Thursday, June 30, 2005

Española: Suit Calls Chase Reckless

By Martin Salazar, Journal Staff Writer

Española police were reckless when they chased a Dixon man on a winding, two-lane highway— a chase that left the man, Tito Sanchez, in a coma for more than eight months, a federal lawsuit contends.
The chase ended when Sanchez crashed his pickup into a concrete barrier on N.M. 68. Sanchez sustained major head injuries, a brain injury and a fractured spine and neck, according to the lawsuit, which also states that his mental and physical injuries are likely permanent.
The chase stemmed from a confrontation at an Española Sonic Drive-In between Sanchez and his daughter over her excessive cell phone bill and a past-due insurance payment. Police have said that Sanchez slammed his daughter's arm in a car door and punched her on the left temple during the argument.
Apparently wanting to cool off before the altercation escalated further, Sanchez hopped into his Ford Ranger pickup and drove off— unaware that someone had called police. When he noticed police chasing him, he tried to elude them. According to the lawsuit, officers ran other uninvolved motorists off the road while trying to stop Sanchez.
The police "knew or should have known that the danger created by the pursuit outweighed any immediate danger to the public if Mr. Sanchez would have remained at large," the lawsuit states.
The suit accuses the Española Police Department of allowing officers to engage in high-speed pursuits even when they aren't warranted. It also alleges that Española police destroyed evidence.
According to the lawsuit, officers chasing Sanchez used their vehicles to hit his vehicle, causing him to lose control of his pickup. His vehicle hit a concrete barrier, flipped several times, and Sanchez was ejected from the vehicle, the lawsuit states.
Police Chief Richard Guillen denied this week that officers bumped Sanchez's vehicle. He said it's untrue that officers removed paint scrapings from Sanchez's vehicle.
The lawsuit— brought on Sanchez's behalf by his father, Mauricio Sanchez— seeks unspecified compensatory, actual and punitive damages. Among the defendants named in the suit are Guillen, the city of Española, its police department and the officers involved in the chase.
The defendants denied the allegations made against them in a June 22 court filing and say that Sanchez was at least partly to blame for fleeing from police.
The lawsuit was initially filed in state district court in May but was transferred to federal court in Albuquerque last week.
Guillen said no officers were disciplined over the incident, which occurred July 16, 2003.
"We totally reviewed it," he said in a telephone interview on Tuesday. "The officers followed protocol. It's unfortunate what happened to Mr. Sanchez."
Guillen said that at the time of the pursuit, all police knew was that there was an ongoing domestic abuse situation where a male was striking a female. He said that within a few minutes, one officer located the suspect. Sanchez ran a stop sign, and at that point officers needed to stop the vehicle, he said.
The chief said high-speed chases are necessary when it's a matter of life and death, when there's a danger of physical injury to someone, for DWI cases and for unknown felonies. Pursuing officers did not know at the time that Sanchez's behavior only rose to the level of a misdemeanor, Guillen said.
According to the lawsuit, Sanchez was a 43-year-old weapons inspector at Los Alamos National Laboratory when the incident occurred. The suit maintains that officers delayed calling for medical attention for Sanchez, further worsening his injuries.
"Mr. Sanchez is now undergoing serious rehabilitation, and to this day lacks sufficient understanding or capacity to make significant responsible decisions concerning his person, which will likely impact him for the remainder of his life," the suit states.
The lawsuit alleges negligent supervision and training, excessive use of force and negligence, among other claims.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

APD Top Brass Didn't Help; Evidence Case Reviewer Couldn't Get Interviews

By T.J. Wilham, Journal Staff Writer

Former Albuquerque Police Chief Gilbert Gallegos declined to cooperate with the city's independent investigation into the police department's evidence room.
He wasn't the only one, according to an edited version of a report released Monday. The former civilian director of the unit, a retired detective and two former employees suspected of stealing from the evidence room all refused to give interviews to the city's independent review officer.
The report indicated that lieutenants in charge of the department's internal affairs bureau feared retaliation for investigating the department's top brass, and that the entire department needs sexual harassment training.
Jay Rowland, the independent review officer, was asked in March by Mayor Martin Chávez to conduct an investigation into the evidence room.
The investigation started about the same time Gallegos resigned as chief amid allegations that he allowed the two employees accused of theft to continue to work in the evidence room, thus giving them access to records that might have proven their guilt.
A yearlong investigation into the thefts conducted by the Attorney General's Office concluded that thefts likely occurred but that there wasn't enough evidence to present a case to a grand jury. The report also determined that "poor record keeping, deficient supervision and unrestricted access to all evidence room employees" would hamper any prosecution.
Rowland was assigned the task of investigating allegations that some of Gallegos's deputy chiefs were retaliating against officers who had come forward with accusations.
Two weeks ago a four-page "executive summary" was released to the public, but the 20-page report of Rowland's investigation was withheld until Monday. About 13 pages of that report were deleted from the version that was made public.
City officials said the portions of the report that were withheld involved personnel matters and therefore could not be released.
When asked if Gallegos cooperated, Rowland told the Journal on Monday, "We sent him letters, and he did not call for an interview."
Gallegos has requested that the Journal never contact him for comment.
Ann Talbot, who was the civilian director of the unit, has not returned several phone calls left by the Journal over several weeks.
Talbot left APD in February to take a job as director of the state Department of Public Safety's crime lab.
The report concluded that lieutenants in charge of the department's internal affairs division feared retaliation for doing investigations involving APD's top brass.
Rowland concluded in his report that their fears were justified and recommended that all investigations involving top APD officials be investigated by the city's Police Oversight Commission, the board to which Rowland reports.
"Efforts by captains and below to resolve issues involving captains and above were met by the deputy chiefs having the captains investigated and removed from their command positions or threatened with removal," the report states.
One captain, Ron Paiz, had internal affairs removed from his authority after he opened an "informal, preliminary" investigation into Gallegos and a deputy chief after he heard about allegations at a union meeting.
"When (Gallegos) learned of this, he terminated the captain's efforts, relieved the captain of his duties over internal affairs and opened an investigation into the captain," the report states.
According to the report, several witnesses interviewed by Rowland's staff raised "sexual and gender issues, including inappropriate emails by senior officers, sexual discrimination in recruiting and assignments and inappropriate relationships."
Some senior officers were accused of having "inappropriate relationships," but Rowland's staff determined they had "no basis in fact" and "we made no findings in these."
When asked about the specific allegations of sexual harassment, Rowland said, "I thought that there was enough there that they should have some type of sexual harassment training."

Saturday, June 11, 2005

City to pay $100,000 in officer attack

By Maggie Shepard
The Albuquerque Tribune June 11, 2005

An Albuquerque police officer's actions will cost the city $100,000, the amount awarded to a man he is accused of pepper-spraying and whose arm was broken during a September 2003 incident.

On Wednesday, a federal jury in Santa Fe found Officer Keith L. Sheley liable for using excessive force against Adam Arendt, 31. Arendt had been walking Downtown with his girlfriend when he was assaulted, according to court documents.

Sheley, responding to the assault, pepper-sprayed Arendt and pushed him against a wall, breaking his arm, according to court documents.

Claims that Sheley and his supervisor, Steven Hall, falsely arrested, neglected and unlawfully detained Arendt were dismissed, said Kathryn Levy, the city attorney assigned to the case.

Sheley, still with the Police Department, now works in the Valley Area Command.

The department has concluded an internal investigation into the incident, police spokeswoman Sgt. Beth Paiz said.

The results of the investigation and any administrative action - which could include suspension, a reprimand or retraining - for Sheley is confidential, Paiz said.

Levy said the $100,000 judgment was for compensation, not for punitive reasons.

There were no criminal charges filed in the incident, but the department was alerted to Arendt's lawsuit as a matter of policy.

Any lawsuit involving a police officer is forwarded to the department's internal affairs unit, said Charles Kolberg, a city risk manager.

Usually, though, Kolberg said, complaints are filed with the police department or the city's Police Oversight Commission before lawsuits are filed.

Levy said the city has not decided whether to appeal the case.

Tuesday, June 7, 2005

Review Faults Ex-APD Chief; Evidence Room Management Failed

Tuesday, June 7, 2005

Summary of report

By Dan McKay, Journal Staff Writer

Former Police Chief Gilbert Gallegos violated "basic police procedures" in handling allegations of wrongdoing in the police evidence room, according to a report issued Monday by Albuquerque's top police watchdog.
A summary of the 1,000-page report faults Gallegos for failing to launch an immediate criminal investigation into alleged thefts from the evidence room, despite the recommendation of senior staff.
Investigators, however, found no evidence of a cover-up by senior leadership, according to the report, which was signed by Independent Review Officer Jay Rowland and others.
Rowland investigated allegations of evidence-room misconduct at the request of Mayor Martin Chávez. The new police chief, Ray Schultz, released the report's executive summary late Monday, just hours after receiving it.
"Inadequate supervision over many years created conditions that made theft easy to commit and impossible to prove," the report's summary said.
It is blunt in faulting police leadership for failing to manage the evidence room better, but the report also says it appears Gallegos was misled about the nature of problems in the evidence room.
"We have no evidence that the Chief failed to act from a desire to cover up the thefts," the report said.
Still, he didn't do enough, it said.
"Basic police procedures were ignored and violated by the Chief," the report said.
It criticizes him for not removing "suspected employees" from the evidence room fast enough, a point raised previously by critics.
"During the time these suspected personnel were allowed to remain in their jobs, computer records were altered, evidence logs disappeared, and any chance for identifying those responsible for alleged theft was lost."
Other than Gallegos, the summary released Monday doesn't mention names.
Gallegos has requested that the Journal not contact him for comment, but he previously has maintained that he responded in a timely fashion to the evidence-room allegations. The troubles plaguing the evidence room date back 30 years, he has said, and no chief acted until he took office.
Monday's report touches on that issue.
"While efforts were made and it may even be said more was done under Chief Gallegos' leadership than previous administrations, it was not enough," the report said. "Money handling procedures were inadequate. Documentation was incomplete and inadequate."
The report appears to be good news for Capt. Marie Miranda, a whistle-blower in the case, and Deputy Police Chief Ed Sauer.
Both will return to their jobs after having been placed on administrative leave, Schultz said.
Miranda, a captain in the foothills area, has claimed supervisors retaliated against her for pointing out problems in the evidence room.
The investigation sustained "one procedural violation" against her, Schultz said, without going into detail.
Sauer had been accused of encouraging officers to retaliate against whistle-blowers. He was "cleared of all charges," Schultz said.
The report isn't all bad news. It says, for example, that many in "senior leadership" and "the vast majority of evidence unit personnel gave their best efforts to accomplish their assigned tasks."
The IRO report won't be the final episode in the case. The report says two investigations of officers have been forwarded to the internal-affairs unit.
The summary says the investigation found several violations of standard operating procedure.
It also mentions the case has hurt morale, painting a picture of a "dysfunctional" command.
"Deputy Chiefs supported their friend and leader, the Chief. They called other officers names and did not react to the valid concerns of their subordinates, but attempted to stop those concerns from being raised outside the department. Senior officers did not trust their leaders to do the right thing," it states.
The report makes a host of recommendations, including completing an inventory of all items in the evidence room warehouses and developing a system for disposing of evidence items in accordance with state law.
An inventory is already under way.
The Attorney General's Office announced in April that it wouldn't prosecute anyone in the alleged theft of cash from the Albuquerque police evidence room, partly because critical records were missing.
It found that at least $58,000 in cash was missing, but problems with records made it impossible to determine a total.