Thursday, February 10, 2005

Fired APD Cop Takes the 5th in Sex Assault Case

By Scott Sandlin, Journal Staff Writer

Christopher Chase, the former police officer accused of using his position of authority to sexually assault a number of women, invoked his Fifth Amendment right not to testify dozens of times Wednesday in federal court.
Chase, a fresh-faced, clean-cut 30-year-old, was fired from the Albuquerque Police Department after a lengthy criminal indictment was returned in state court in June 2003. It charges him with criminal sexual penetration, criminal sexual contact, kidnapping and tampering with evidence.
The criminal case has yet to go to trial.
But testimony Wednesday before Senior U.S. District Judge John Edwards Conway in a civil lawsuit by Cynthia Seeley had all the hallmarks of a criminal proceeding.
Seeley, who claims she was raped by Chase on Feb. 19, 2002, is seeking monetary damages. But other alleged victims and the police officers who investigated the case have been subpoenaed as witnesses.
On the witness stand, Chase answered some questions, like how old he was and whether he was fired by APD. He invoked his right not to incriminate himself when questioned about the allegations.
Three women who claim to have been assaulted by Chase did testify Wednesday and more are scheduled for today.
'I wanted them out'
Seeley, 38, testified that police had shown up to the Warren Coronado efficiency apartment she shared with a girlfriend after the couple's drinking spiraled into a quarrel so loud that neighbors called police. Because the fight was verbal rather than physically violent, officers suggested one of them leave the home to cool down.
Seeley did. She said Chase offered her a ride, only to take her to an alley a couple of blocks away and rape her in his squad car. He then threw her purse after her and drove off.
She walked back to her apartment, where her girlfriend insisted on calling police against Seeley's wishes after Seeley told her what had happened, she testified.
Seeley said that because she had failed to report to her probation officer and knew there was a warrant for her arrest, she was fearful of being arrested. So when police arrived a second time, she initially told them about the rape, but then took a woman officer aside and told her it wasn't true.
"I wanted them out," she said, crying as she testified. "I didn't want them asking questions."
She didn't reveal the assault until later, when she was undergoing an assessment at the women's prison in Grants and APD officers showed up to ask her about Chase. Seeley, who was convicted for conspiracy to commit forgery and trafficking in cocaine in the mid-1990s, eventually landed in a special program for women and has been involved in counseling for substance abuse.
A Las Cruces psychologist and former New Mexico State University professor who examined her in connection with the litigation, Elaine LeVine, said Seeley needs years more of intensive therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder and a major depressive disorder. She said the suspected rape exacerbated damage done by childhood trauma, including sexual abuse.
Two others testify
Also testifying Wednesday was Mitsey Ramone, a prostitute who said her previous numerous encounters with police had been straightforward until Chase twice pulled her over in 2001. Ramone said Chase took her to a solitary location off Gibson Boulevard and raped her. She said a second time he took her to Bullhead Park.
Ramone, too, lapsed into tears under cross-examination by defense attorney Gregory Biehler, who quizzed her about dates, her failure to report the incidents and the accuracy of her identification of Chase, given her admittedly poor eyesight.
"The point is I know who it is," she snapped back at one point. "I recognize people I come across, especially if they rape me."
Veronica Edwell, 29, a married mother of three and customer service employee for a medical company, told a similar story. She testified she had gone to a bar parking lot on Montgomery to see if her husband needed a ride home when she was stopped by an officer she later learned was Chase.
Edwell said the officer accused her of driving drunk, though she said she wasn't, and let her go. After circling the parking lot without seeing her husband's pickup, she was returning home when Chase again pulled her over.
Edwell said Chase asked her if she had any drugs or weapons and told her to get out of her vehicle and put her hands up on the side of it.
"He started checking me," she said. "When he got to my breasts, he said 'Do you have piercings?'" She said yes, and said that he asked "what I was going to do to get out of this DWI."
Edwell testified Chase pulled down her blouse and fondled her, but told her he wouldn't hurt her.
The investigation of Chase was launched after Edwell was pulled over on a speeding violation by another officer a few weeks later. She was so fearful that she would only crack the window to give the officer her license, and told the officer her trepidation was prompted by an assault by another officer. She was later contacted by an APD detective, she said.

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