On January 19 the FBI raided the homes of three APD officers and a DWI defense attorney allegedly involved in a bribery and conspiracy scheme spanning a decade to dismiss DWI cases. Five cops, including one lieutenant, have been implicated. District Attorney Sam Bregman ordered 159 DWI cases dismissed because of the scandal. No criminal charges have been filed, the FBI search warrants remain sealed and the five APD officers who used to work in the DWI unit are on paid administrative leave during the federal criminal investigation.
EXCHANGE OF CORRESPONDENCE BETWEEN MEDINA AND CITY COUNCIL
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 him questions and demanding written answers on APD policies and procedures as they relate to the handling of DWI cases and what contributed to the dismissal of the DWI cases and which lead to the DWI bribery and conspiracy scandal. The City councilors also demanded the Chief Medina show up at the February 5 City Council meeting.
On February 1, APD Chief Harold Medina sent an 8 page single space letter to the Albuquerque City Council attempting to answer all of their questions. Medina identified one particular problem that he believed contributed to the dismissal of DWI cases and wrote this:
“Another shortfall in the criminal justice system has traditionally been the lack of ‘accountability for tracking missed appearances in court. The District Attorney’s Office currently has the responsibility to notify APD of missed appearances. This responsibility was recently confirmed, as Metro Court spokesperson Camille Baca was asked why Metro Court did not follow the recommendation of the National Center for State Courts to publish a list of cases dismissed for officers’ failing to appear. Ms. Baca stated, “[t]he justice partner group in Bernalillo County at the time, instead, decided that that recommended practice should be the responsibility of the District Attorney’s Office.” We stopped receiving notices in September 2022 due to a system failure at the DA’s office. We only recently started receiving the notices again. In addition, APD has never had the ability to independently access court systems to check on officer appearances. We have gained access in the last few weeks. We are now in the process of working ‘with the court data to automate tracking of officer appearances.”
DA BREGMAN BLASTS CHIEF MEDINA
On February 6, Bernalillo County District Attorney Sam Bregman, after reviewing Medina’s February 1 letter to the City Council, issued the following strongly worded statement:
In a letter dated February 1, 2024, to the City Council, the Chief of Police stated “the District Attorney’s Office currently has the responsibility to notify APD of missed appearances.” This is simply not true and has never been true. The Federal DWI investigation is about alleged misconduct by DWI police officers. Instead of focusing on that issue, the Chief is blaming the District Attorney’s Office, the Law Office of the Public Defender, and the Metropolitan Court for the dysfunction and mismanagement of his DWI unit.
[Chief Medina] should refocus on putting things in place to prevent this type of disaster from happening again. Although the District Attorney’s office has never been under any obligation to ensure officers show up for scheduled court appearances, we have put in place an additional robust notification system so APD will be aware when their officers miss court. The bottom line is holding accountable those people who are drinking and driving and the safety of our community.
APD RESPONDS TO DA BREGMAN
On February 6, APD spokesman Gilbert Gallegos responded to District Attorney Sam Bregman by attempting to clarify what happened in 2021. Gallegos said that Medina, as the Deputy Chief of Field Services who oversaw the DWI unit, spoke with then-Chief Deputy District Attorney Chuck Barth for then District Attorney Raul Torrez about high case dismissal rates. Gallegos claimed that Barth agreed the DA’s office would take responsibility for tracking no-shows in court and responsibility for the notifications to APD. Chief Deputy District Attorney Chuck Barth died unexpectantly in 2021 from complications from surgery. According to APD spokesperson Gallegos the system broke down and APD wasn’t notified of officer no shows. Upon information and belief, there is no formal written policy written by Chief Deputy DA Barth and there is no formal memorandum of understanding (MOU) negotiated between the District Attorney Office and APD on no show notifications.
Current Chief Deputy District Attorney Josh Boone under DA Bregman told the Albquerquerqu Journal on Monday January 5 the DA’s office has updated and improved its system for alerting law enforcement agencies when their officers fail to appear for court hearings. The DA’s office staff, including its assistant district attorneys, report the time, date and the reason, if known, that officers have missed court proceedings. Typically, misdemeanor cases, such as DWI, are dismissed without prejudice if important witnesses, such as the arresting officer, aren’t present to testify in court. Boone said the DA’s office decides whether to refile such charges on a case-by-case basis. The new system has been in use only since January but wasn’t put in place because of the current federal criminal investigation.
ATTORNEY GENERAL RAÚL TORREZ REACTS
Raul Torrez was elected Attorney General in 2022 and Bregman was appointed DA in January 2023 by Governor Michell Lujan Grisham. Lauren Rodriguez, spokeswoman for state Attorney General Raúl Torrez, Bregman’s predecessor, said this on February 5:
“Our office provided regular updates to all of our law enforcement partners whenever their officers failed to appear, but ultimately each agency was responsible for their officers’ attendance in court.”
The link to quoted news sources is here:
MEDINA BLAMES PUBLIC DEFENDER’S OFFICE
Chief Medina in a letter dated January 6 accused the upper management of the Law Offices of the Public Defender of ignoring concerns of public defenders who work in Metro Court about attorney Thomas Clear III, whose law office was among those locations searched January 18 as part of the FBI investigation. Clear at the time was the chairman of the state Public Defender Commission, which oversees the independent LOPD operations. Clear has since resigned.
The January 26 letter sent by APD Chief Harold Medina to the Law Office of the Public Defender Commission is as follows:
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,
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.
Harold Medina, Chief of Police
Chief Public Defender Ben Bauer responded to 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:
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 Attorney Tom 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.
NO APD SYSTEM TO TRACK FAILURE TO APPEAR IN COURT BY COPS
It was during a February 2 press conference that APD Chief Medina asserted DWI cases have long involved a game for defense attorneys to get cases dismissed as defense attorneys push for multiple continuances until an officer misses a hearing and the case is dismissed by the courts for the prosecution failure to appear with a witness. Medina also admitted APD has not had reliable system or records of whether APD officers were showing up to court hearings.
APD policy is clear and it dictates a “missed court notice” should be generated when there is a failure to appear by a police officer. According to APD’s standard operating procedure, a supervisor in the department’s court services unit is supposed to review and a “failure to appear email” is supposed to be generated and entered in the internal affairs database if there wasn’t a valid reason for not showing up to court. Medina said this simply does not always happen and he said “This has been a constant struggle. ”
While Medina admitted APD has not had its own reliable system of tracking when officers don’t show up to court, he pointed toward a failure, or a systems gap, of more than a year by the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office system that notified APD when officers missed court. Medina said APD stopped getting emails from the DA’s office in September 2022, claiming the DA’s office told APD at the time their system “crashed” or “failed.” Medina said this:
“We’re not gonna get into details, but yes, we are working to figure out why we weren’t getting as many notifications or where our notifications are going. That look at it. Not pointing fingers anywhere. We just don’t know,”
Spokespersons for both current DA Sam Bregman and his predecessor former DA Raúl Torrez said all communication about officers failing to appear is a simply a courtesy. Both said it’s not up to them to tell APD what their officers are doing or not doing. A spokesperson DA Sam Bregman said the office has consistently contacted officers directly if they failed to appear. A spokesperson for former DA Raúl Torrez said they were letting the law enforcement agency itself know. The metro court does have a check-in system which is offered as a courtesy, but it does not track which officers are repeatedly not showing up for court.
Medina credited the changes made in 2022 for curbing the number of dismissed cases. He noted he could not place the blame on the DA’s Office for the notification process about missed court dates, and it’s a part of the investigation. Medina said this:
“I’m asking the community to bank on the trust that we’ve built over the past several years, and give us time. It gives us time to get to the bottom of exactly what is occurring, ,,, We are looking at everyone in the department who may have had a role in the alleged scheme among DWI officers. … If this misconduct occurred for a decade or longer, we are going to get to the bottom of it.”
Links to quoted news sources are here:
BERNALILLO COUNTY METROPOLITAN COURT ISSUES STATEMENTS
On January 25, the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court issued the following statement regarding its “Officer Check-In System” on DWI cases:
“Being that it is not the Court’s responsibility to get witnesses to hearings, Metro Court does not currently have a system in place to notify law enforcement of officers’ attendance in court. However, just this week, the Metropolitan Court was asked by local law enforcement to develop such a system as a courtesy. It’s important to remember that most court records are public records in which specific dismissal information, if applicable, can be found through various resources such as through the court’s website or by visiting the courthouse.
Realizing that officers are often scheduled in multiple courtrooms at once, the Metropolitan Court continues to utilize its “Officer Check-In System,” which the court developed in 2007. Through it, officers can “check-in” at one of the court’s kiosks as they enter the courthouse or check in online if appearing for a virtual hearing. Judges, staff, and attorneys are then able to use the system to see, in real time, if an officer has checked in and in which courtrooms an officer is scheduled to appear. Law enforcement court services liaisons are able to update the system from outside of the courthouse to notify judges and courtroom staff if, for example, an officer is running late or ill. Metro Court is one of only a handful of courts in the country with this technology.”
The Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court also issued a statement in response to Chief Medina’s letter to the city council as to why the court did not adopt a recommended practice in a 2006 report:
“While the court respects the work of the project consultants for the 2006 “Examination of Scheduling Practices for Driving-While-Intoxicated cases in the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court” report, it’s important to note the disclaimer on the second page of the report from seventeen years ago, which states “The points of view and opinions offered in this report are those of the project consultants and do not necessarily represent the official policies or position of the New Mexico Administrative Office of the Courts or the National Center for State Courts.” In order to maintain its role as the Court, and remain neutral and fair, the Metropolitan Court rejected the recommendation from the report that it “should maintain and regularly publish a list of those DWI cases that are dismissed because a law enforcement officer has failed to appear for an interview or for a trial,” because that is not the court’s responsibility. The justice partner group in Bernalillo County at the time, instead, decided that that recommended practice should be the responsibility of the District Attorney’s Office.”
CHIEF MEDINA APPEARS BEFORE CITY COUNCIL AS REQUESTED, NO CONFIDENCE MOTION NOT CONSISDERED FOR LACK OF A SECOND
On January 5, APD Harold Medina appeared before the Albuquerque City Council as he was requested by the City Council President and he answered questions. Initially, Chief Medina resisted appearing before the City Council to answer questions and suggested under advice of the City Attorney that he brief the City Council and answer questions in private and during an executive session of the City Council.
During the city council meeting, APD Chief Harold Medina made it clear he would not answer questions about the ongoing investigation. As a result, city councilors were relegated to questions about the department’s procedures and discipline surrounding officers missing court appearances which is at the center of the FBI investigation.
Bernalillo County District Attorney Sam Bregman has dismissed 159 DWI cases connected to 5 APD officers and local defense attorney Tom Clear. The alleged scheme is that officers were purposely not showing up for court, leading to many DWI cases getting thrown out.
On Monday night, City Councilor Nichole Rogers asked how many missed court hearings is too many. Medina said it’s a case-by-case basis, including the reason why the officer didn’t show up. He also said the department currently does not have a database to track how many times an officer misses court appearance.
City Councilor Louie Sanchez took issue with Medina’s explanation. He said as a former APD officer, he knows hearing schedules are public record, and anyone can look up when cases are dismissed because an officer was a no-show. City Councilor Louie Sanchez said he did not understand how the police department did not catch what was going on sooner. Sanchez told Medina this:
“Know who’s missing court and who isn’t missing court, it’s not the responsibility of the DA’s office; it’s not the responsibility of the individual. It’s not the responsibility of the citizens out here, it’s your responsibility.”
Medina responded saying APD does no have the manpower to check those appearances. Medina said this:
“We have never had the staffing to look up every case in newmexicocourts.com. Today for example, there are 547 cases in the system for the Albuquerque Police Department. Historically, we have relied on other entities to relay information to us that an officer has missed court. Given the fact that individuals are not going to be able to do that, we can do it, but it would be very time intense”.
Medina said APD would need about 20 full time staff to track and manage a database on Court appearance by APD cops. Medina said this :
“As of this moment … we don’t have agreements with any of the entities [to share the data] that we are working with. We never have had one, this is the way the system has always worked and that is what we are working on right now.”
Those entities include the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office. Medina said prosecutors were supposed to send them notifications when an officer missed court. Medina’s response about the DAs office prompted Councilor Sanchez to read the letter from District Attorney Sam Bregman’s office saying it was never the DA’s job to report officer no-shows. Instead, it was a courtesy.
Other councilors said while it’s obvious something needs to change, but they said they are not sure they had enough information to move forward yet. City Councilor Brook Bassan said this:
“Until the FBI comes back and giving us some solid answers and solid evidence, I am going to refrain from comment or judgment beyond this moment in time.”
City Councilor Dan Champine, who is a former APD officer asked about the status of the DWI unit since this investigation started. Medina said there’s no longer a DWI unit, but APD is still handling DWI cases.
At the conclusion of Medina’s questioning, City Councilor Louie Sanchez moved for a vote of “No Confidence” in Medina but failed to get a second and therefor was not discussed or debated.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
Ever since this scandal broken on January 19 with the execution of the FBI search warrants, APD Chief Harold Medina has been in full “politcal spin cycle” mode of “pivot, deflect, take credit and lay blame”. Medina’s press conferences, correspondence to the city council and his appearance before the city council on February 5 are all pathic attempts on his part to hold on to his job. Medina has been a complete failure in the management of APD and this most recent scandal is evidence of that. Medina attempts 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 his hand after he allowed the problem to fester.
APD Chief Harold Medina has admitted that the APD bribery and conspiracy scheme has gone on the entire 6 years he has been in charge of APD both a Deputy Chief and now as Chief. As the Deputy Chief assigned Field Services by Chief Geier, Medina was directly in charge of the APD DWI unit, but he failed to detect what was going on. 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.
APD’s reputation has been trashed to a major extent by this scandal. APD will be viewed by many as having another bastion of “dirty and corrupt cops” who have brought dishonor to their department and which Medina failed to detect. The whole scandal places an ethical stain on the department that may never be removed. This is before any charges have been filed, before anyone is fired from APD and before we ever know who is responsible.
The public must demand that there be a thorough criminal investigation of the police officers involved in the crimes. APD Chief Harold Medina must be held accountable and responsible for what has happened as well as the APD command staff who should have known what was going on.
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 Chief. Only the Mayor can terminate the Chief of Police and so long as a Chief of Police has the confidence and support of the mayor, the Chief remains in office.
It downright disappointing, and perhaps a dereliction of oversight duty, that the City Council failed to even consider the Motion For No Confidence in Chief Medina at its February 5 meeting. APD Chief Harold Medina needs to be removed immediately as chief, something Mayor Keller is refusing to do, at least for now. Much of this scandal is still unfolding and it will likely get worse before it gets better.
The options the City Council has to try and remove Chief Medina is with a “Motion to Rescind An Appointment” or with the introduction of a “Resolution of No Confidence” or by refusing to confirm his appointment. APD Chief Medina was never confirmed as Chief of Police by the City Council as were the Chief Administrative Officer, City Attorney and City Clerk after Mayor Keller was elected in 2021 to a second term. President Dan Lewis should call for an immediate confirmation vote on Medina as Chief or another city councilor should introduce “Resolution of No Confidence” with hearings held on the removal of APD Chief Harold Medina.