Thursday, January 13, 2005

Former APD Officer Facing Lawsuits in Suspected Assaults

By Scott Sandlin, Journal Staff Writer

The alleged criminal conduct of an accused rogue cop is testing Mayor Martin Chávez's policy of refusing to settle any lawsuits against the police department.
Chávez has steadfastly defended his policy of refusing to settle police cases.
But it hasn't stopped civil rights attorneys from filing lawsuits against former Albuquerque police officer Christopher Chase, 28, who has yet to be tried on criminal charges he stopped, harassed and in some cases raped a succession of motorists while on duty.
Chase was fired by APD after being named in a 32-count indictment with criminal sexual penetration and criminal sexual contact, kidnapping, false imprisonment, assault, battery and tampering with evidence in June 2003.
Two civil suits were filed this week by attorneys Brad Hall and Frances Crockett on behalf of young women who claim they were sexually assaulted by Chase.
Hall already has taken one case to trial in federal court on behalf of a male high school student related to a top APD official and won $17,000 plus attorney fees.
Cynthia Seeley's lawsuit, filed by attorneys Paul Kennedy and Mary Han, is set for trial next month in federal court.
But Chase's attorneys are seeking to delay the civil case until the criminal matter is resolved. Chase's criminal trial is scheduled for March, but the Supreme Court has granted a trial extension until mid-July.
"By asserting his Fifth Amendment rights, (Chase) has been, essentially, unable to defend himself in the civil case," Greg Biehler, Chase's attorney in the Seeley lawsuit, said in seeking a trial delay from the federal court.
Biehler said in the absence of direct evidence, the case will come down to a test of credibility, and he says there is reason to suspect Seeley's.
"So long as the criminal trial is looming, defendant must assert his Fifth Amendment right in this case so that his defense in the criminal trial is not jeopardized," Biehler said.
Han and Kennedy say in a written response that while the city has a right not to settle civil rights cases, "its citizens have the right to proceed to trial in these cases in an expeditious manner."
"Cynthia Seeley has waited long enough. Whether the criminal case needs to be delayed for whatever reason, she's entitled to her day in court," Han said Wednesday.
In their written response, they note Chase, rather than asking for a delay at the outset, has "extracted every possible advantage via discovery and motions." They contend he has vigorously pursued information from Seeley while declining to provide any himself.
And they say their client has a significant personal interest in avoiding further psychological harm by bringing closure to the ordeal.
According to court records, Seeley alleges Chase responded to a domestic violence call, diverted Seeley as she left the home to "cool off," forced her into the back of his patrol car, drove to an alley behind a Northeast Heights hotel and raped her.
Plaintiffs in the new lawsuits make similar allegations.
Veronica Edwell claims that in January 2003, Chase took her into custody in his police car, handcuffed her, threatened her with sexual assault and fondled her.
It was because of Edwell that Chase's alleged misconduct came to light, the suit says. Weeks later she was stopped for a traffic violation by a different APD officer and would not roll down her car window more than two inches because of fear from the encounter with Chase, the suit says.
Kelly M. Ham alleges in a complaint that she was stopped on Jan. 17, 2003, while she was a passenger in a car being driven by a male friend.
Although no traffic violation occurred, Chase stopped the car near La Cueva High School and ordered two female occupants into the police car for a search, the lawsuit claims.

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