed leadership and being responsible for the APD corruption scandal.

On January 23, Mayor Keller and Chief Medina pivoted by giving exclusive interviews to the 3 TV stations and the Albuquerque Journal denying any responsibility for the scandal proclaiming it went as far back as 12 years. Both took credit for holding police officers accountable and accused city councilors of unethical conduct and interference by demanding information.  Medina said city councilors were “out of line” during the council meeting demanding information.  Mayor Keller for his part said “it’s marginally unethical for them to air these concerns” and jeopardizing the investigation.

BATTLE BREWS BETWEEN CITY COUNCILORS AND MEDINA

On January 25, Albuquerque City Council President Dan Lewis and City Councilors Louie Sanchez and Dan Champine sent a letter to Chief Harold Medina asking questions, demanding written answers and demanding that he appear before them at the next regularly scheduled meeting of the 9-member city council.

Following is the full content of the January 25 letter to Chief Medina:

“Dear Chief Medina:

The Albuquerque Police Department has been shaken by the ongoing investigation into criminal behavior of police officers serving under your command. This could end up being the largest corruption scandal in APD’s history and will greatly undermine public confidence in the department and its leadership.

Chief, it becomes difficult to take you seriously when you take to the news to distort and question the intent of this Council. With a corruption scandal of this magnitude, we as a council need to understand what factors make it possible to trust in your continued command of our city’s police force. As elected representatives of the people of Albuquerque, we have the responsibility of asking questions that may make you uncomfortable. Your level of comfort with difficult questions does not render those questions unnecessary. If the buck does not stop with you, where does it stop?

We understand that the federal investigation is ongoing and specifics of the FBI’s investigation will and should remain confidential. At no point have we asked for those details or any information that could compromise the integrity of that investigation.

However, we have basic questions for you not directly related to the investigation. We ask that you provide written answers by 5:00 pm Thursday, February 1.

 1) What is the policy regarding officers and court appearances?

2) What are permissible reasons for an officer to miss a pretrial interview, court hearings or trial settings?

3) Who may authorize an officer to miss an otherwise required pretrial interview, court hearing or trail setting?

4) What disciplinary process is there for officers who miss court appearances?

5) What is the procedure for when Department personnel are contacted by defense attorneys on a criminal case?

6) In 2023, how many times did officers fail to appear at required pretrial interviews, court hearings or trial settings in DWI cases?

7) In 2023, how many DWI cases were dismissed because officers failed to appear at required pretrial interviews, court hearings or trial settings?

8) In 2023, how many officers were disciplined for failing to appear at required pretrial interviews, court hearings or trial settings?

Additionally, we formally request that you appear at the City Council meeting on February 5, 2024, to explain the following:

  • Outside of cooperating with the federal investigation, what steps are you taking as Chief to ensure this can never happen again?
  • What steps are you taking to demand accountability within your chain of command that allowed this to happen?
  • When will you provide a full public accounting of what failures in policy and leadership allowed this to happen?
  • How can the public have faith in the Department if you remain in charge?

Chief, thank you for your cooperation. We look forward to seeing you at the next council meeting.

Sincerely,

  • Dan Lewis, City Council President
  • Louie Sanchez, City Councilor, District 1
  • Dan Champine, City Councilor, District 8”

The links to the news sources are here:

https://www.koat.com/article/albuquerque-city-councilors-demand-answers-apd-chief-harold-medina/46555368

https://www.abqraw.com/post/three-city-councilors-fire-off-letter-to-chief-medina-over-apd-dwi-scandal

MEDINA SENDS LETTER TO PUBLIC DEFENDER COMMISSION DEMANDING INVESTIGATION INTO DEFENSE ATTORNEY THOMAS CLEAR

On Friday January 26, APD Chief Harold Medina sent the following letter to the  Law Office of the Public Defender Commission:

January 26,2024

Law Office of the Public Defender Commission via email to each Commissioner. individually

Re: Investigation into Thomas Clear Ill and APD DWI Officers Dear Commissioners,

Dear Commissioners,

I am writing to provide information regarding former LOPD Commission Chair, Thomas Clear II, and allegations regarding the LOPD management. The Albuquerque Police Department (APD) received information about alleged illegal conduct by officers on the APD DWI Unit and a local criminal defense attorney. The FBI is conducting a federal investigation, and I ordered an administrative investigation into the officers who. have been implicated in this alleged scheme. As you are likely aware, the attorney who has been implicated in this alleged scheme is Mr. Clear, then-Chair of the LOPD Commission.

During the investigation, I learned that multiple line attorneys in the Albuquerque office of the LOPD were concerned regarding the conduct of Mr. Clear and reported their concerns to the LOPD management. While I cannot speak to the exact nature of these concerns and the specific individuals involved, I understand that the Albuquerque upper management of the LOPD ignored such concerns and did nothing to investigate the activities of then-Chairman Clear.

The allegations about the allege scheme are extremely disturbing, and it ought to concern all criminal justice partners. APD continues to investigate this alleged scheme and will hold accountable all involved officers. I hope that the LOPD Commission will similarly take any action necessary to cab gov investigate and hold accountable anyone who was involved in turning a blind eye. For the sake of our criminal justice system, we must work together in thoroughly investigating and holding accountable anyone who took advantage of the system.

Respectfully,

Harold Medina, Chief of Police

Chief Public Defender Ben Bauer responded to the media and Medina’s letter by issuing the following statement:

I’ve seen the letter from APD Chief Medina.  This letter is a self-serving distraction from the ongoing investigation. Chief Medina is responsible for the conduct of his officers. We are responsible to our clients, and are guided by our ethical responsibilities to them, our office and our profession.

The link to the news source is here:

https://www.krqe.com/news/albuquerque-metro/albuquerque-police-release-name-of-defense-attorney-connected-to-federal-investigation/

In his January 26 letter to the Public Defenders Commission, Medina states that he “learned that multiple line attorneys in the Albuquerque office of the LOPD were concerned regarding the conduct of Mr. Clear.” Chief Medina makes the allegation known only after the scandal broke and after Defense Clear resigned as the Chairman of the Public Defender Commission. Medina’s January 26 letter to the Public Defenders Commission amounts to nothing more than deflection and an attempt to lay as much blame elsewhere as he can.

“PIVOT, DEFLECT AND BLAME” IS NAME OF THE GAME FOR KELLER AND MEDINA 

Mayor Tim Keller and Chief Harold Medina have been in full throttle “politcal spin cycle” of “pivot, deflect and blame” since the news of the scandal broke and since the Albuquerque City Council accused them of failed leadership in dealing with the scandal as they attempt to get ahead of it with public relations tactics to control the negative press coverage.

In a January 23 interview with Channel 7, Mayor Tim Keller said this in part regarding the federal investigation:

I also don’t believe APD is the only agency that’s being looked at. This has been happening for about a decade, if not longer, so this has been going on long before our team. I’m only grateful we caught it now and we’re going to stop it.”

Bernalillo County Sheriff John Allen was quick to react to Mayor Keller’s attempt to lay blame elsewhere and other agencies and said this:

“That’s an irresponsible statement coming from an elected official … Pay attention to your own agency when you’re casting shade to someone else’s agency that you have no clue what it’s about and to begin with. If it’s a federal investigation, those comments should not be made to begin with. If you have that information, that’s pertinent to an investigation and keeping the integrity of an investigation.

“It’s a tactic for deflection. I can only speak for my agency. I can’t speak for what’s going on over at APD. What I can speak for is our deputies . … Our culture doesn’t represent what is going on at APD at all. We have two separate and different cultures to begin with.”

The link to the news source is here:

https://www.koat.com/article/sheriff-albuquerque-mayor-comments-fbi-investigation/46528070

COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS

The January 25 letter that Councilors Lewis, Sanchez and Champine sent to Chief Medina was totally appropriate and necessary. It’s a letter that should have been signed by all 9 city counselors unless they were not asked by the 3 councilors who did sent it who were the City Council President and the two City Councilors who are retired APD police officers. If the 6 other councilors declined to sign it, it would be a reflection that they do not fully understand the magnitude of the crisis nor have a full understanding or the willingness to excercise their oversight duties and responsibilities.

The Albuquerque City Council plays and extremely critical role of overseeing the Albuquerque Police Department. That role includes review and approval of APD’s annual budget and holding public hearings and giving advise and consent to the appointment of the APD Chief of Police.  Simply put, the Albuquerque City Council must exert its oversight authority over the Albuquerque Police Department during a crisis like this that goes to the very credibility of the police department. City Council has every right to ask the questions and demand answers no matter how uncomfortable or embarrassing Mayor Keller and Chief Medina think they are.

It was sure arrogance and deflection by Chief Medina proclaiming that the city council was “out of line” for demanding information and exercising their oversight authority. It is Medina who showed contempt and insubordination to the elected city council governing body by calling out the 2 city councilors who are retired cops saying they should know better and to not ask questions of the chief on pending criminal investigations. Medina showed a disrespect for elected officials and he owes the counsel an apology.

It was “pivot, deflection and blame” when Mayor Keller accused the City Council of “unethical conduct” when he said “it’s marginally unethical for them to air these concerns” that may jeopardize the investigation. The city counsel was simply asking for information they are entitled to have in order to carry out their oversight duties and responsibilities over APD. It was Keller who was out of line and unethical with his dealings with the city council.

Mayor Tim Keller and Chief Harold Medina must ultimately be held accountable and take full responsibility for failed leadership of APD in this most recent APD scandal. They both have attempted to take credit for the investigation and for taking action to hold bad cops accountable for the corruption when it was in fact the FBI investigation that forced their hand and after they both allowed the problem to fester for 6 years.

STUNNING ADMISSIONS

Keller and Medina have made more than a few stunning admissions. They admitted that the APD bribery and conspiracy scheme has been going on the entire 6 years they have been in charge of APD but they never detected what was going on. They admitted that only after they found out the Feds were investigating APD they decided to put things in high gear with their own investigation and to proclaim cooperation.

These admissions come from a mayor who was first elected with great bravado as the white knight State Auditor who stopped “waste, fraud and abuse” and held people accountable for government corruption. This is the same candidate for Mayor who said 6 years ago said he was “uniquely qualified” to be Mayor above all others when he had absolutely no experience in municipal government affairs let alone law enforcement.

Chief Medina admitted that he knew about the corruption as far back as December 2022 when APD first got a complaint related to the department’s DWI unit in December 2022, yet he waited and essentially did nothing for a full year. Medina does not mention if he ever told Keller in December 2022 no doubt believing he could cover up and deal with the problem himself.  Medina said “They believe it was DWI officers, and that one had made the comment that they were making money off of DWI stops” yet Medina did not turn the matter over to Internal Affairs at the time who could have easily investigated.

BOTH KELLER AND MEDINA LOOK THE OTHER WAY

It is downright laughable when Chief Medina told one news outlet he has never looked the other way at police corruption in more than three decades he has been on the force. Keller in particular has gone out of his way to defend Medina proclaiming Medina was holding APD police officers accountable. They both simply lie. Both have an extensive history of allowing, ignoring and looking the other way when it came to  overtime pay abuses as police officers were paid in the hundreds of thousands of dollars in police overtime by gaming the system and being paid 2 and 3 times their annual salaries.  Many of those officers were assigned to the DWI Unit when Medina was the Deputy in charge of Field Services with some of those DWI unit officers now being accused of bribery and conspiracy to dismiss DWI cases.

There have been no less than 7 audits documenting the corruption, waste, fraud and abuse in APD police overtime over the past 8 years with one audit done by none other than former State Auditor Tim Keller. Keller and Medina have done nothing to curb the overtime pay abuse and there have been no prosecutions for time card fraud or overtime pay abuse by police officers, especially those assigned to the DWI Unit, even when found by the audits. In fact one of the APD Officers identified in the current scandal was assigned to the DWI and paid over $124,000 because of excessive overtime. Bribes taken to get DWI charges dismiss may have been considered by the guilty as a bonus of some sort by.

There is absolutely no doubt that APD’s reputation has been trashed to a major extent by this scandal. APD will likely be viewed by many as again having just another bastion of “dirty and corrupt cops” who have brought dishonor to their department and to the department’s professed values of “Pride, Integrity, Fairness and Respect”. 

There is little doubt that the whole scandal places an ethical stain on the department that may never be removed. The public will demand that there is a thorough investigation of the officers involved in the crimes and the people and supervisors who should have known what was going on but that will be accomplished only if the Feds pursue the case which will likely take at least a full year before charges are bought.

A WALK IN THE PARK

Six years ago, newly elected Mayor Tim Keller hired as his first APD Chief Michael Geier who spent 30 plus years with APD. Gieir in turn recruited Harold Medina to return to APD and then appointed Medina Deputy Chief of Field Services. Medina as Deputy Chief of Field Services was in charge of the APD DWI Unit. As Deputy Chief Medina never took steps to put a stop to the DWI units documented, excessive overtime pay abuses.

When Medina got wind that Chief Geier was about to remove him for insubordination, Medina helped orchestrate Geier’s removal to become Chief with the help of then Chief Administrative Officer Sarita Nair. Mayor Keller summoned Chief Geier to a local park and told Geier his services were no longer needed and forced him to resign calling it retirement. (Geier reported that Keller showed up in partial disguise.)  Medina is known to be a micro manager and it difficult to believe nor understand that at no time did he ever get information regarding the nefarious conduct of the DWI unit.

Should APD Chief Medina choose to ignore responding to the January 25 letter and answer the questions or refuse to attend the next city council meeting as requested by the City Council President, the council should vote “no confidence” in Chief Medina and move to rescind his confirmation and demand his removal as Chief of Police by Mayor Tim Keller.  Notwithstanding, it’s time for Mayor Tim Keller to invite Chief Medina to a “walk in the park” as he did with Chief Geier and ask Medina to move on.

 

Dismissal Of 152 DWI Cases In APD Scandal And Campaign Contribution Become Issues In Bernalillo County District Attorney Race; DWI Victim Rights Advocates Raise The Alarm Over Dismissals; Dismantle and Reconstitute DWI Unit  

On Friday January 19, a bombshell blew up that rocked the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) and the legal community when it was reported by all local news outlets that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) executed search warrants and raided 3 homes of Albuquerque Police officers and the home and law office of a prominent DWI defense attorney Thomas Clear III. The US Attorney’s office of New Mexico confirmed “federal law enforcement activity at those locations” in cooperation with the Albuquerque Police Department. On the same day,  the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office announced it had dismissed 152 active and pending DWI criminal cases because of the federal investigation.

Bernalillo County District Attorney Sam Bregman confirmed the investigation did lead to the dismissal of 152 DWI cases due to the federal investigation “in deference to an ongoing federal investigation.”  Initially, the DA office declined to say if those cases were related to the FBI raid, but a search of court records by News 13 found more than a dozen cases dating back over the last year which were dropped were originally signed by the officer whose home was raided. District Attorney Sam Breman said this:

“Of course, it is very concerning, but all I can tell you is that I have no choice. We had to do this, [dismiss the cases], and unfortunately, we dismissed 150 DWI cases. … The idea of dismissing approximately 150 DWI cases is a gut punch to me. It makes me sick to my stomach, but I have no choice, my prosecutorial ethics will require me to dismiss these cases.” 

MARTINEZ CRITICAL OF DISMISSALS

Former United States Attorney Damon Martinez is running against Bernalillo County  District Attorney Sam Bregman for the Democratic nomination. The Democratic primary is on June 4.

On January 23, Martinez issued the following statement to New Mexico Politics With Joe Monahan blasting Bregman for dismissing the 152  DWI cases that the Bregman said  are compromised by the federal corruption investigation:

“The DA’s handling of this police corruption case is just another example of why Bernalillo County can’t afford to have someone with less than five years of experience as a prosecutor in one of the most important prosecutor roles in New Mexico. Bregman is jeopardizing potential cases against other perpetrators by announcing the case to the world, presumably in an effort to get in front of it, and to continue what appears to be his main priority, campaigning. Then he refers all questions to the US Attorney’s office, deflecting his responsibility to the voters he was appointed to serve. 

As a career prosecutor and the former US Attorney for NM, I will tell you how a qualified District Attorney would have handled this investigation correctly.  I would have led a thorough investigation in order to ensure that none of the now-dismissed cases couldn’t be prosecuted without these officers. For the cases that couldn’t move forward, I would have filed motions to dismiss, but without all of the pomp and circumstance. In doing so, I would have avoided notifying every attorney and police officer in the city that they may be under investigation, and, subsequently, removed the chance to destroy evidence that they now have, thanks to Bregman’s affinity for attention. 

Bernalillo County deserves better. That’s why this is an elected office. The democratic process would have separated Bregman’s bravado and political aspirations from his resume, and this year it will.”

On January 23, Damon Martinez issued a second press release:

“The dismissal of these 150+ cases is a tragic loss in the fight against drunk driving. Thomas Clear III’s possible connection to a police corruption investigation and this unfortunate result is disconcerting.  The money DA Bregman has accepted from him is now suspect. Today, I call on my opponent to donate this money to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, in an effort to offset some of the damage that has been done.”

CAMPAIGN CONTRIBUTION QUESTIONED AND RETURNED

On January 25, KOAT TV Channel 7 reported that it had reviewed the campaign finance reports  of Bernalillo County District Attorney Sam Bregman for this year’s election.  It was reported that criminal defense attorney Thomas Clear III  made a $1,000 donation District Attorney Sam Bregman in June of last year.

Public opinion pollster Brian Sanderoff of Research and Polling was contacted and he said this:

“It was very inappropriate for the attorney to give Sam Bregman, the district attorney, a campaign contribution right in the middle of this criminal investigation, which does involve the district attorney’s office. … So it creates an appearance of a conflict of interest for a campaign contribution to be granted in the middle of a criminal investigation. … If a candidate had received the political contributions from this attorney in the last few months, I think it’d be advisable to return it. But if it was years ago, not so much.”

Channel 7 reached out to Bregman’s campaign, and it sent the following statement from Bregman:

“The campaign refunded the contribution made on June 12th last year. We sent a check back to the attorney last Friday, January 19th, for the full amount of the contribution. Having worked in the legal profession for decades, District Attorney Bregman was an acquaintance with the attorney. Without compromising an ongoing investigation, DA Bregman returned the contribution as soon as possible.”

The link to the quoted news article is here:

https://www.koat.com/article/albuquerque-investigated-attorney-court-donations/46544836

DISTRICT ATTORNEY SAM BREGMAN RESPONDS TO MARTINEZ

District Attorney Sam Bregman issued the following statement to New Mexico Politics with Joe Monahan in response to former United States Attorney Damon Martinez January 23 statement to New Mexico Politics with Joe Monahan:

“It is very easy for Mr. Martinez to pontificate on everything he claims our office is doing wrong from the sidelines. My job as District Attorney is to ensure equal and fair justice for all cases that come into our office. 

Apparently, Mr. Martinez’s new job is to criticize the work of our office in an attempt to score political points. I would have hoped that a former federal prosecutor would have understood why we cannot go into further detail about an ongoing federal investigation. 

Unlike Mr. Martinez, it is my ethical duty as the District Attorney to uphold the highest standards of fairness and justice. While he was a senior advisor for the Albuquerque Police Department, exactly what measures did Mr. Martinez put in place to address this situation? 

Over the past year, I have had to make some difficult decisions. I can promise the people of Bernalillo County that every decision I have made, has been with their best interest and well-being at heart. Mr. Martinez’s blatant grandstanding shows one indisputable fact: His decisions are made with his political interests at heart.”

DWI VICTIM RIGHTS ADVOCATES RAISE THE ALARM OVER DISMISSALS

Linda Atkinson is with the DWI Resource Center and the Victim’s Rights Project. After hearing about the District Attorney’s Office dropping more than 152 DWI-related cases, she raised major concerns about what the drivers who are in fact guilty of DWI responsible will do now. Atkinson believes the drivers named in the 152 dropped cases will “continue with their behavior”.

Atkinson said this in a Channel 7 interview:

“It is such a disservice to this community. It’s a disservice to victims. … Our roads are now still very dangerous.”

People affected by DWI, like Caroline Esquivel in Espanola, lost her granddaughter Justice Gutierrez-Perez in 2020 to a drunk driver. Now, she takes care of a son who will never see his mom again. Esquivel said this:

“She was part of this community to the point that she would have been one of our future leaders.  [Victims of DWI]  are people too, and these lives matter also.”

Atkinson and Esquivel share the same concern and wonder what other families have to say about this recent investigation.  With an investigation like this and the number of DWI cases being dropped, both are hoping it can shed light on a problem they have been dealing with for too long.

Atkinson said the effects of this on families worries her. Atkinson said this:

“It’s beyond the pale of what this means and how that impact will ripple through for quite a while.”

The link to the full Channel 7 news story is here

https://www.koat.com/article/dwi-cases-dropped-das-office-fbi-raid-apd/46465119

NEW MEXICO’S DWI CRISIS

For decades, New Mexico has consistently ranked in the top 10 states when it comes to DWI rates. The most recent study released on October 21, 2021  by a driver’s education resource website indicated people in New Mexico continued to drive impaired in high numbers. According to Zutobi, New Mexico had the seventh highest driving under the influence (DUI) severity score in the United States. Zutobi’s U.S. DUI Report presented historical trends and breakdown of DUI’s by state.

Leo Waldenback, co-founder of Zutobi said this:

“The numbers for New Mexico are much higher than many of the other states in the country.  … We’ve taken a deep dive into the data to find out where DUI accidents, fatalities, and arrests frequently occur. … We have got to continue the effort to encourage the public not to drink and drive through education through frequent messages be it radio, newspaper, Facebook whatever to remind the public DWI is a crime.”

https://www.currentargus.com/story/news/2021/10/14/dui-report-gives-new-mexico-seven-dui-severity-score/6095970001/

COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS

There is absolutely no doubt that APD’s reputation has been trashed to a major extent because of this scandal. APD will likely be viewed by many as again having just another bastion of “dirty and corrupt cops” who have brought dishonor to their department and to the department’s professed values of “Pride, Integrity, Fairness and Respect”.  There is little doubt that the whole scandal places an ethical stain on APD that may never be removed.  The public will demand that there is a thorough investigation of the officers involved in the crime and the people and supervisors who should have known what was going on.

Bernalillo County District Attorney Sam Bregman may have taken swift action with the dismissal of the DWI 152 cases that he felt ethically he had no choice  to, but his work cannot stop there. Victim rights cannot simply be ignored or discarded so easily.  Bregman needs to decide if his office will also bring charges against the very APD Police officers who actions forced the dismissal of the cases.  Ditto as to Attorney General Raul Torrez who is also Chairman of the Law Enforcement Certification Commission in the state.

CORRECTIVE ACTION NEEDS TO BE DONE IMMEDIATELY

One thing is for certain is that swift corrective action must be taken to restore the integrity and the credibility of APD’s DWI unit and action must be taken by Mayor Tim Keller.  This is one crisis that cannot be solved by Keller’s public relations apparatus. APD Chief Harold Medina to some extent needs to be held responsible for what has happened. There was a level of mismanagement and inept supervision by APD higher command staff.

There are 5 police officers along with one sergeant and one lieutenant currently assigned to the APD DWI unit.  The Deputy Chief of Field Services, who oversees the DWI unit, should be removed and reassigned immediately and the same should happen to the entire DWI Unit.  All sworn police officers assigned to the DWI unit should be replaced with all new staffing including Sergeants and Lieutenants.  The office of Inspector General should undertake an immediate review of all APD DWI cases of the last 3 years to determine to what extent cases were dismissed by the unit and the reasons why.

Throughout the APD Police Academy and most of its classroom walls as well as APD main station and substations are placards that proclaim APD’s professed values of “Pride, Integrity, Fairness And Respect”.  Until Mayor Tim Keller and his administration take aggressive action to deal with this latest APD crisis, APD’s professed values of “Pride, Integrity, Fairness And Respect” are meaningless words on a wall and the public’s trust in APD will be forever tainted.

News Media Identify APD Lt. And 4 Police Officers In APD Corruption Scandal; COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS: A Bastion Of “Dirty And Corrupt Cops”; Mayor Tim Keller And Chief Harold Medina Must Be Held Ultimately Accountable For Failed Leadership

On Friday January 19, a bombshell blew up that rocked the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) and the legal community when it was reported by all local news outlets that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) executed search warrants and raided 3 homes of Albuquerque Police officers and the home and law office of a prominent DWI defense attorney. On the same day, the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office announced it had dismissed 152 active and pending DWI criminal cases because of the federal investigation.

On January 24, the KOB News Channel 4 telecasted during its 10:00 pm news program an investigative report by its entire news team that for the first time identified the 4 APD police officers and the criminal defense attorney involved in the APD corruption scandal involving the dismissal of the DWI cases.  On January 25, the Albuquerque Journal published a banner headline story entitled “APD Lt., Officers ID’d in Corruption case”, The allegations involve DWI cases going back a decade”.

Below are the news stories followed by Analysis and Commentary:

KOB NEWS STORY

Following is the full Channel 4 news report in written form:

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – With each day, there are more repercussions in the federal investigation into multiple Albuquerque police officers. KOB 4 spent hours independently confirming the details agents have yet to release that ultimately led to the recent dismissal of dozens of DWI cases. 

None of the people we’re about to identify have been officially charged. 

Why we’re naming them.

KOB 4 dug through hundreds of public records to identify four officers in APD’s DWI Unit. 

We confirmed all four were just added to the Bernalillo County district attorney’s list of officers who have credibility issues as witnesses in court, also known as the Brady list or Giglio list.

KOB 4 confirmed the FBI raided the office of a local attorney who represented clients in the recently dismissed DWI cases, and other cases.

Finally, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Albuquerque confirms the raids are connected to their investigation. With that, the four Albuquerque police officers at the center of this federal investigation are:

  • Officer Honorio Alba, Jr.
  • Officer Harvey Johnson
  • Officer Joshua Montano
  • Officer Nelson Ortiz

A supervisor is also implicated, but we can’t independently identify him as of Wednesday night.

The local attorney being investigated is Thomas Clear III.  

THE BASIS OF THE ALLEGED SCHEME

The same scenario happens time and time again in the cases we reviewed. The officers make DWI arrests, the defendants hire this particular attorney, the officers don’t show up to court, and the cases get dismissed. 

KOB 4 first learned something was going on because of a situation at a home in Los Lunas last week. We’ve confirmed through property records that the home belongs to APD Officer Harvey Johnson. 

Johnson’s home was raided by the FBI last Thursday, and we later found out he worked on APD’s DWI unit, and that week many of his DWI cases were dropped by the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office.

Johnson was put on administrative leave as a part of this investigation. His name now appears on the district attorney’s list of witnesses who are not credible. 

Officer Honorio Alba Jr. was actually honored for his work against drunk driving last year. The group known as MADD, or Mothers Against Drunk Driving, named him their top officer for the year 2023 in the entire state of New Mexico. 

A post on social media shows APD congratulating him on winning this award. There’s one winner from each state, and he was the winner in New Mexico. It’s dated July 26, 2023, only about six months ago. 

Alba made approximately $148,000 in 2023, making him one of the highest earners in the department. Right now, he’s still making money because he’s on paid administrative leave while this all plays out.

Alba is the officer whose name appears the most in the cases recently dismissed by the Bernalillo County DA’s office. He’s named in 72 of the 156 dismissed cases, or 46% of them.  

Officer Joshua Montano has been on the DWI unit for a long time. In fact, back in 2022, he was hit and severely injured by a drunk driver. The community and a local church came together for the officer and raised thousands of dollars to help with medical expenses. 

Montano is also on administrative leave and no longer considered a credible witness by the DA’s office.

The final officer we can confirm is Officer Nelson Ortiz. He is another member of the DWI unit who happened to be one of the highest earners for the department in 2023. He made around $136,000 last year. 

Montano is also reportedly on paid administrative leave right now, along with three of the four other people under investigation. Of those 156 dismissed cases dismissed so far, his name appears in 11 of them. 

Thomas Clear III is the same attorney who keeps showing up on the list of dismissed DWI cases. KOB 4 confirmed last week that FBI agents also raided his office in a Mid Heights neighborhood Thursday.

Neighbors told us five or six FBI vehicles and twice as many agents showed up at the home office around 8 a.m. Thursday. They were shouting “FBI” and “search warrant” multiple times before realizing no one was home, and they used a battering ram to break down the front door.

The final element we needed to independently connect these officers to the investigation came Wednesday. Bernalillo County District Attorney Sam Bregman confirmed all four were recently added to his office’s Brady or Giglio list. 

The Giglio list is a list of all the law enforcement officers who have lost their credibility in court. Very recently, those officers ended up on the district attorney’s office Giglio-Brady list.

Once on this list, anytime an officer is called as a witness in a case, the prosecutors would have to disclose that to the defense.

The Law Office of the Public Defender says the Giglio-Brady list is one way to hold police officers accountable and ensure their testimony in court is reliable.

“DWI cases are based on the testimony of the DWI investigative officer so without that testimony there is no way to continue on with that case, and it is extremely disappointing, very upsetting. But it is something we have to do. I think in due time, people will understand why they were put on that list,” Bregman said. 

Bregman says he couldn’t give any more details at this time because he doesn’t want to interfere with the federal investigation.

The question everyone has is why did these officers not show up to court? Was there an incentive? That’s the part of the investigation no one is clarifying yet. 

KOB 4 asked Bregman about it on Wednesday:

“Let me put it to you this way, there’s an ongoing federal investigation. I want the federal authorities, the FBI, the U.S. Attorney’s Office to do a thorough, clean investigation to root out any issues they see. And when they complete that, I imagine a lot more will come to light – but at this point, I don’t want to compromise that, I want them to be able to do their work.”

The link to the KOB 4 news story is here:

https://www.kob.com/new-mexico/dwi-corruption-scandal-identifying-the-apd-officers-and-attorney-at-the-center-of-a-federal-investigation/

ALBUQUERQUE JOURNAL FRONT PAGE ARTICLE

Following is the Albuquerque Journal January 25 headline story followed by the link to the story entitled “APD Lt., Officers ID’d in Corruption case”; The allegations involve DWI cases going back a decade” written by Journal staff writers Mathew Reisen and Colleen Heid:

“An Albuquerque police lieutenant and four officers being investigated by the FBI in connection with years of corruption related to DWI cases have been identified.

The Journal has learned, through court records and property searches, that Lt. Justin Hunt and officers Honorio Alba Jr., Joshua Montaño, Harvey Johnson Jr. and Nelson Ortiz are those under federal scrutiny.

None of the men has been charged, and no arrests have been made in the ongoing investigation by the FBI.

The allegations involve the dismissals of DWI cases filed in Bernalillo County’s Metro Court over at least the past decade and involve a group of current and former DWI-unit officers, at least one Albuquerque defense attorney and his paralegal.

Hunt is on administrative assignment, and the other four are on paid administrative leave.

Albuquerque Police Department officials have not identified the officers or detailed the nature of the alleged scheme, but said all five are also facing an investigation by the Internal Affairs division.

The FBI also has been tight-lipped about the particulars of the case, and APD officials told the Journal on Tuesday they have received only limited information.

Hunt and Montaño both declined to comment to the Journal on Wednesday. Johnson Jr. and Alba Jr. did not return calls for comment, and Ortiz could not be reached.

On Jan. 18, FBI agents searched the homes of Johnson and Alba in Los Lunas and Edgewood, respectively. They also searched the law office of prominent defense attorney Thomas Clear III and the home of Clear’s paralegal, Ricardo “Rick” Mendez.

Within hours of the searches, the 2nd Judicial District Attorney’s Office announced the dismissal of more than 100 misdemeanor DWI cases. A Journal analysis of the 152 cases dismissed so far found that 136, or nearly 90%, were filed by four of the officers on leave.

Alba was responsible for 67 of the cases; Montaño had 41; and Johnson was listed as the arresting officer on 28. Ortiz was listed as the arresting officer on five of the dismissed cases.

All four officers were added to the District Attorney’s Giglio disclosure list, which names law enforcement personnel deemed untrustworthy to testify.

APD Chief Harold Medina told the Journal on Tuesday that the department caught wind of an alleged scheme in December 2022 after overhearing a conversation about it that involved one of the officers now under scrutiny. Medina said the details weren’t accurate and the lead didn’t materialize into a full-fledged investigation.

In October, Medina said, a similar allegation came up in court, leading APD to open a probe into the officers and other players in the criminal justice system. He said that’s when he learned the FBI was already doing its own investigation.

“In the end, the FBI and I spoke and I said, ‘Look, we’re looking at the same thing. Let’s work together,’” Medina said. Nevertheless, he said FBI officials kept many details of the case “close to their chest.” The two agencies began to work together to some degree, he added.

THE OFFICERS

  • Lt. Justin Hunt was the second-highest paid city employee in 2022, earning more than $217,000. Hunt, who lives in Rio Rancho, had left the DWI unit and, most recently, was a lieutenant in the Southeast area command.
  • Honorio Alba Jr., senior police officer, was one of more than a dozen officers who made more than $124,000 in 2022. In August, MADD recognized Alba as Outstanding Urban DWI Officer for New Mexico. APD noted the award on its Instagram, writing, “Officer Alba is 1 out of 50 recipients of the award. Thank you for your hard work and dedicated service!”
  • Joshua Montaño, senior police officer, made headlines in July 2022 when a drunken driver ran a red light and hit his car as he left work — putting him through multiple surgeries and a stint in rehabilitation. Before that, Montaño made the news for two high-profile DWI stops: the May 2017 arrest of Ryan Flynn, Gov. Susana Martinez’s former secretary of the New Mexico Environment Department, and the 2018 arrest of former Albuquerque legislator Monica Youngblood. In 2021, Montaño made a recruitment video for APD, saying he loved the prevention aspect of his job on the DWI unit. He said in the video, “knowing that person is impaired and being able to stop them and safely get them off the road is the thing I love most about this job.”
  • Harvey Johnson Jr., senior police officer, who lives in Los Lunas, was a subject of a 2020 article written by his wife, Alyssa, about her experience during the COVID-19 pandemic. The article discussed living with a police officer who was required to continue working with the public when many businesses were shuttered because his profession was deemed essential. The post appeared on abqmom.com.
  • Nelson Ortiz, senior police officer, was in a KRQE news story in January 2020 after he arrested two men who were driving drunk and drag racing on Montgomery. In lapel video shared with the news story, Ortiz told one of the men, who could barely stand, “You could have killed somebody out there. You think that’s funny?”

The link to the Albuquerque Journal article is here

https://www.abqjournal.com/news/albuquerque-police-lieutenant-officers-being-investigated-by-fbi-identified/article_3a78de2a-bb07-11ee-b707-4b1e6c6ad68c.html

COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS

Both Mayor Tim Keller and Chief Harold Medina must ultimately be held accountable and take full responsibility for failed leadership of APD and this most recent  APD scandal.  Mayor Tim Keller and Chief Harold Medina instead have been in full fledge “politcal spin cycle” of “pivot, deflect and blame” since the news broke and since the Albuquerque City Council accused them of failed leadership in dealing with the scandal as they attempt to get ahead of this most recent scandal involving APD.  They both have attempted to take credit for the investigation and for taking action to hold bad cops accountable for the corruption when it was in fact the federal investigation that forced their hand and after they both allowed the problem to fester for 6 years.

Chief Medina said city councilors were “out of line” demanding information about the scandal.  Mayor Keller said of the council “it’s marginally unethical for them to air these concerns” and jeopardizing the investigation. Medina admitted that he knew about the corruption as far back as December 2022, but he did nothing. They both admitted that only after they found out the Feds were investigating APD, the decision was made to initiate a city criminal investigation.

Keller and Medina have made more than a few stunning admissions. They admitted that the APD bribery and conspiracy scheme has been going on the entire 6 years they have been in charge of APD but  they never detected what was going on. They admitted that only after they found out the Feds were investigating APD they decided to put things in high gear with their own investigation and to proclaim cooperation.

These admissions come from a Mayor who was first elected with great bravado as the white knight State Auditor who stopped “waste, fraud and abuse” and held people accountable for government corruption. This is the same candidate for Mayor who said six years ago said he was “uniquely qualified” to be Mayor above all others when he had absolutely no experience in municipal government affairs let alone law enforcement.

Chief Medina admitted that he knew about the corruption as far back as December 2022 when APD first got a complaint related to the department’s DWI unit in December 2022, yet he waited and essentially did nothing for a full year.  Medina said “They believe it was DWI officers, and that one had made the comment that they were making money off of DWI stops.”

It is downright laughable when Chief Medina told one news outlet he has never looked the other way at police corruption in more than three decades he has been on the force. Keller in particular has gone out of his way to defend Medina proclaiming Medina was holding APD police officers accountable. They both simply lied. Both have an extensive history of allowing and ignoring overtime pay abuses as police officers were paid in the hundreds of thousands in police overtime by gaming the system and being paid two and three times their annual salaries with many of those officers assigned to the DWI Unit with some of those DWI unit officers now being accused of bribery and conspiracy to dismiss DWI cases.

There have been no less than 7 audits documenting the corruption, waste, fraud and abuse in APD  police overtime over the past 8 years with one audit done by none other than former State Auditor Tim Keller. Keller and Medina have done nothing to curb the overtime pay abuse and there have been no prosecutions for time card fraud or overtime pay abuse by police officers, especially those assigned to the DWI Unit, even when found by the audits. In fact one of the APD Officers identified in the current scandal was assigned to the DWI and paid over $124,000 because of excessive overtime. Bribes taken to get DWI charges dismiss may have been considered a bonus of some sort.

Keller and Median have emphasized that only 5 police officers have been implicated knowing full well that the federal investigation is continuing and is likely going to reveal far more officers are involved with the corruption and perhaps result in the dismissal of even more cases.

There is absolutely no doubt that APD’s reputation has been trashed to a major extent because of this scandal. APD will likely be viewed by many as again having just another bastion of “dirty and corrupt cops” who have brought dishonor to their department and to the department’s professed values of “Pride, Integrity, Fairness and Respect”. 

There is little doubt that the whole scandal places an ethical stain on the department that may never be removed. The public will demand that there is a thorough investigation of the officers involved in the crimes and the people and supervisors who should have known what was going on.

This is so even before any charges have been filed against anyone, before any one is fired from APD and before any action is brought against the police officers involved for government corruption and criminal conspiracy to dismiss cases working with a prominent criminal defense attorney. Should the criminal defense attorney be charged and convicted of the crimes, he is likely facing disbarment from the practice of law.

Throughout the APD Police Academy and most of its classroom walls as well as APD main station and substations are placards that proclaim APD’s professed values of “Pride, Integrity, Fairness And Respect”.  Until Mayor Tim Keller and his administration and for that matter the City Council  take aggressive action to deal with this latest APD crisis, APD’s professed values of “Pride, Integrity, Fairness And Respect” are meaningless words on a wall.

 

“Dynamic Duo Of Police Reform” Mayor Tim Keller and Chief Harold Medina “Decry APD Corruption” They Allowed To Fester; Both Enter “Spin Cycle” Saying They Are Washing Stain Of Corruption Out Of APD; Both Break Silence  And Pivot, Deflect And Refuse To Admit Management Failures In APD DWI Bribery Scandal; Accuse City Council Of Unethical Conduct

On Friday January 19, a bombshell blew up that rocked the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) and the legal community when it was reported by all local news outlets that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) executed search warrants and raided 3 homes of Albuquerque Police officers and the home and law office of a prominent DWI defense attorney Thomas Clear III. On the same day,  the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office announced it had dismissed 152 active and pending DWI criminal cases because of the federal investigation.

At the January 22 city council meeting, the APD bribery scandal was front and center as Albuquerque City Councilors expressed extreme frustration over that lack of transparency over the scandal and the failure of Mayor Tim Keller and his administration to brief them and advise them of the investigation before the FBI executed the search warrants. Several city councilors criticized the mayor’s administration and the police department with councilors going as far as to blame the entire situation on a lack of leadership from the Mayor Tim Keller and  APD Chief Harold Medina.  Councilors complained that they were left totally in in the dark about the federal investigation and only learned of it through the news media reports.  Albuquerque City Councilor Dan Lewis summed it up best when he said  this:

“This investigation, it does appear to show some unchecked corruption within the department. And these are allegations that are widespread of actions by Albuquerque police officers. … To be honest, it’s the leadership of Chief Medina, the leadership of the APD brass, leadership of the [Keller] administration. These are the questions that we’re going to continue to ask and continue to talk about.”

POLITICAL SPIN CYCLE

On January 23, APD Chief Harold Medina and Mayor Tim Keller made the rounds to the 3 local news stations and gave the Albuquerque Journal exclusive interviews in an obvious effort to explain the investigation the best they could and to spin away the criticism and taint of APD corruption leveled against them by the city council and the public. The full TV interviews are being provided for the reader to judge for themselves. An edited version of  the Albuquerque Journal  front page story “APD chief decries alleged corruption” is also provided.

CHIEF MEDINA BREAKS HIS SILENCE WITH INTERVIEWS WITH CHANNEL 13 AND Channel 4

Following is the Channel 13 news report:

It’s been called possibly the biggest corruption case in the Albuquerque Police Department history. Now the chief is responding to a federal investigation into his officers that’s led to more than 150 DWI case dismissals.

Monday night, frustrated city councilors asked why APD has been tight-lipped about the investigation. However, Chief Harold Medina says that pressure is not why he’s talking Tuesday. “This is horrible. It was a – it was a violation of trust for victims, a violation of trust for every officer who’s out there doing the right thing. And we got to make sure we get this right,” said Chief Medina.

With at least 150 DWI cases dismissed since last week, Albuquerque’s police chief says he’s heard from a number of victims and understands their concerns. “I am not okay with these individuals being, uh, let off of their charges, but it is the right thing to do, given the fact that these officers are accused of something that is just despicable,” said Chief Medina.

The chief says he’s been working with the FBI since October 2023, investigating allegations against officers in APD’s DWI unit. That was shortly after he found out the feds were already looking into similar complaints of misconduct.

KRQE News 13 learned the federal investigation surrounds accusations of officers being paid to get DWI cases dismissed. The chief can’t get that specific with the feds in charge. “This is a very complex investigation, which is going to involve a lot of parts, a lot of different moving parts within the criminal justice system. So we’re being very cautious about how we move forward. And I have to respect my partners in this,” said Chief Medina.

But Chief Medina shared that APD’s Internal Affairs handed five officers notice late Monday and said they are under investigation in connection to this scheme. Four are on paid administrative leave. One has been reassigned to a different department for now. “We’ve identified five,” he explained. “We don’t know if it’s going to grow further from there. We don’t know where it’s going to grow from there. But we’re currently at five officers.”

Not all are currently in the DWI unit. One started there in 2011 meaning this alleged misconduct may go back 13 years.

How did the chief and administrations before him miss this? The chief says he’s asking himself that same question.But I think we’ve got to remember that they got away with it. If it was, if it was occurring, it’s something that’s occurred for over a decade. So obviously they were very good at hiding this. And, we are glad that this administration has been able to bring this to light,” said Chief Medina.

Chief Medina pointed out he views this investigation as proof the current administration is committed to reform. I mean, we had 150 cases dismissed. It’s horrible. So yes, in a way there is a stain on APD, but I think that there is the general public who’s going to realize that leadership is holding individuals accountable. We’re not sweeping anything under the carpet, and we’re making sure that we fully investigate everything to the best of our ability,” said Chief Medina.

Since the officers believed to be involved didn’t just handle DWI cases, it’s possible other types of criminal cases could be dismissed. The chief says that will be up to the district attorney.  The chief also talked about reorganizing the DWI unit to include more oversight.”

On January 23,  Mayor Tim Keller issued the following statement to KRQE :

This investigation involves a handful of long-time officers at APD, going back a decade; if true, what these individuals did is a disgrace to the badge, and erodes faith in law enforcement. APD leadership fully supports this investigation and continues to work with our partners to serve justice. Any individuals who engaged in this conduct will never work for the City again, and should be held accountable to full extent of the law. The department’s willingness to drive accountability, especially on its own, reflects how far we have come.”

The link to review the Channel 13 interview is here:

https://www.krqe.com/news/investigations/albuquerque-police-chief-discusses-dwi-case-scandal/

Following is the full Channel 4  news report interview with Chief Medina:

“We’re hearing from Albuquerque Police Chief Harold Medina for the first time since the department confirmed a handful of officers are at the center of a federal investigation.

Medina revealed facts about the timeline of the investigation and the number of officers involved so far. He also had strong words for Albuquerque city councilors on transparency.

Medina said the investigation is too important to the people of Albuquerque and the officers honestly doing their jobs every day  for him to give in to political pressure. Medina said this:

“Council was out of line last night. ….They are not privy to criminal, federal investigations. It’s very disappointing. We have two former law enforcement officers on the council. And they were talking about how they didn’t get the memo that this was occurring. I’m sorry, nobody out of the fifth floor and some key people at APD knew that this investigation was occurring.”

https://www.kob.com/new-mexico/albuquerque-city-councilors-criticize-mayors-admin-apd-over-federal-investigation/

The investigation is far from over. According to the chief, APD first got a complaint related to the department’s DWI unit in December 2022. After more than a year of teamwork with the FBI, five officers are either on leave or reassignment.

APD says a confidential source went to a deputy APD chief in December 2022 with the original allegations about the DWI unit.

“They believe it was DWI officers, and that one had made the comment that they were making money off of DWI stops,” Medina said.

After months of investigating, Medina says the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office helped move it forward.

“DA Bregman tells me that there’s some allegations that have come out against DWI officers and that the matter was turned over to the FBI,” Medina said.

APD says the department also handed over its criminal case to the FBI in late 2023, while it handled the administrative side.

I will defend those officers doing a great job, tooth and nail, but I will ensure that these individuals involved in the scheme are held accountable,” Medina said.

Medina also confirmed some of these allegations go back as far as a decade.

Reporter Giuli Frendak: “How does that happen?”

Chief Medina: “I tried to look at this, and I tried to determine how, and I think it’s individuals. I think that they just developed such a close relationship with other members of the criminal justice system that they were able to hide things very well. And this goes to show how complex and how thoughtful the scheme was.”

Reporter Giuli Frendak: “Is this not how we lose confidence in our local police officers?”

Chief Medina: “You know the actions of few always tarnish a bunch. And right now we have five officers who have tarnished our badge. It is a sense of pride that this administration, and the current leadership was able to break open a case that we feel was happening for over a decade.”

KOB 4 asked Medina about the narrative of the story and what the officers are accused of doing – he could not comment on that today. KOB 4 will not be naming the officers at this time because there are still no charges filed.”

The link to the Channel 13 report is here:

https://www.kob.com/new-mexico/albuquerque-police-chief-addresses-federal-investigation-into-officers/

MAYOR TIM KELLER’S JANUARY 23 KOAT TV INTERVIEW

Following is the full transcript of the January 23 interview of Mayor Tim Keller:

KOAT REPORTER: What do you have to say about the APD FBI raids?

Mayor Keller: What I am aware of so far, number one, is that this involves a handful of officers, and I think the accusations that I’m hearing about are patently a disgrace to the badge. I hope, if it’s true, these individuals never work at APD or here in Albuquerque again. But it is a limited to a handful of individuals to my understanding. APD, I also don’t believe is the only agency that’s being looked at. This has been happening for about a decade, if not longer, so this has been going on long before our team. I’m only grateful we caught it now and we’re going to stop it.

KOAT REPORTER: Do you have any confidence in your command staff?

Mayor Keller: I do. In fact, they initiated the investigation on this issue independently, before they ever knew there was a federal investigation. I think it speaks to their willingness to hold the department accountable and broadly the cost of progress has shown that, too. They’re doing the right thing in this case, but we have some bad apples, and they need to be held accountable.

KOAT REPORTER: Do you have any response to the city council meeting last night regarding the APD raid and lack of transparency that people feel, the city councilors?

Mayor Keller: I think there is an ethical issue there. We don’t want to jeopardize the investigation. The number important thing is to hold these folks accountable. In a public venue, like city council, it’s marginally unethical for them to air these concerns, because it might hamper the investigation. We would ask next time that they literally listen to the FBI. That would be very helpful if those councilors would do that.

KOAT REPORTER: The community is in shock. They feel, we all feel, we deserve answers. I know it’s still being investigated at this time, but why did it take the department [APD] months to sit on it before it came out?

Mayor Keller: Well, like any investigation, you want to get the evidence before anyone knows about it, because when people do the wrong things, they hide evidence, or they flee. We know in the state we have a challenge with like prosecution, so put together the good prosecution with all the data and the evidence, we have to essentially catch folks in the act. We have to do things, like legally, do search warrants, it takes time and so forth, so, you have to put the case together. The important thing is justice. I think we’re going to get it in this situation, but yeah, it takes a few months.

The link to the Channel 7 report is here:

https://www.koat.com/article/albuquerque-mayor-on-police-fbi-investigation/46511444

ALBUQUERQUE JOURNAL FRONT PAGE STORY

On January 24, the Albuquerque Journal published on its front page a banner headline story entitled “APD Chief decries alleged corruption” with the by line “FBI searched home of MADD officer of the year in DWI case probe”.

The Albuquerque Journal report has been edited and is provided in part as follows:

Albuquerque Police Department Chief Harold Medina said … that  more than two years ago, someone reported overhearing a conversation between officers that hinted at corruption within the DWI unit. [Medina said this]:

“They had details, but they were wrong.  … They thought it involved the bars… It turned out to be something different.”

The “something different” is a decade of alleged police corruption that came to light … when FBI agents searched the homes of at least three officers, a prominent local attorney’s office and a paralegal’s home.

Medina said he didn’t know when the FBI began looking into the case, but both agencies’ investigations collided late last year. He said that’s when they started working together to some degree.

The fallout has left four officers on paid administrative leave and one on administrative assignment as they are investigated by the FBI and APD’s Internal Affairs Division. The 2nd Judicial District Attorney’s Office has dismissed more than 150 DWI cases related to the investigation.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving’s 2023 Officer of the Year for New Mexico, Albuquerque police officer Honorio Alba, is one of those on leave. His Edgewood home was searched by federal agents … .

Medina said … that he has never looked the other way at police corruption in more than three decades on the force. He said if the allegations against the five officers are substantiated, they will be fired.

Medina added, if true, “they don’t deserve to be cops.” [Medina is quoted as saying:

“I spent 14 years in the field on the graveyard. I saw firsthand the tragedies caused by DWI.  … It disgusts me that so much of our department has moved forward… Last year was one of our best years. And it’s disappointing that a small group of individuals put themselves above everybody else in this city and has done something that is going to impact so many people in Albuquerque.”

Mayor Tim Keller said [in a statement]  any officers involved in corruption will never work for the city again “and should be held accountable to full extent of the law. … If true, what these individuals did is a disgrace to the badge, and erodes faith in law enforcement.”

Medina said three of the officers being investigated were with the DWI unit and two had been with the unit in previous years. Of those two who had moved on, one was working as a field officer and another was a supervisor.

He said the DWI unit, made up of eight officers, has been temporarily disbanded and the sergeant was reassigned. Medina would not identify the officers placed on leave.

He said it is unclear if more officers or personnel were involved in the alleged corruption.

Medina said the remaining five DWI officers are still on call and have approved overtime to investigate DWI stops. He said no allegations have been placed against those five officers.

Medina said he is looking at policy changes to ensure this type of corruption cannot happen again and set a time limit on a position with the DWI unit. Another issue, Medina said, is that they weren’t being notified every time an officer didn’t show up for a hearing, often leading to a case’s dismissal.

The investigation has resulted in the 2nd Judicial District Attorney’s Office dismissing 152 misdemeanor DWI cases [thus far]. Those cases could still be refiled.

… .

Of the 152 pending DWI cases dismissed, 136, or nearly 90%, were filed by three Albuquerque police officers, according to court records. Alba was responsible for 67 of the cases; another officer had 41; and the third was listed as the arresting officer on 28.

Court records show prosecutors dismissed the cases “in the interest of justice.”

The majority of the cases dismissed — 107 — were filed in 2023, making up 10% of APD’s DWI misdemeanor cases for the year. Eleven of the dismissed cases had been filed this year.

… .

Medina said  that “it’s very disheartening that City Council, especially two former police officers, would have an expectation that they would be privy to a federal investigation’s details… They do not have the right to know this. … We worked really hard to keep this as a confidential investigation. … We have limitations on what we could say. Let’s face it, City Council has two police officers. We think this goes back decades. Why the hell would I tell them about this investigation? They have no duty not to go tell others? And I just don’t know who’s involved. And that’s why we kept it tight-lipped at APD.”

The link to read  the full unedited Journal report is here:

https://www.abqjournal.com/news/fbi-searched-home-of-madd-officer-of-the-year-in-dwi-corruption-case/article_b8b2ee0c-ba26-11ee-a80a-67cd072ff1cd.html#tncms-source=home-featured-7-block

COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS

Both Mayor Keller and Chief Medina were in full fledge “politcal  spin cycle” of “pivot, deflect and take credit” in their interviews as they attempted to  provide far more information to the local media outlets than to the City Council. Both could just have easily told the City Council the identical information they gave to the media without jeopardizing the investigation. They both attempted to take credit for the investigation and taking action to hold people accountable for the corruption when it was in fact the federal investigation that forced their hand and after they both allowed the problem to fester.

Both failed in their in their interviews to give acceptable answers and explanations as to why there was a lack of transparency with the City Council and the public until now and their downright failure at leadership to identify the corruption during the full 6 years Keller has been Mayor.

Both admitted that the corruption at APD went on right under their noses. This coming from a Mayor who was first elected with great bravado as the white knight State Auditor who stopped “waste, fraud and abuse” and held people accountable for government corruption. This is the same candidate for Mayor who said six years ago he was “uniquely qualified” to be Mayor above all others when he had absolutely no experience in municipal government affairs let alone law enforcement.

Simply put, the Albuquerque City Council has oversight authority over the Albuquerque Police Department and they have every right to ask questions no matter how uncomfortable or embarrassing Keller and Medina think they are. It was sure arrogance by Chief Medina proclaiming that the city council was “out of line” for demanding information and exercising their oversight authority. It is Medina who showed contempt and insubordination to the elected city council by calling out the two city councilors who are retired cops saying they should know better and to not  ask questions on pending criminal investigations.

It was appalling that Mayor Keller would essentially accuse the City Council of “unethical conduct”  when he said “it’s marginally unethical for them to air these concerns” that may jeopardize the investigation by simply asking for information they are entitled to have in order to carry out their oversight duties and responsibilities over APD.

STUNNING ADMISSIONS

Both made more than a few stunning admissions. They admitted that the APD bribery and conspiracy scheme has been going on the entire time they have been in office and they never detected what was going on. They admitted that only after they found out the Feds were investigating APD they decided to put things in high gear with their own investigation and to proclaim cooperation.

Medina admitted that he knew about the corruption as far back as December 2022 when APD first got a complaint related to the department’s DWI unit in December 2022, yet he waited and essentially did nothing for a full year.  Medina said “They believe it was DWI officers, and that one had made the comment that they were making money off of DWI stops.”

It is downright laughable that Medina said he has never looked the other way at police corruption in more than three decades he has been on the force. Keller in particular went out of his way to defend Medina proclaiming Medina was holding his officers accountable. They both simply lied. Both have an extensive history of allowing and ignoring overtime pay abuses as police officers were paid in the hundreds of thousands in police overtime by gaming the system and being paid two and three times their annual salaries.

There have been no less than 7 audits documenting the corruption, waste, fraud and abuse in police overtime over the past 8 years with one audit done by none other than former State Auditor Tim Keller. Both have done nothing to curb the overtime pay abuse and there have been no prosecutions for time card fraud or overtime pay abuse by police officers, especially those assigned to the DWI Unit, even when found by the audits. In fact one of the APD Officers identified in the current scandal was assigned to the DWI unit and was the highest paid city hall employee in 2023 and paid over $250,000 because of excessive overtime. Bribes taken to get DWI charges dismiss may have been considered a bonus of some sort.

They both emphasize that only 5 police officers have been implicated knowing full well that the federal investigation is continuing and is likely going to reveal far more officers are involved with the corruption and perhaps result in the dismissal of even more cases.

BASTION OF “DIRTY AND CORRUPT COPS”

There is absolutely no doubt that APD’s reputation has been trashed to a major extent because of this scandal. APD will likely be viewed by many as again having just another bastion of “dirty and corrupt cops” who have brought dishonor to their department and to the department’s professed values of “Pride, Integrity, Fairness and Respect”. 

There is little doubt that the whole scandal places an ethical stain on the department that may never be removed. The public will demand that there is a thorough investigation of  the officers involved in the crimes and the people and supervisors who should have known what was going on.

This is so even before any charges have been filed against anyone, before any one is fired from APD and before any action is brought against the police officers involved for government corruption and criminal conspiracy to dismiss cases working with a prominent criminal defense attorney. Should the criminal defense attorney be charged and convicted of the crimes, he is likely facing disbarment from the practice of law.

Throughout the APD Police Academy and most of its classroom walls as well as APD main station and substations are placards that proclaim APD’s professed values of “Pride, Integrity, Fairness And Respect”.  Until Mayor Tim Keller and his administration and for that matter the City Council  take aggressive action to deal with this latest APD crisis, APD’s professed values of “Pride, Integrity, Fairness And Respect” are meaningless words on a wall.

REASON FOR KELLER’S FULL COURT PRESS

It is very easy to explain why Mayor Tim Keller has pushed so  aggressively to get out in front of this latest scandal involving APD and going so far as to disparage the Albuquerque City Council. Keller knows that this scandal is, or is likely the beginning of the ending of his politcal career as Mayor. This is one scandal that will likely be a major issue in the 2025 race for Mayor that Keller will not be able to shake free from.

Keller has already made it known to top aides he intends to run for a third term in 2025.  As it stands now in 2024, Tim Keller has extremely low approval ratings with one Journal Poll showing he has a 32% approval rating and his approval rating is likely to go down even further over the next 2 years with an adverse city council and with negative publicity such as this scandal.

Keller no doubt thinks he can turn his popularity around over the next two years and like the last time believes he will have weak to no opposition. Don’t bet on it given that sources are already confirming efforts are now underway to find candidates to oppose Keller in 2025 with another poll taken and potential candidates listed and where Keller garnered 18% in that poll.  Names are already beginning to surface to run against Tim Keller in 2025 and lets hope that they do run.  Hope springs eternal that some one will emerge to end the nonsense and corruption of the Keller-Medina Administration

The links  to a related blog articles are  here:

https://www.petedinelli.com/2024/01/22/fbi-agents-raid-the-homes-of-3-apd-police-officers-1-criminal-defense-attorney-ostensibly-over-scheme-to-dismiss-dwi-cases-da-forced-to-dismiss-152-dwi-cases-mayor-keller-should-dismantle-and-recon/

https://www.petedinelli.com/2024/01/23/abq-city-councilors-react-to-apd-bribery-scandal-by-complaining-mayor-tim-keller-did-not-communicate-with-them-alarming-disclosure-made-that-problem-goes-back-a-decade-council-fails-lead/

ABQ City Councilors React To APD Bribery Scandal By Complaining Mayor Tim Keller Did Not Communicate With Them; Alarming Disclosure Made That Scandal Problem Goes Back A Decade; Council Fails Leadership Role To Make Demands To Address Scandal Itself; The DWI Unit Should Be Dismantled And Reconstituted With All New Staffing To Restore Credibility  

On Friday January 19, a bombshell blew up that rocked the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) and the legal community when it was reported by all local news outlets that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) executed search warrants and raided 3 homes of Albuquerque Police officers and the home and law office of a prominent DWI defense attorney Thomas Clear III. The US Attorney’s office of New Mexico confirmed “federal law enforcement activity at those locations” in cooperation with the Albuquerque Police Department. It has been confirmed that one home was used by criminal  defense attorney Thomas Clear III as his  law office.

The Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office also announced it had dismissed 152 active and pending DWI criminal cases because of the federal investigation.  District Attorney Sam Bregman said this:

“Of course, it is very concerning, but all I can tell you is that I have no choice. We had to do this, [dismiss the cases], and unfortunately, we dismissed 150 DWI cases. … The idea of dismissing approximately 150 DWI cases is a gut punch to me. It makes me sick to my stomach, but I have no choice, my prosecutorial ethics will require me to dismiss these cases.” 

MAYOR KELLER NEVER GAVE CITY COUNCIL ADVANCED WARNING

At the very beginning of the January 22 city council meeting, the APD bribery scandal was front and center as Albuquerque City Councilors expressed extreme frustration over that lack of transparency over the scandal and the failure of Mayor Tim Keller and his administration to brief them and advise them of the investigation before the FBI executed the search warrants. Several city councilors criticized the mayor’s administration and the police department with some councilors going  as far as to blame the entire situation on a lack of leadership from the administration and APD.  Councilors complained that they were left totally in in the dark about the federal investigation and only learned of it through the news media reports.  They complained how they were unable to respond to constituents who demanded explanation as to what was going on.

Republican N.E. Heights freshman District 6 City Councilor Dan Champine and Democrat Westside City Councilor District 1 Louie Sanchez, both retired APD Police Officers, were the most vocal. Both councilors  peppered Chief Administrative Officer Samantha Sengel and City Attorney  Lauren Keefe  with questions and criticisms about the scandal.  Both Sengel and Keefe essentially deflected all the questions and criticism saying that it was an ongoing federal investigation and they were limited to what they could say in public.

Republican City Councilor Dan Champine  expressed extreme frustration over the Keller Administration for not making any effort to notify the city council about the federal investigation.  Champine said “The lack of communication to the public is the biggest issue right now. … I’m just really frustrated that there’s been a lack of communication with us and a lack of communication, ultimately, with the people. … The people of Albuquerque need to know that their leaders are engaged in this, and there has been no communication from no one. And when they reach out to me, I can’t give them any more.”

Champine complained that no “courtesy calls” were made to city councilors to give them a “heads up”.   He said that as a former APD police officer he understood the limitations of being able to discuss in public and in detail pending criminal cases. Champine acknowledged search warrants are done quickly and with no notice but he said it would make sense for the administration to at least quickly brief members of the city council before or at least soon afterward. Champine said the “lack of transparency” and Mayor Keller remaining completely silent was “failed leadership.”

Champine said that notwithstanding limitations of what could be discussed publicly about the case, the Keller Administration could have released statements that it took the scandal seriously. Champine told CAO Sengel and City Attorney Keefe “You dropped the ball.”

Ostensibly, Mayor Tim Keller was watching the City Council meeting at the time  and heard Champines complaints because during the city council meeting, Keller posted the following on TWITTER:

“While we can’t discuss the details of the investigation into a group of officers, we take these allegations very seriously. Our administration will hold all bad actors accountable, and @ABQPOLICE will continue to work closely with the FBI on the investigation.”

It was Democrat Westside District 1 City Councilor Louie Sanchez who showed an extent of anger and became very animated blaming the scandal on a “lack of leadership” at city hall by the Keller Administration. Sanchez said this: You probably can’t talk about it, which I know. But for us, it smells of corruption. This administration needs to step up its integrity and deal with it. …  Leadership is 100% the issue when [this]  happens, and I even say it’s the leadership of the mayor, and of the police department, in reference to these kinds of things taking place. … I know you’re gonna say that this spans within a certain amount of timeframe. But you know what, whose lap does it fall on?” 

Sanchez has been highly critical of the Keller administration and APD management in the past. He noted how hardworking and dedicated the overwhelming number of APD Officers are and how the scandal taints their good work.  He outlined numerous complaints of mismanagement by the Keller Administration and APD management that have been going on not only within the Department itself but at the APD police academy that have never been reported.  One incident includes a suicide by a police academy cadet over treatment he endured.   Notwithstanding his criticism, Sanchez did not call for the resignation of APD Chief Harold Medina nor did he make any suggestion of what needs to be done within APD to address the scandal.

City Council President Dan Lewis for his part  also pointed to leadership. Lewis said this:

“This investigation, it does appear to show some unchecked corruption within the department. And these are allegations that are widespread of actions by Albuquerque police officers,” Lewis said. “To be honest, it’s the leadership of Chief Medina, the leadership of the APD brass, leadership of the administration. These are the questions that we’re going to continue to ask and continue to talk about.”

Republican City Councilors Brook Bassan  and Dan Lewis both agreed with what Champine and Sanchez had to say, but had no questions.  They went  out of their way to compliment hard working police officers who do their job and Bassan  at one point said the work of the overwhelming  majority of  police officers should not be tainted by few “bad apples”.  Bassan  noted how the Keller Administration has a practice of releasing press release after press release and conducting press conferences on any number of topics that are far less important, but nothing has been said about the scandal.

One shocking revelation that was made by City Attorney Lauren Keefe  was that the problem and the handling of DWI cases “go back a decade” and involve “a handful of officers” and communications in such a sensitive investigation is “challenging.”  She failed to elaborate on what she meant and the city councilors simply failed to follow up with any line of questioning.

The city council questioning of the administration during its January 22 meeting is here and begins at 28:00.

https://www.kob.com/new-mexico/albuquerque-city-councilors-criticize-mayors-admin-apd-over-federal-investigation/

COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS

The Albuquerque City Council plays and extremely important role of overseeing the Albuquerque Police Department. That role includes review and approval of APD’s annual budget and holding public hearings and giving advise and consent to the appointment of the APD Chief of Police.

COUNCIL’S OWN FAILURE OF LEADERSHIP

What is downright pathetic is that the City Council was more concerned about not being kept in the loop nor told of the FBI investigation. All they did was complain about failed leadership by the Keller Administration and Tim Keller in particular. Not one city councilor demanded a full briefing of what was going on and the extent of the investigation and what the administration was doing to address the crisis. Such briefings could be confidential and occur in private and individually.

The city council could just as easily schedule a public hearing demanding a report from the Mayor and the APD Chief on what they are doing to prevent such a scandal from happening again.  The City Council could also demand the City Office of Inspector General or Independent Audit Department conduct and investigation to determine the extent of the corruption in the DWI unit itself. The city council could also ask Federal Court Appointed Monitor overseeing Court Approve Settlement Agreement to audit the cases of the DWI unit over the last 3 years to help identify government corruption.

The council should demand a briefing on all 4 executed search warrants once they are  unsealed by the court.  Major questions that will likely be answered by what’s in  the search warrants once they are  unsealed is who tipped off the FBI and exactly how the DWI cases were selected for dismissal and the type of remuneration was paid to the officers? Was it cash payments, was it gifts or some other remuneration such as airline tickets and vacation trips? Were APD Officers simply paid not to show up to court? Another question that must be answered is if any other criminal defense lawyers are involved or co counseled in the cases?

ETHICAL STAIN DIFFICULT TO REMOVE

There is absolutely no doubt that APD’s reputation has been trashed to a major extent because of this scandal. APD will likely be viewed by many as again having just another bastion of “dirty and corrupt cops” who have brought dishonor to their department and to the department’s professed values of “Pride, Integrity, Fairness and Respect”.  There is little doubt that the whole scandal places a ethical stain on the department that may never be removed.  The public  will demand that there is a thorough investigation of  the officers involved in the crime and the people and supervisors who should have known what was going on.

This is so even before any charges have been filed against anyone, before any one is fired from APD and before any action is brought against the police officers involved for government corruption and criminal conspiracy to dismiss cases working with a prominent criminal defense attorney. Should the criminal defense attorney be charged and convicted of the crimes, he is likely facing disbarment from the practice of law.

CORRECTIVE ACTION NEEDS TO BE DONE IMMEDIATLY

One thing is for certain is that swift corrective action must be taken to restore the integrity and the credibility of APD’s DWI unit and action must be taken by Mayor Tim Keller.  This is one crisis that cannot be solved by Keller’s public relations apparatus. APD Chief Harold Medina to some extent needs to be held responsible for what has happened. There was a level of mismanagement and inept supervision by APD higher command staff.

There are 5 police officers along with one sergeant and one lieutenant currently assigned to the APD DWI unit.  The Deputy Chief of Field Services, who oversees the DWI unit, should be removed and reassigned immediately and the same should happen to the entire DWI Unit.  All sworn police officers assigned to the DWI unit should be replaced with all new staffing including Sergeants and Lieutenants.  If APD Chief Harold Medina declines to take such action, he needs to be asked to step down and replaced. The office of Inspector General should undertake an immediate review of all APD DWI cases of the last 3 years to determine to what extent cases were dismissed by the unit and the reasons why.

Throughout the APD Police Academy and most of its classroom walls as well as APD main station and substations are placards that proclaim APD’s professed values of “Pride, Integrity, Fairness And Respect”.  Until Mayor Tim Keller and his administration and for that matter the City Council  take aggressive action to deal with this latest APD crisis, APD’s professed values of “Pride, Integrity, Fairness And Respect” are meaningless words on a wall.

The link to a related blog article is here:

https://www.petedinelli.com/2024/01/22/fbi-agents-raid-the-homes-of-3-apd-police-officers-1-criminal-defense-attorney-ostensibly-over-scheme-to-dismiss-dwi-cases-da-forced-to-dismiss-152-dwi-cases-mayor-keller-should-dismantle-and-recon/