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 criminal defense attorney. The US Attorney’s office of New Mexico confirmed “federal law enforcement activity at those locations” in cooperation with the Albuquerque Police Department and that one home was used by the DWI defense attorney as a law office. The APD police officers and the criminal defense attorney are at the center of a federal investigation involving the dismissal of hundreds of pending DWI criminal cases by the APD Officers ostensibly for some sort of remuneration to have the cases dismissed.
A total 3 homes in Albuquerque and one home in Los Lunas tied to the ongoing investigation were raided and searched. The federal search warrants remained sealed on Friday, January 20. No one has been charged or arrested in the case.
APD OFFICERS PLACED ON LEAVE
All of the APD Officers under investigation were assigned to APD’s DWI Unit but none have been identified by name in that an ongoing federal criminal investigation is continuing. APD Spokesman Gilbert Gallegos issued the following statement:
APD has been working with the FBI for the past several months on an investigation involving members of the department. Due to the sensitive nature of the investigation, some officers have been placed on administrative leave, and others will be temporarily reassigned within the department. APD leadership is working closely with the FBI to ensure a complete and thorough investigation can be completed.
Police Union President Shaun Willoughby when contacted by the media said he was totally unaware of the federal investigation. Willoughby said this:
“I don’t know the premise of the investigation. I don’t know any details of the investigation. I don’t even know the names of the officers placed on leave.”
DEFENSE ATTORNEY IDENTIFIED
On Saturday, January 20, the Albuquerque Journal reported that it was a home being used as an office by prominent criminal defense attorney Thomas Clear III that was raided by the FBI with a search warrant. According to the Albuquerque Journal, Thomas Clear, III resigned January 19 as chairman of the state Public Defender Commission. The commission is an 11-member panel that oversees the operation of the New Mexico Law Offices of the Public Defender as an independent agency. Maggie Shepard, communication director for the Law Offices of the Public Defender, said Clear has served as chair since August 2017. Clear’s website states that he has been practicing law for more than 40 years, focusing on criminal defense.
Neighbors who live near Clear’s law office, located inside a house on a street in Northeast Albuquerque, told the Journal they saw FBI agents early Thursday using crowbars to remove the front door. FBI agents were seen spending hours within the residence carrying out files and at least one hard drive or computer and other items.
Marcus Burnham, a neighbor, said he saw a team of FBI agents in tactical gear show up to Clear’s home and pound on the front door, yelling, “FBI. Search warrant” for about 10 minutes. No one answered the door and ostensibly no one was inside. Eventually the FBI agents breached the front door and went inside. The busted front door to the home was later secured by two large pieces of wood. Clear’s office phone wasn’t accepting phone messages on Friday, and he didn’t answer a Journal email seeking comment.
Burnham said he regularly has seen marked Albuquerque Police Department units, and sometimes Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office vehicles, parked outside the law firm’s office. He said Clear and his paralegal worked out of the office and usually could be seen coming and going daily. One neighbor said Clear lives elsewhere in Albuquerque.
Tessa DuBerry, a spokeswoman with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, confirmed federal law enforcement activity at Clear’s office. She said it was “done with the full cooperation of the Albuquerque Police Department. … We will decline to comment further.”
152 DWI CASES DISMISSE BY DA SAM BREGMAN
On Friday, January 19, the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office announced it had dismissed 152 active and pending DWI criminal cases because of the federal investigation. According to court records reviewed by the Albuquerque Journal, of the 152 pending DWI cases dismissed, 136, or nearly 90%, were filed by 3 Albuquerque police officers. One officer was responsible for 67 of the cases. Another officer had 41 and the third APD officer was listed as the arresting officer on 28. The majority of the cases dismissed, 107 cases, were filed in 2023, making up 10% of APD’s DWI misdemeanor cases for the year. Eleven of the dismissed cases were filed this year.
KOB 4 News asked the U.S. Attorney’s Office if the FBI investigation into multiple APD officers had anything to do with the DA dropping 152 active and pending DWI cases. According to KOB 4, the name of the APD officer who owns the home in Los Lunas is one of the officers that occurs multiple times on the long list of dismissed DWI cases. A Department of Justice spokesperson said this:
“DOJ policy does not allow us to confirm the existence of or otherwise comment on ongoing investigations.”
On Friday, January 20, 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.”
Maggie Shepherd, Communications Director for the New Mexico Law Office of the Public Defender said the office received the list of dismissals Thursday, January 18 and that the office is looking into whether any other cases may need additional scrutiny. Public Defenders’ Office said about 35% of the cases are theirs and said the office is reaching out to clients and looking at cases not on the list that might need additional investigation.
New Mexico Chief Public Defender Ben Baur for his part said this:
“I can confirm that these are all DWI cases and a portion of them are LOPD clients. … We immediately began identifying which clients are impacted and looking into whether there are other cases that may need additional scrutiny.”
The approved FY 2923- 2024 General Fund civilian count is 717, and the sworn count is 1,100 for 1,817 fulltime positions. However, the approved budget includes funding to support only 1,000 of the 1,100 sworn positions. There are currently 5 police officers along with one sergeant and one lieutenant assigned to the APD DWI unit.
- The number of DWI arrests made by APD in 2020 was 1,788
- The number of DWI arrests made by APD in 2021 was 1,230
Page 246 annual approved budget https://www.cabq.gov/dfa/documents/fy23-approved-budget-final-sept-13.pdf
- The number of DWI arrests made by APD in 2022 was 1,287
- The number of DWI arrests made by APD in 2023 was 727
Page 239 annual approved budget https://www.cabq.gov/dfa/documents/fy24-proposed-web-version.pdf
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
The fact that it is the DWI unit involved with this latest APD scandal does not come as a surprise to many city hall and APD observers. The DWI unit is known for its outright greed and overtime pay abuses that has repeatedly occurred over the last 10 years and no one has ever been held accountable and no one has ever been prosecuted.
Since 2014, there have been 7 audits investigating APD’s overtime pay abuses. A significant number of overtime pay abuses cases involved police officers assigned to the DWI units. Review of the 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2023 city hall 250 highest paid wage earnings reveals the extent of the staggering amount of overtime paid to APD rank and file. The lopsided number of APD sworn police officers listed in the top 250 paid city hall employees is directly attributed to the excessive amount of overtime paid to sworn police officers who have gamed the system and which is allowed by the police union contract mandating time and a half pay. .
For the past 5 years in a row, over half of the top 250 wages earners at Albuquerque City Hall are APD sworn police officers in the ranks of police officer first class, senior police officer 1st class, master police officer 1st class, sergeant and lieutenant. All earned between $113,126.08 to $199,414.69 a year. All were paid hourly wages for 40-hour work week and all paid time and a half for overtime pay. Police officers first class, senior police officers 1st class, master police officers 1st class, sergeants and lieutenant are all members of the APD police union, they are classified employees and can only be terminated for cause. The amounts paid because of overtime can be two and a half times and at even 3 times more than their base yearly hourly pay primarily because of overtime pay.
See related blog article in the postscript below.
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”.
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.
Bernalillo County District Attorney Sam Bregman is commended for taking swift action with the dismissal of the DWI cases and ethically he had no choice but to do so, but his work cannot stop there. Bregman needs to decide if his office will also bring charges against the very 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.
DOJ OVERSIGHT WILL LIKELY BE EXTENDED BECAUSE OF SCANDAL
On November 16, 2023, it was a full 9 years that has expired since the city entered into the Court Approved Settlement Agreement (CASA) with the Department of Justice (DOJ) after the DOJ found a “culture of aggression” and a pattern of excessive force and deadly force. Over the last 9 years, APD has devoted thousands of manhours, the city has spent millions of dollars on the reform process, creating and staffing entire divisions and roles and rewriting policies and procedures.
The Court appointed Federal Monitor has been paid millions and has performed extensive audits on APD’s performance measures and filed 18 audit reports on APD’s implementation of the reforms. APD is now on the verge of being in full compliance of the reforms that will result in the case being dismissed. Full compliance and dismissal of the case will likely be affected by the scandal. What is downright pathetic is that ostensibly this scandal on how APD has dismissed hundreds of DWI cases went totally undetected by the Federal Monitor and it’s hard to believe that no one reported the problem to the monitor and his audit team.
All 4 search warrants are under seal. Major question that will likely be answered by what’s in the search warrant once it is 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?
DWI charges can be either misdemeanor or felonies and such arrests are within the discretion of the arresting officer. DWI cases can be dismissed voluntarily by the arresting officer with the filing of a dismissal pleading or can be dismissed by the court for an officer’s failure to appear and testify at trial. The big question is what type of remuneration was paid to get the cases dismissed by the APD officers or were they paid simply 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?
DISMANTLE AND RECONSTITUTE DWI UNIT
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 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 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.
Absent from all the news coverage has been any comment from Mayor Tim Keller and Chief Harold Medina. The dynamic duo of police reform are likely held up somewhere in a city hall bunker trying to figure out what to do and who they will blame for this latest APD scandal. Yet another sad day and black eye for APD that is self inflicted.
Links to all quoted news sources are here:
KOB Channel 4
KOAT CHANNEL 7
KRQE CHANNEL 13
The link to a related blog article is here: