Wednesday, May 18, 2005

'Poor Judgment' in State Cop Incident

Wednesday, May 18, 2005
By Jeremy Pawloski
Journal Staff Writer

An African American State Police officer was sprayed with pepper Mace, handcuffed to a telephone pole and photographed by five other officers in May 2000 in Los Alamos during the Cerro Grande fire, according to court records.
A State Police internal affairs report found that the incident was not racially motivated but that an officer involved "exercised exceptionally poor judgment."
The report was filed as an exhibit in a state court lawsuit in which former State Police officer Jerome Sedillo was seeking his job back in 2003.
According to the report, Sedillo told investigators that "in his view, the entire event was simply a bunch of horseplay."
Sedillo said officers were engaged in "bantering-like behavior, absent any racial remarks" during the incident. But the report also says the remarks to the African American officer included: "Smile so I can see you," "What's up my nigger" or "You look like a survivor/victim from the fire."
The report found that Sedillo had sprayed the pepper Mace into the African American officer's car at the start of the incident.
Sedillo "was untruthful in his responses to the Internal Affairs investigators when questioned as to whether he sprayed the pepper mace into the officer's car," reads an affidavit from State Police Chief Carlos Maldonado.
Sedillo's lawsuit requesting reinstatement as a State Police officer was denied by a Santa Fe District judge on May 2.
Santa Fe District Judge James Hall determined that Maldonado's decision to not reinstate Sedillo after he resigned "was not arbitrary or capricious."
Sedillo's attorney, Donald Sears of Albuquerque, did not have an immediate comment when reached by telephone on Tuesday.
According to court records included in Sedillo's suit:
A criminal investigation into the allegations of Sedillo's participation in the May 22, 2000, incident "while in a parking lot within the 'burned out' area of Los Alamos" determined that Sedillo "did not take an active role in either physically restraining or handcuffing" the African American officer.
But Maldonado, in his affidavit, states that Sedillo "pepper maced" the officer "in order to force him out of his patrol unit, whereupon the officers subsequently drug him to a telephone pole and handcuffed him to the telephone pole, in the dark, and photographed him handcuffed to the telephone pole."
At the conclusion of the investigation, the district attorney declined prosecution of Sedillo or the four other officers involved in the incident, court records state.
Santa Fe District Attorney Henry Valdez said Tuesday that his recollection of the Los Alamos incident is that "we didn't feel there was sufficient evidence available to get a conviction."
In Sedillo's original lawsuit, he says he resigned to take another job before facing any discipline in this incident. He also said he knew of no punishment meted out to any of the other officers implicated.
Police spokesman Peter Olson said information on whether the officers were disciplined was unavailable Tuesday.
In its response to Sedillo's lawsuit, the state acknowledges paying a substantial settlement to the African American officer on a discrimination claim. That officer is no longer with the State Police.
Sedillo is one of four State Police officers whose on-duty misbehavior is a matter of public record in court filings available in Santa Fe District Court.
Three other officers, all currently on administrative leave, have part of their disciplinary records included in court exhibits that are part of a May 16 motion.
The motion filed by Albert Fugere, deputy chief counsel for DPS, asks the court to dismiss the officers' petition for a stay in their administrative disciplinary proceedings and to deny their request for an injunction that would halt those disciplinary proceedings.
"They want to derail the disciplinary process," Fugere said Tuesday.
The three State Police officers who are plaintiffs in the motion are Agent Stephen Montoya, Sgt. Edward Cortez and Lt. Paul Sanchez.
Montoya, Cortez and Sanchez are among a group of officers who are receiving pay while on administrative leave for allegations of wrongdoing, a fact that raised the ire of some lawmakers when it became public last year.
The May 16 motion to dismiss the officers' petition for a stay includes for the first time details of the allegations against them that are part of their DPS file.
According to DPS records in the motion:

Montoya was accused in June 2003 of not returning all of the money that was taken from a suspect during a narcotics seizure after the suspect was stopped on Interstate 25. The suspect claimed he had over $2,000 when he was brought in for questioning, but was given only $210 when his property was returned.
"During the course of this investigation, a polygraph examination was administered to Agent Montoya, which he failed, resulting in a subsequent allegation of untruthfulness being brought against him," reads the investigative file.
Montoya's attorney, Joseph Riggs of Albuquerque, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Cortez was accused of claiming overtime for hours he did not work and of falsifying official department documents while on special assignment in Red River in May 2002.
"Additionally, it was alleged that he approved false or inaccurate payroll records for subordinates also working the special assignment," reads his file.
Cortez's attorney, Rob Perry, said Tuesday that the May 16 court filing detailing officers' disciplinary records amounts to a "smear campaign," and clouds the real issue— that DPS has left officers facing discipline in limbo by delaying the process.
Fugere said he had to file the exhibits that included parts of the officers' disciplinary records so that a judge could properly weigh the officers' interest against the public interest.
"When you read what these officers are charged with having done, the public's interest is in having these individuals not be police officers," Fugere siad.

Lt. Sanchez was accused of establishing "a sexual relationship with the wife of a man who (he) arrested and transported for incarceration."
Sanchez also was accused of harassing and battering the husband of the woman. The review of this incident revealed "a serious and similar pattern of alleged misconduct spanning many years, involving relationships with females, wherein Lieutenant Sanchez was alleged to have engaged in abusive and/or abusive behaviors."
Sanchez's attorney, Alan Maestas, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

No comments: