Saturday, March 26, 2005

Feds Holding Off on APD Probe

By T.J. Wilham, Journal Staff Writer

The U.S. Attorney's Office is not going to join the list of agencies investigating the Albuquerque Police Department's evidence room— at least for now.
On Friday, U.S. Attorney officials said that, despite Mayor Martin Chávez's request last week to start an inquiry, they are going to wait for the results of state Attorney General Patricia Madrid's investigation before a decision is made on whether to start a probe of their own.
"It would be premature to launch a federal investigation, especially given the fact the AG is already conducting a criminal investigation," said Norm Cairns, an assistant U.S. attorney. "If (Madrid) requested assistance, we would assist. Absent such a request, our office is going to wait and see how the state investigation turns out."
Chávez initiated talks with the U.S. Attorneys Office in Albuquerque after Sgt. Cynthia Orr told the Journal last week that Chief Gilbert Gallegos has lied and attempted to cover up problems at the evidence unit. Gallegos has denied the allegation.
Chávez said he understands the decision.
"I respect the decision, but this really tightens the need to get the AG investigation complete," Chávez said. "There are certain things as mayor I can not get done until (Madrid) gets her investigation complete.
"I have to make sure of the factual predicate before I do things that could devastate careers."
The mayor has said changes will be made in APD because of the ongoing evidence room issues. He would not comment one way or the other if Gallegos will lose his job.
Last year, the AG's Office started to investigate APD's evidence room after an anonymous memo was sent to law enforcement officials claiming cash, drugs and jewelry were missing from the unit. The memo also questioned APD's own investigation into the matter.
AG officials have acknowledged their investigation is complete, but they are reviewing it before they issue a report.
Chávez said he does not know when the AG's Office will issue a report.
But, "from my conversations with (Madrid), it is not on the immediate horizon," he said. "She is restricted on what she can tell me."
Chávez said part of the delay is that Madrid is in Spain visiting her son and is not expected to be back for at least another week. He said Madrid does not want anything issued until she has a chance to read it.
According to APD memos obtained by the Journal this week, the AG's office is investigating the loss of more than $75,000 in property. Four police employees— including two officers— have been implicated in the thefts.
The officers are cooperating with authorities, and it is likely they will not be charged with a crime, the memos show. The memos say the employees were able to take property out of the evidence room while it was going to auction.
So far, the city's internal auditor, APD detectives, a private security company, the city' Independent Review Office and a private consulting company have conducted or are conducting reviews, audits or investigations into the evidence room.
Chávez said he has also asked the IRO to investigate the timeliness of APD's internal investigation and allegations Gallegos allowed two employees accused of wrongdoing to work in the evidence room for six months, thus allowing them the opportunity to destroy evidence that would have proven their guilt.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Memos: APD's Head In Sand

By T.J. Wilham, Journal Staff Writer

The Albuquerque police captain hired to clean up the evidence room had complained to the chief's office that she was set up to fail because she was not given enough authority to fix the problems.
Capt. Marie Miranda, in an e-mail, also suggested the police department culture needed to "change at the top."
And she notified Police Chief Gilbert Gallegos that "problems reported were largely ignored" and "there was a deliberate effort to keep things under (wraps)."
Copies of Miranda's 2004 memos and e-mails, which were written between Aug. 4 and Nov. 19, were obtained by the Journal this week.
Gallegos declined comment on the memos.
Miranda is the focus of an APD internal affairs investigation. She has been accused of violating the department's standard operating procedures. She was placed on paid administrative leave on March 16 after she had been transferred— at her request— out of the evidence room post she had held for 10 months.
Miranda had been put in charge of APD's Metropolitan Forensic Science Center, which houses the evidence room, after an anonymous memo was sent to Gallegos in March 2004 that claimed cash, jewelry and guns were missing from the evidence room. The memo also questioned APD's investigation into the matter.
In response, Gallegos asked the state Attorney General's Office to investigate. He also asked a private firm to do a forensic audit.
An internal investigation was launched earlier this month after Miranda's attorney, Rob Perry, wrote a letter to Gallegos claiming evidence from hundreds of cases was destroyed during a chemical leak and apparently no one had notified the Bernalillo County District Attorney's Office.
The letter was also sent to the DA's office and other law enforcement officials.
Police officials have said they are investigating whether Miranda failed to follow the proper chain of command to report misconduct.
Detective Jeff Arbogast, an APD spokesman, acknowledged the department was aware of many issues in Miranda's memos and e-mails. The Journal sent copies of them to APD to verify their authenticity.
"Any allegations or issues that are raised in the e-mail and memos are ... being examined in the internal affairs and the attorney general's investigation," Arbogast said. "We are not going to play this out in the media. Both investigations will answer the questions raised in those documents."
Perry also verified the authenticity of the documents. He said they show his client was properly trying to notify APD officials of problems in the evidence room and that Gallegos failed to respond.
"If this is not a smoking gun, it is the next thing to it," he said. "This clearly shows the notice of problems and the inaction of management. It's hard to deny the clarity of those correspondence. They are very troubling.
"If this becomes a credibility question, who are you going to believe? The chief or your own eyes that have read the correspondences?"
Gallegos said he first learned there were problems in the evidence room in July 2003 and immediately took action, including putting Miranda in charge in April 2004. Miranda was the first captain to oversee the forensic science center.

Cover-up warning
In an Aug. 4 e-mail to Deputy Chief Ed Sauer, Miranda warned of a cover-up of mismanagement in the evidence room. She said logs documenting who was coming in and out had been destroyed and there was no accountability, which allowed employees to commit crimes.
She said in the e-mail that she was "deeply troubled" and that "every issue of concern has been minimized by management here and every day we discover neglect and mismanagement.
"No one seems to want to come clean with the entire array of deficiencies. So, we have to stumble onto items and discover them through other means."
In response to the e-mail, Sauer said Aug. 5 that he wanted to meet with Miranda. He said he would invite the inspections division because "they are concerned that issues they have been bringing up for months have still not been corrected."
Two months later, then-Lt. Larry Sonntag, who was in charge of the department's inspection division, wrote a memo to Gallegos dated Oct. 11 complaining that a complete inventory of the evidence room had not been done. He also claimed the administration allowed employees accused of stealing items from the evidence room to continue to work there, which allowed them to destroy evidence of their guilt.
Sonntag said not doing a complete audit "as the public and I were told we were going to do, amounts to sticking our heads in the sand— hoping the storm will be done when we look up again."
The inventory of the evidence room didn't start until December 2004, about four years after a city internal auditor first recommended one. The recommendation was repeated in follow-up audits in June 2001 and July 2003. Gallegos said he became aware of problems in the evidence room through the 2003 follow-up audit.
A couple of weeks after Sonntag wrote his memo, Miranda wrote an e-mail to Sauer dated Oct. 29.
This time, she said she finally figured out why the lab was "so jacked up," according to the e-mail. She reported to her deputy chief that the civilian director was gone an average of two weeks a month and was "parading around the country fixing everyone else's lab."
"She should be here taking care of her own," Miranda wrote. "This place is jacked up beyond belief. There really is no one in charge.
"I think it is my job to make you look good, but crap, it is getting hard to do."

'Set up for failure'
The next day, she wrote another memo to Sauer, complaining she was being "set up for failure" because she lacked authority over budget issues and decisions that impact operations.
"To effect real and lasting change, you need to cut your losses and give success a chance," Miranda wrote. "This is too important of an operation to continue to let it run substandard. When the *%#@ hits the fan, you want to be able to convince the public that this is being mitigated in the most serious way.
"I have tried it your way, now I think I deserve a chance at my way. What else are you waiting for to happen?"
On Nov. 12, Miranda wrote a memo to Gallegos updating him on the overall status of the evidence room.
She highlighted many changes that had been made but added, "The culture needs to change at the top before we are successful in implementing all of the accountability changes that need to occur."
She complained that "problems reported were largely ignored" and "there was a deliberate effort to keep things under (wraps)."
She also said a "change of leadership needs to occur" and "employees for the most part operate on their own, with little, or no direction."
Miranda wrote another memo to Gallegos on Nov. 19, reporting she had inspected the old evidence room at the main police station Downtown. The evidence unit was moved from there to the new location on Second Street in April 2002, about four months after Gallegos became chief.

Droppings and dust
When Miranda inspected the old facility, she noted there was drug evidence there dating to 1993, the memo states. She wrote that she found filthy rooms, rat droppings, dust and dried-up liquid spills on counters and floors.
Some of the evidence bags were torn open, others were improperly sealed and others had leaked, the memo said. She also said she found mold growing in some of the evidence bags.
Miranda said evidence technicians told her they were ordered to move everything out and relocate it to the new evidence unit. But at some point, an evidence room sergeant ordered employees to move drug evidence back to the main police station. There were no records that this move occurred, Miranda said.
"No one considered the area a priority," she said.
About two weeks later, an inventory was started.
After Miranda's transfer request in February, police officials replaced her with Sonntag, who they acknowledged was among the biggest critics of the evidence room.
Miranda was transferred to the Foothills Area Command.
While the two captains were going through the transition, evidence room employees noticed a chemical coming from a container holding drug evidence. A company hired to clean it up had to destroy evidence in 235 cases to remove the chemical.
A few days after Perry's letter was sent to Gallegos, Sonntag wrote a March 10 memo notifying the DA's Office of the loss of evidence.

April 12, 2000— An internal city audit shows that a complete inventory of the Albuquerque Police Department's evidence room had not been done since 1983. It makes 12 recommendations.
June 22, 2001— A follow-up audit shows APD has complied with five of the recommendations but has yet to safeguard cash, compile a complete inventory and improve security.
December 2001— Gilbert Gallegos is named chief of police.
July 18, 2003— Another follow-up audit says APD still had fully complied with only five recommendations, and it reiterates the need for an inventory. (Gallegos says this is when he first became aware of the problems.)
July 2003— At Gallegos' order, detective Cynthia Orr conducts a surprise inspection of the evidence room.
August 2003— Orr tells Gallegos she found proof that two employees were stealing from the evidence room and asks the chief to transfer them. Gallegos later told the Journal he did not have enough proof to transfer them but restricted their access in the unit. He also orders an internal criminal investigation.
January 2004— The two employees suspected of stealing are transferred.
March 2004— An anonymous letter sent to several law enforcement officials claims weapons, drugs, jewelry and cash were stolen from the evidence room, and police officials are covering it up. The memo is sent to the media.
March 3, 2004— Gallegos announces he has asked the state Attorney General's Office for a criminal investigation. He says a private company, Maximum Security, will do a forensic audit.
April 24, 2004— Former Albuquerque police officer, Capt. Marie Miranda, returns to APD and takes over the Metropolitan Forensic Science Center, which houses the evidence room.
Aug. 4, 2004— Miranda, in an e-mail, warns Deputy Chief Ed Sauer of a cover-up and mismanagement.
Oct. 11, 2004— Lt. Larry Sonntag, in charge of the inspections and accreditation unit, writes a letter to Gallegos saying APD leadership has failed to act, possibly allowing evidence employees to destroy traces of their own wrongdoing.
Nov. 12, 2004— Miranda writes to Gallegos saying problems have been "largely ignored" and "there was a deliberate effort to keep things under (wraps)."
Dec. 1, 2004— Orr is transferred to the evidence room to directly oversee it, with the rank of acting sergeant.
December 2004— The first inventory to determine what is missing begins— more than four years after the city auditor first recommended it.
Dec. 29, 2004— Orr writes a letter to Miranda and sends copies to Sonntag and Gallegos. She says despite her repeated objections, APD officers under investigation continue to work in the evidence room with access to evidence collected in their own investigations.
Feb. 4, 2005— Evidence is destroyed inside a drug vault during a chemical reaction involving methamphetamines. A list given to APD shows evidence in 235 cases was destroyed during a cleanup. The District Attorney's Office and the Sheriff's Office, which houses evidence at the facility, are not immediately notified.
February 2005— Sonntag is promoted to captain and given command of the Metropolitan Forensic Science Center. He replaces Miranda, who requested a transfer.
March 2005— Capt. Ron Paiz is removed from his position overseeing internal affairs. Paiz had ordered an investigation into high-ranking officers, including wrongdoing at the evidence unit.
March 7, 2005— Miranda's attorney, Rob Perry, sends a letter to Gallegos regarding the chemical leak. He notes that Miranda had told Gallegos about it several times.
March 10, 2005— Sonntag sends notification to the DA's Office about the cleanup and the destroyed evidence.
March 16, 2005— Miranda is placed on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of an internal investigation into whether she violated APD's standard operating procedures.
March 18, 2005— After giving a tour of the evidence unit to the Journal, Orr claims Gallegos lied and covered up problems.
March 19, 2005— Mayor Martin Chávez says "heads are going to roll" because of the problems. He starts talks with the U.S. Attorney's Office in Albuquerque about conducting a probe.
March 21, 2005— Orr sends a letter to Gallegos claiming that during a briefing, two deputy chiefs encouraged hundreds of officers to retaliate against her.
March 21, 2005— City councilors grill Gallegos. He tells them he has done more than any other chief to clean up the evidence room.
March 23, 2005— Mayor Martin Chávez asks Independent Review Officer Jay Rowland to start an investigation.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Independent APD Review Called For

By Jeff Proctor, Journal Staff Writer

The Albuquerque Police Oversight Commission wants all allegations and complaints against senior APD officials— including the evidence room scandal— to be investigated by the city's top police watchdog.
"We believe we are the appropriate agency to investigate any complaints against captains and above," Independent Review Officer Jay Rowland said.
The seven-member citizen commission on Friday sent a letter to APD Chief Gilbert Gallegos, recommending he change the department's standard operating procedures to expand the Independent Review Office's purview.
As it is, the IRO investigates only citizen complaints against officers and police shooting cases, then reports to the commission.
Gallegos said Friday the commission doesn't need to get involved in the matter because the state Attorney General's Office is already investigating the evidence room, and the department is planning to hire an independent firm to conduct an internal investigation.
Last year, an anonymous memo surfaced, alleging that guns, drugs, cash and other evidence had been stolen from the evidence room. Last month, cleanup of a chemical leak in the room caused the destruction of numerous pieces of evidence in more than 200 drug cases.
And APD's own investigation into the evidence room has been criticized from within the department.
"The citizens of Albuquerque need these allegations and any other allegations against the chief or his senior staff to be investigated by an independent investigator that is outside APD and reviewed by the citizen oversight system," the letter to Gallegos states. "This system is designed to be outside the reach of politics and has been."
Gallegos said Rowland and the POC stepping in would undermine the work of the state AG's Office, which was has been investigating the evidence room for a year.
"We have a professional that is going to be doing the internal investigation, and the AG is doing the criminal investigation," Gallegos said. "They are perfectly capable of doing a professional investigation, and for us to think that they are not capable of that is very shortsighted."
Rowland said he doesn't expect Gallegos to heed the letter's recommendation. But he said he plans to look at the AG's and the internal investigators' findings.
Rowland said he will discuss those findings with Gallegos and report to the commission whether he thinks the investigations were fair and impartial.
Michael Cook, newly elected commission chairman, said the decision to enter the fray comes now because "this is the first time it's really come before us."
Cook said the Independent Review Office could investigate the evidence room, but he would also support another entity doing so as long as it's independent from APD.