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.
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: