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
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:
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
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.”
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.