Friday, March 31, 2006

Ex-Cop Gets 15 Years in Assaults

By Scott Sandlin , Journal Staff Writer

Ex-cop Christopher Chase, a man who once put people in handcuffs, saw them slipped on his wrists by court officers Thursday after he was sentenced to the maximum possible penalty— 15 years behind bars.
Despite his attorney's request for voluntary surrender, Chase was taken into custody as soon as the sentencing hearing ended— to wails from his family.
Chase, 31, an Albuquerque Police Department officer fired after his indictment on multiple sexual assault and kidnapping charges in June 2003, entered a plea in February acknowledging he could be convicted if he went to trial. The so-called Alford plea was to 10 counts of criminal sexual penetration, kidnapping and other crimes related to six victims.
District Judge Denise Barela Shepherd then found him guilty.
But Chase and family members speaking on his behalf continued to insist his innocence and said he took the plea only to provide some resolution for his young family. His daughters, ages 1 and 4, and his wife, Darla, appeared at the hearing as they have for virtually every court event in the longstanding case.
His wife, who said there were mistakes in the investigation, emotionally threw her arms around Chase before he was ordered to prison.
A succession of victims also offered emotional evocations of their experiences with Chase, whom they never knew before their official encounters with him. The women, some of whom were high school teens at the time the crimes were committed, spoke of the lasting effects of the assaults on them and their families.
Veronica Edwell, pulled over by Chase for an alleged traffic infraction and assaulted, and Marissa Senigo, who was 16 when she was pulled over by Chase in 2002, said they fear police when they see them.
Prosecutor Michael Fricke, urging the maximum penalty, said Chase had figuratively raped the city as well as the individual victims.
Detective Monte Curtis said that, until he investigated, he would never have believed a police officer capable of the assaults. Chase has eroded years of work building relations between police and the community, he said.
Defense attorney Jacquelyn Robins urged Shepherd to sentence Chase to five years in prison and 20 years probation. As an ex-cop, she said, her client will have to remain in protective custody— meaning 23 hours a day in his cell.
She said Chase took the plea despite his desire for a trial because, if he'd been convicted of even one set of incidents in the indictment, he could have faced an even longer sentence.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Former Albuquerque Officer Sentenced in Plea Deal

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Associated Press
A former Albuquerque police officer accused of sexually assaulting and beating motorists was sentenced Thursday to 15 years in prison.
State District Judge Denise Barela Shepherd sentenced Christopher Chase to 60 years, but suspended all but 15 years — the maximum allowed under a plea deal Chase reached with prosecutors in January. She also sentenced Chase to five years of probation upon his release.
The judge rejected a defense proposal to give him a shorter prison sentence and 20 years of probation.
He had entered Alford pleas to 10 counts involving the alleged attacks, which occurred between 2001 and 2003 while he was a patrolman. Under an Alford plea, the defendant does not admit guilt, but acknowledges prosecutors may have enough evidence for a conviction.
Shepherd said Chase will be put in protective custody in prison because of his law enforcement background.
Assistant District Attorney Michael Fricke said Chase violated the public trust, his uniform and his badge.
"Chase is more than a rapist who rapes victims,'' he said. "He raped the city.''
Several people who spoke on Chase's behalf said he could not have committed the crimes.
"There has never, ever been a doubt in my mind that they have got the wrong man,'' said his wife, Darla.
Chase could have been sentenced to more than 140 years had he been found guilty of all the charges at trial.
Prosecutors accused Chase of randomly selecting vehicles to pull over, then forcing himself on the motorist. The incidents occurred both while Chase was on- and off-duty and while he was using his marked police car.
Chase was fired from the department after he was indicted June 2003 on 32 charges, including five counts of rape and two counts of criminal sexual contact.
The plea agreement includes four counts of rape, three counts of kidnapping, two counts of criminal sexual contact and one count of aggravated battery.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Ex-APD officer gets 15 years in prison

By Joline Gutierrez Krueger, Albuquerque Tribune

Posted 3:45 p.m. Former Albuquerque police Officer Christopher Chase will spend the next 15 years in prison after being sentenced today for the sexual assaults or beatings he dealt out to seven motorists from 2001 to 2003.

Besides the criminal charges, former Albuquerque police officer Christopher Chase was also named in six lawsuits, filed in federal and state courts.

All cases have been settled, costing the city about $3 million.

State District Judge Denise Barela Shepherd rejected a proposal from Chase's attorneys for a lesser sentence but a 20-year-probation.

Instead, she gave Chase the maximum allowable sentence under terms of a plea agreement signed in January.

And because of his law enforcement background, Chase will be placed in protective custody, Shepherd said. He will spend 23 hours a day in his cell.

The former officer entered Alford pleas in January to 10 counts involving attacks on motorists while he was a patrolman based in the Foothills Area Command.

An Alford plea does not admit guilt but acknowledges that enough evidence exists to convict. In the state's eyes, it is equivalent to a guilty plea.

Prosecutors say Chase randomly selected vehicles to pull over, then forced himself on the motorist, most of whom had not committed any traffic offense. The incidents occurred while Chase was both on- and off-duty, and while he was using his marked police car.

The victims include three women and three teenage girls. The charges also involve a teenage male relative of a high-ranking law enforcement official whom Chase is accused of beating with a flashlight and assaulting with a gun during a traffic stop in September 2002.

Tears flowed freely during the emotional sentencing hearing. Several victims spoke, saying they no longer trusted authorities, including police, and that the assaults had changed their lives forever.

Assistant District Attorney Michael Fricke called Chase a serial rapist. "Chase is more than a rapist who rapes victims," he said. "He raped the city."

The former officer violated the public trust, his uniform and his badge, Fricke said.

Several people spoke on Chase's behalf, denying that he could have committed the crimes.

"There has never, ever been a doubt in my mind that they have got the wrong man," said his wife, Darla.

She then started crying, prompting Chase to cry.

Chase was fired from the Albuquerque Police Department after being indicted in June 2003 on 32 charges, including five counts of rape and two counts of criminal sexual contact.

He was freed on $15,000 bond, but Shepherd in January ordered him into the Community Custody Program, where he was forced to wear an ankle monitor and check in regularly.

Until recently, he had been employed as a foreman for a construction company.

Today the judge denied a request from Chase's attorney, Jacquelyn Robins, that Chase be allowed to turn himself in.

Shepherd ordered him taken into custody immediately. He will need protective custody even during his processing at the Central Mexico Correctional Facility in Los Lunas.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Cop Fired In DWI Cover-Up

By T.J. Wilham, Journal Staff Writer

Albuquerque Police Chief Ray Schultz fired one of his officers Friday for her role in trying to cover up an alcohol-related crash involving a fellow cop.
Sara Harris, 23, a 21/2-year member of the department, has 10 days to appeal the firing.
"We are sending a very clear and strong message to the department and to the community that we hold people accountable," Schultz said. "The facts of the case are at a level where termination is the only option."
Contacted Friday, Harris referred questions to her attorney, who was out of town. Harris said she had yet to discuss with her lawyer whether she will appeal the termination. She said she learned she lost her job through news reports Friday.
An internal investigation found that Harris was in uniform working an overtime shift at a Northeast Heights bar on March 9 when she left her post to pick up officer Brandon Wilcox, 25, who is accused of wrecking his squad car while intoxicated.
Harris took Wilcox home, and moments later, Wilcox's 19-year-old brother, Bryan, showed up at the crash site in the 5500 block of Comanche NE. The younger Wilcox sat in the driver's seat, called police and waited at the scene, court records state.
When officers arrived, he told them he had stolen his brother's police car to pull a prank on some friends.
Meanwhile, Harris went back to her post working security.
Eventually, Bryan Wilcox admitted that he wasn't driving and directed officers to his brother's home nearby, records state.
There, officers found Brandon Wilcox, whose blood-alcohol content was tested at 0.20.
Investigators learned Harris might be involved after another officer came forward, Schultz said.
At the time of the crash, Harris was working chief's overtime, a program in which businesses can hire officers to work security.
On Thursday, Brandon Wilcox, who was arrested on aggravated DWI charges, resigned from the department.
Had Wilcox not resigned, Schultz said, Wilcox would have been terminated.

Friday, March 10, 2006

APD Cop Accused of DWI

By T.J. Wilham, Journal Staff Writer

An off-duty Albuquerque police officer was arrested on suspicion of drunken driving after police say he wrecked his take-home patrol car and got his brother to claim responsibility.
When other officers found the wrecked car in Northeast Albuquerque early Thursday morning, officer Brandon Wilcox's younger brother, Bryan, was in the driver's seat, according to a police report.
Bryan Wilcox, 19, claimed he had stolen his brother's police car to pull a prank on some friends at a party.
Police say they believe Brandon Wilcox had called his brother after the crash and got him to take him home. Bryan Wilcox then went back to the wrecked police car and said he was driving it.
Officers went to Brandon Wilcox's home, where it took them 10 to 15 minutes to get him out of bed.
Wilcox, 25, performed "poorly" on a series of field sobriety tests, and his blood-alcohol content was more than twice the legal limit of 0.08, according to court records. He was booked into the West Side jail on a charge of aggravated DWI.
Police said Wilcox earlier went to a bar, had made it home but then went out again before the crash occurred.
"I am extremely disappointed," Police Chief Ray Schultz said Thursday. "This shows that DWI is a problem that plagues this entire community including law enforcement."
Schultz has placed Wilcox on administrative leave with pay pending the outcome of an internal investigation.
Additional charges against both brothers could be filed, police said.
Wilcox, a patrolman and a four-year member of the department, didn't return phone calls Thursday.
Schultz said he has "zero tolerance" for DWI and pointed out that he has fired every officer that has been arrested for drunken driving under his command. He would not say what action would be taken against Wilcox.
"We will do what we have to do," Schultz said. "I think everyone knows how I feel about DWI."
According to police reports and court records:
Police were called about 1 a.m. to the crash site in the 5500 block of Comanche NE after Wilcox's brother called 911 and reported that he had wrecked his brother's police car.
He said his brother didn't know that he had the car, had been drinking elsewhere and was at his house passed out.
The car had hit a curb, spun across Comanche, hit another curb and ended up off the roadway. The squad car had minor damage.
Police were suspicious of Bryan Wilcox's story and say he eventually admitted he wasn't the driver.
Officers went to Brandon Wilcox's home a few blocks from the wreck, but neither his girlfriend nor police could wake Wilcox, and paramedics were called.
Ten to 15 minutes later, before the paramedics arrived, Wilcox woke up. He had problems standing, had to be held up by other officers, had slurred speech, a "strong odor of alcohol on his breath" and stumbled as he made his way out of the home.
Wilcox was released to a police sergeant after being booked into the jail.
That sergeant drove Wilcox home, where he took possession of Wilcox's duty weapon, shotgun and badge.

Thursday, March 2, 2006

APD Targets 2 In Evidence Case

By T.J. Wilham, Albuquerque Journal; Journal Staff Writer

The Albuquerque Police Department is investigating two officers to determine whether one— or both— helped cover up missing property from the evidence room while it was being investigated by the state Attorney General's Office.
Although neither officer has been charged, Police Chief Ray Schultz said he plans to issue "harsh" punishment in the case.
The two officers, who were partners, are blaming each other for allowing two civilian evidence room clerks to have access to property logs.
Attorneys for officers Robbin Burge and Scott Lopez say their clients are innocent.
The internal investigation, which started last fall, is the last of many evidence room probes. It started after the city's Independent Review Office noticed discrepancies in evidence room logs.
Schultz said he is awaiting the results of a lie-detector test for Burge.
A temporary restraining order prevents APD from giving her a lie-detector test, and a hearing on the restraining order is scheduled next week. Lopez already took a lie-detector test, which his attorney said he passed.
"We are in a situation where this is someone's word against someone else's word," Schultz said. "There are some questions that still need to be answered. That's why I need the (lie-detector test). ... Based on what I know now, there will be discipline. ... It will be harsh."
According to court records and police reports obtained by the Journal, Burge claims that Lopez was having a relationship with an evidence room clerk who was a target of the attorney general's investigation.
That investigation determined that more than $58,000 was missing from the evidence room and that criminal conduct had occurred. However, no one was prosecuted in connection with the missing evidence.
When questioned, both detectives said the other was responsible for allowing the clerks access to the logs.
Both clerks, who were civilians, were terminated from the department for other reasons.
Rob Perry, who is representing Burge, said his client was a primary source in the IRO's investigation.
After she came forward with the information about her partner's involvement, APD launched an investigation into her, Perry said.
"We don't have a problem taking a fair (lie-detector test). We do have a problem taking theirs," Perry said. "It's concerning they even want to do one given all of the evidence against my client's accuser."
Lopez's attorney Peter Schoenburg said his client has done nothing wrong.
Both officers have remained on duty during the investigation. Burge remains a detective, and Lopez has been promoted to sergeant.
"This investigation is the last thing that needs to be done with the evidence room," Schultz said. "This is us making sure that everything with the evidence room is dealt with.
"I am doing everything I said I was going to do. We are addressing everything and are not going to brush anything under the carpet."