Saturday, January 28, 2006

Ex-Officer Guilty on 10 Counts

Saturday, January 28, 2006
By Scott Sandlin, Journal Staff Writer

Former Albuquerque police officer Christopher Chase faces up to 15 years in prison after being found guilty of criminal sexual penetration, kidnapping and other crimes.
Chase entered a plea Friday in which he acknowledged he likely would be convicted at trial. District Judge Denise Barela Shepherd then found him guilty of nine felony charges and one misdemeanor.
She scheduled sentencing for March 30.
The plea brings to a close a costly chapter for the city, which has been a defendant in lawsuits filed by the former officer's victims.
One case went to trial last February in federal court and resulted in a jury verdict of $943,380 plus $150,000 in legal fees. The city has appealed to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Another case involving a former prostitute was settled for $300,000 in November, despite Mayor Martin Chávez's policy of not settling cases involving police officers.
Three remaining civil lawsuits in which women claimed they had been sexually assaulted by Chase were resolved by Thursday with a $600,000 settlement, their attorney said.
The legal cases against Chase stem from traffic stops that started in September 2001 where he sexually molested, beat or kidnapped at least 11 motorists.
A subdued Chase, 31, appeared before Shepherd and answered "Yes ma'am" and "No ma'am" to questions about the individual charges.
His wife, mother-in-law and two young daughters watched. So did family members of one victim, who wept as Chase entered the plea to counts involving the then-16-year-old girl stopped by Chase and fondled in 2003.
Assistant District Attorney Michael Fricke said the plea was a good outcome for the victims, who won't have to testify, and for the public.
Defense attorney Jacquelyn Robins said her client faces less time than if he had gone to trial and been convicted.
There could have been at least three and possibly six trials.
Shepherd ordered a presentence report and said Chase would be remanded to the community confinement program pending sentencing.
That means he can continue working at the construction company where he supervises 30 employees, putting in some 70 hours a week, according to Robins. She said Chase wanted to keep working so he can provide for his family before he goes to prison.
The charges in the plea agreement include criminal sexual penetration, kidnapping, criminal sexual contact of a minor by a person in a position of authority and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon.
Fricke said he will argue for the maximum sentence.
Robins said she will ask that he be sentenced to nine years, with as much probation as the statute will permit.
The plea agreement may have been encouraged by an FBI investigation that could have led to federal charges of civil rights violations.
The civil lawsuits began mounting soon after the criminal indictment was handed up in June 2003. Chase was fired by APD shortly thereafter.
Attorney Brad Hall said he settled cases filed on behalf of three women on Thursday for a total of $600,000.
"I think we could have done better at trial, but they wanted to get this behind them," Hall said.
He said he believes the city has paid nearly $800,000 in legal fees in the collective cases involving Chase.

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