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.

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