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.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Ex-APD cop is to plead guilty today

By Joline Gutierrez Krueger, Albuquerque Tribune
Thursday, January 26, 2006

A former Albuquerque police officer was expected to plead guilty today to sexual assault charges involving women he encountered on bogus traffic stops.

Christopher Chase, who is also named in six lawsuits that have cost the city more than $1.4 million in claims, could face up to 15 years imprisonment under the plea agreement.

Had he been found guilty at trial, his sentence could have been more than 140 years.

Chase, 31, was a patrolman based in the Foothills area command but was fired after he was indicted June 2003 on 32 charges that included five counts of rape and two counts of criminal sexual contact.

Teenage boy (assault allegations): Federal jury awarded $17,000 in December 2004.
Woman, 34: Federal jury awarded $943,380 in February 2005 plus $150,000 in attorney fees in April 2005. Case is under appeal.

Woman, 18: Case settled in state District Court for $300,000 in November 2005.

Woman, 42: Pending in federal court.

Teenage girl No. 1: Pending in federal court.

Teenage girl No. 2: Pending in federal court.

Under the plea agreement, scheduled to be entered this morning before state District Judge Denise Barela Shepherd, Chase will plead guilty to four counts of rape, three counts of kidnapping, two counts of criminal sexual contact and one count of aggravated battery.

Assistant District Attorney Michael Fricke said the plea agreement still includes every victim of a sexual assault. 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.

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 either on- or off-duty, and while he was using his marked police car.

One female victim was stopped twice - in September 2001 and again in February 2002 - and raped both times. Afterward, the woman said Chase washed her hands with a sanitizer to hide any traces of his assault, a criminal complaint states.

Two of the victims were high school girls who were driving with several male companions in January 2003 when Chase stopped their car and took the girls one by one to his squad car to fondle, the complaint states.

Fricke said he did not know why Chase decided to accept the plea deal now.

"Negotiations have a will of their own," he said.

Chase's attorney, Jacquelyn Robins, did not return a call to her office.

Chase was a 1999 graduate of the 80th Cadet Class of the Albuquerque Police Academy. His wife, Darla, has remained by his side at nearly every court appearance during the past two years. They have two children.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Ex-Cop Arrested on Drug Charges

By Jeff Proctor, Journal Staff Writer

A former Albuquerque Police Department officer was arrested Tuesday on narcotics trafficking charges after the man's son inadvertently led authorities to his home.
Robert Estrada Jr., 48, is charged with two counts of trafficking methamphetamine and marijuana— a second-degree felony, said John Walsh, an APD spokesman.
Estrada, a 20-year APD veteran, retired more than five years ago, Walsh said.
"What this shows is that when you have a cross-cut of your police department membership and former membership, we suffer from the same ills as the greater society," Walsh said.
Police happened upon about 4 pounds of marijuana, 30 grams of meth, about $500 in cash and a wide array of paraphernalia at Estrada's home in the 5100 block of Lomas de Atrisco NW, he said.
Authorities were led to his home after police responded to a domestic dispute involving his 22-year-old son, Robert Estrada III, in the 2500 block of Aspen NE, he said.
A woman had apparently brandished a firearm at Estrada III, who took the gun and fled to his father's home, Walsh said.
Police found Estrada III at the home and arrested him, he said. Officers entered the home with a search warrant to find the stolen gun.
The elder Estrada was released Wednesday from the Metropolitan Detention Center after posting a $30,000 bond, jail records show. Estrada III faces numerous charges and his bond has been set at $100,000 at the West Side jail.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

APD: Internet, phone are lures 3 arrests highlight risks, cops say

By Maggie Shepard, Albuquerque tribune

Three times this week, police have arrested men on charges of rape and attempted rape - all stemming from contacts the men made with young women and girls online and through telephone dating services.

One of the arrests resulted from the Attorney General's Office's work on a manual aimed at helping parents and teens avoid inappropriate contacts on the Internet.

An investigator was asked to enter an online chat room and get fresh examples of what happens at such sites for use in the office's release of the new safety manual. The recording was to be used in a press conference today.

The female investigator, posing as a 14-year-old girl, went online Monday afternoon and encountered a man who subsequently used a digital video camera to send her video of himself masturbating. Later, he asked if she wanted to meet for physical sex.

The investigator agreed, and met the man Tuesday morning at Mary Fox Park on Roma Avenue Northwest.

Looking as young as she could, the investigator showed up at the 10 a.m. meeting and was met by a man who called her "Michelle," the name he'd been led to believe was hers, according to the complaint.

Police then arrested Matthew Ward, 40, of the 3400 block of Lisa Road Southwest. He listed his wife and mother as his emergency contacts when he was booked into jail on charges of attempted criminal sexual penetration, attempted criminal sexual contact with a minor and child luring, according to court documents.

"One of the most dangerous plagues that hits our communities is the ease with which predators have access to our children and our personal lives through technology," Albuquerque police spokesman John Walsh said.

Also arrested on Tuesday was Daniel Maldonado, 22, of the 2300 block of Williams Street Southeast.

In that case, Albuquerque police say Maldonado used a telephone dating service to invite a woman and her aunt to his house Monday night.

Once at the home, the woman told police Maldonado sexually assaulted her then hit her over the head several times with a bottle when she tried to leave the house, according to the complaint.

The woman was treated at the University of New Mexico Hospital for injuries.

Maldonado was arrested on charges of criminal sexual penetration, kidnapping and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon.

Those two arrests come one week after the arrest of an Albuquerque man on charges that he had five sexual encounters with a 15-year-old girl after weeks of dating through an online chatting service.

Thomas Tafoya, 24, faces five counts of criminal sexual penetration of a minor.

In May 2005, the same chat service that introduced Maldonado to the female also introduced a then-Albuquerque Police Department vice detective to a 14-year-old girl, according to a Metro Court complaint.

Timothy Chavez, 34, raped the teen when she allowed him to visit her home after chatting through Live Links telephone dating service, according to the complaint.

Chavez has not been indicted on rape charges but has been fired from APD.