Tuesday, November 29, 2005

City Pays $300,000 In Civil Lawsuit

By Scott Sandlin, Albuquerque Journal

The city has settled a civil lawsuit for $300,000 against former Albuquerque police officer Christopher Chase in an alleged rape— despite the mayor's policy against settling police cases.
The lawsuit filed on behalf of sometime prostitute Mitsey Ramone, who alleged she was raped twice by Chase, had been scheduled to begin trial Monday before William F. Lang, chief judge of the 2nd Judicial District Court.
Instead, the City Attorney's Office last week reached a settlement with Ramone's attorneys, Paul Kennedy and Mary Han.
Mayor Martin Chávez on Monday defended the no-settlement policy but said it was being fine-tuned to reflect situations where the city's liability is clear.
"We already know (the policy) has been incredibly successful financially for us. Instead of paying out on every case, we're prevailing in almost every case," he said. "That still brings to the fore the question of what happens when there's clear liability. I have no interest when you get a creep like Chase, making a victim go through the rigors of proving liability."
Chase faces criminal charges but hasn't yet been tried.
A grand jury indicted Chase in June 2003 on sexual assault charges against Ramone and other women and in alleged beatings of others. But pretrial motions caused delays, and it is now set for Dec. 12 before Judge Denise Barela Shepherd.
Chase was fired after he was named in the 32-count criminal indictment.
Ramone has testified about her experience in a civil lawsuit by another alleged Chase victim in federal court, Cynthia Seeley, as well as in a criminal hearing before Shepherd in October.
In the summer of 2002, Ramone said, she was prostituting herself to pay for her motel room, food and necessities, and occasionally for crack cocaine. She said a police officer stopped the truck in which she was a passenger near Central and Washington, conducted a pat-down search after she exited and took her to a park near Gibson where he forced her to have sex. Several months later, the same thing happened.
Seeley, who also described being sexually assaulted by Chase, won a verdict of $943,380 at trial in a federal civil rights suit against the former officer, including more than $800,000 in punitive damages. The court later awarded the attorneys $150,000 in legal fees. The city has appealed the judgment to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Kennedy said the structure of Ramone's settlement will give her a modest monthly income. He said she is no longer working as a prostitute.
"She's grateful this ordeal is over in terms of the civil case and still looks for justice from the criminal justice system," he said.
City Attorney Bob White said the case was settled because the facts were "virtually identical to the case that was tried. ... The mayor, I think, understood that the jury had spoken."
Another civil lawsuit filed on behalf of a high school student who said he'd been hit in the forehead with a flashlight by Chase also was tried before a federal jury and resulted in a $10,000 judgment against the former officer.
At least two more suits are pending in state and federal courts.
White and Chávez said those will be evaluated to determine whether they should be settled as well.
Chávez said in civil lawsuits against defendants like Chase, who are covered by a contract, the city lacks legal discretion to confess liability without the employee's permission.
"That's had us scratching our heads," Chávez said. Since a jury had found liability in the earlier case, he said he felt free to authorize settlement in Ramone's lawsuit.
"What we're trying to figure out is where we agree it's a bad apple ... how we can confess liability and leave to the jury the amount of damages."
Even conceding damages, a capable plaintiff's lawyer will want the jury to hear about some of the wrongdoing to have context for the damages. And that, says Chávez, can be a slippery slope.
Still, he said, some tweaking is in order.
"We've brought the pendulum back," he said. "Now we want to find a solution where there is liability."
Kennedy, for his part, says he doesn't really care if the city won't settle police cases.
"It's to the trial lawyers' advantage," said Kennedy, a former state Supreme Court justice. "We make lots of money from the no-settlement policy. If the mayor wants to spend taxpayers' dollars that way, it's fine with me."

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Review Finds Insufficient Evidence in N.Y. Doctor's Beating Allegation

Associated Press

Albuquerque's independent police review officer found insufficient evidence to back up allegations by a New York heart surgeon who accused police of roughing him up and jailing him in a confrontation with officers.
Surgeon Vincent Moss has appealed the findings, and a hearing is slated before the Police Oversight Commission on Dec. 8.
The hearing comes about a month before Moss is to appear in metropolitan court for a hearing on criminal charges filed against him in the July 17 incident.
Moss, 34, was arrested on charges of disorderly conduct and refusing to obey an officer.
His attorney, Daniel Ivey-Soto of Albuquerque, was out of town and could not be reached for comment. A spokesman for Moss said he would not comment until the criminal case ends.
Jay Rowland, review officer for the oversight commission, said the investigation into the incident in a downtown bar did not find enough evidence to recommend sanctions against the arresting officer or any other officer.
"Your complaint has been thoroughly and impartially investigated,'' Rowland wrote Moss in an Oct. 14 letter obtained this week by The Albuquerque Tribune. "There are not sufficient facts to make findings by a preponderance of the evidence on all of the allegations.''
The investigation is based on interviews with eight officers, employees of the bar, videotapes from the tavern and newspaper articles, the letter said.
Moss, who was in New Mexico last summer on a sabbatical to work at a Gallup hospital, alleged he was treated badly at the bar because he is black and that police dislocated his shoulder. He complained to Police Chief Ray Schultz, who forwarded the complaint to Rowland's office July 20.
Rowland said that because of the pending criminal case, Moss did not cooperate with the investigation or present his own witnesses.
"We don't have their side of the story,'' Rowland said.
According to his letter to Moss, the doctor yelled profanities, acted aggressively, spit on the ground, had to be bodily pulled from the bar and appeared to be high.
"A preponderance of the evidence convinces me that the officer had a reasonable basis to defend himself and arrest you,'' Rowland wrote. "Your conduct would lead a reasonable person to be concerned that you might become violent.''
Rowland's letter was released because once an appeal is filed, such a letter becomes public and its recipient is identified.
The criminal complaint against Moss identifies the arresting officer as Allen Hancock. Hancock has been the subject of at least four federal lawsuits accusing him of excessive force.

Thursday, November 3, 2005

Ex-APD Detective Indicted on Rape Charges

By Scott Sandlin, Journal Staff Writer

Former Albuquerque Police Department vice squad detective Timothy J. Chavez was indicted Wednesday on felony rape charges, five months after his initial arrest.
The New Mexico Attorney General's Office released copies of the indictment against Chavez, 34, stemming from the alleged criminal sexual penetration and kidnapping in April of a 14-year-old girl he met through a telephone dating service.
Chavez, an undercover officer at the time of the alleged incident, is charged with nine counts, including criminal sexual penetration, attempted sexual penetration, sexual contact of a minor and kidnapping. All but one count are felonies.
The Attorney General's Office took over the case because of conflicts in the Bernalillo County District Attorney's Office.
Chavez, a 13-year veteran of APD, was released on $75,000 bond after his arrest May 24. Chavez was placed on administrative leave but was fired about six weeks later.
A criminal complaint in the case said Chavez and the girl made contact on Live Links on April 22, and the girl, a ninth-grader, invited him over. Although she told him she did not want to have sex, the man allegedly ignored her and had sex with her, according to arrest records. She called police after the incident, and they took DNA.
A month later, the alleged victim saw Chavez at a restaurant and police were called, court records state. Police executed search warrants for Chavez's home and vehicle and obtained a DNA sample, according to earlier reports.