The Disintegration and Decay of The Albuquerque Police Department since 2000
Where, when, why and who is to blame for the meltdown that we now call the Albuquerque Police Department?
In this short article I hope to explore what I believe started the decay and why it continues today. I would hope this critique creates a debate within the city of Albuquerque, its’ citizens and police force as to what has happened in the past and what the future holds for Albuquerque. This article will be short and concise. If the reader wishes to dig deeper into certain events I (or the Eye) will direct them to the specific reporting from local & national media and direct sources of information.
Jerry Galvin is named Albuquerque Police Chief by Mayor Jim Baca. During his tenure, Albuquerque has a staffing of 849 sworn police officers. A college requirement of 60 college credit hours was implemented which caused APD to have a severe reduction in force because APD could not recruit enough qualified candidates.
Mayor Martin Chavez wins the mayoral election and promptly dismisses Jerry Galvin and names retired national FOP President (and retired Albuquerque Police officer) Gilbert Gallegos his new chief of police. The college requirement is removed but APD continues to struggle to hire and retain enough officers.
Rumblings over major corruption and scandal in the Albuquerque Police Department Evidence Room begin to surface.
APD Deputy Chief Ray Schultz retires in December and in January 2004 takes a position with Scottsdale, Arizona police. It appears he gets out just in time as the Evidence Room Scandal is being exposed by APD officers who are trying to do right. Schultz is an APD Deputy Chief in direct oversight of the evidence room and crime lab when in August 2003 APD Detective Cindy Orr attempts to notify the APD command staff of the Evidence Room corruption only to be targeted by that same command staff.
What did Schultz know and what did he do? No one ever asks, but he was deputy chief.
APOA officers led by President Jeff Remington stage a sit in protest on Albuquerque Civic Plaza for several days. After threats by Mayor Chavez the protest is ended but it leads to better wages and working conditions for APD officers. APD begins to increase sworn officer staffing after this protest.
Also in 2004 the first signs of a major breakdown in the leadership and command staff of APD are exposed as the Evidence Room Scandal unfolds in the media. During this time the media reports of APD Command Staff retiring from the city with large, six figure cash-outs. The first real documented signs of upper level corruption because the Command Staff remains silent to Evidence Room Corruption, so they can retire with their large bonuses. Scandal involving APD Command Staff and Mayor Marty Chavez is also exposed, but nothing happens. With no one in command (past or present) at APD being held accountable for what is at best gross misconduct, and at worst major federal crimes, APD begins a headlong spiral into the abyss.
The Evidence Room Scandal explodes on the APD Command Staff. APD Captain Sisi Miranda motions the APOA for a vote of no confidence in DCOP Ed Sauer for his current running of the Evidence Room. This action takes an issue that the Command Staff at APD had ignored since 2001 (and before) into the spotlight. The exposure of corruption that this APOA vote exposes causes Mayor Chavez to fire Gil Gallegos. For a brief period of time it is hoped that those in command at APD who knew but did nothing and those who took an active role in covering up the Evidence Room Scandal would be held accountable for their actions. Yet no other member of the APD Command Staff, past or present, is held accountable.
Gallegos is offered up as a sacrificial lamb, which is correct he is the chief, yet not one member of his current or past command staff (remember who retired in December 2003) is held accountable. Chavez brings in former BCSO Sheriff Jim Bowdich to run APD in the interim while they figure out who to put in place as APD’s new chief.
April 2005 Ray Schultz is wooed back from Scottsdale and hired as Chief of Police by Mayor Chavez. This compounds the problems in the command staff at APD as it shows the elected mayor did not know that he should have held all members of the command staff since 2000 accountable for the Evidence Room Scandal. It sends a message that the command staff can be inept leaders and still receive six figure salaries and cash-outs. At the time of Schultz’s return, the Deputy Chiefs of Police included: Paul Chavez, Ed Sauer, and Fowler Johnson. The first non-APD officer also becomes the president of the APOA: Lawrence Torres when APD officer Jeff Remington resigns. Torres is later given a high paying job by mayor Chavez where he is now representing the city against the very union he “led.”
Later in 2005 the New Mexico Attorney General and Bernalillo County District Attorney do nothing regarding corruption at APD’s Evidence Room even with the facts that money, guns, and drugs have been stolen. This starts a very cozy relationship between the new chief of APD and those law enforcement agencies that the public depend upon to be checks and balances. APD command staff begins to act without any concern that the NMAG or Bernalillo District Attorney will investigate their practices. It is clear there is no longer a local or state check and balance of the command staff at APD.
I want to pause one moment and let this sink in for the reader. The elected highest law enforcement officers in the state and in the county refused to act regarding the corruption at the highest level of the Albuquerque Police Department. This lack of action sets in motion the current Department of Justice Investigation that we have today. Had the NM AG or the Bernalillo County DA opened an investigation things today would be dramatically different at APD. These two agencies failed in their duty to be a check and balance. For APD to reach the low point it is in today this perfect storm of corruption at the highest level of APD and inaction by the two law enforcement agencies that could have stopped it, was necessary. Where APD is today did not happen just upon the election of RJ Berry, it started before then. RJ Berry just helped confirm the department’s destruction by continuing a path of NOT holding his chief administrators accountable, if not simply providing them cover.
August 2005, five Albuquerque residents are murdered including two APD officers by a mentally ill suspect. This sad day gets revisited in the upcoming years as numerous mentally ill individuals are killed by APD officers. In most of these shooting cases the blame is placed at the feet of the frontline APD officer who did the shooting but this is incorrect. The blame for these shootings falls squarely on the politicians of Albuquerque and New Mexico who then and now continue to provide little or no assistance for the mentally ill. Police officers come into most of these situations at the traumatic end of the crisis where violence is occurring. The lawmakers in Albuquerque and New Mexico could intervene early by enacting policies for helping the mentally ill like other states have. The lawmakers do nothing, leaving it up to a young police officer to act in defense of their life or someone else’s at a moment that took years for everyone to arrive at. The lawmakers bear huge responsibility but it is the low level APD officer who is blamed. Don’t get me wrong there does appear to be some shootings that should be questioned, but the majority of shootings would never have occurred had our state and city done more to intervene early with the mentally ill. This also points to questionable activity between the Bernalillo County DA and APD as not one police shooting is deemed inappropriate.
2006 to 2009
Under Mayor Chavez and Chief Ray Schultz APD staffing goes over 1,100 sworn officers. There is scandal as the Albuquerque Journal exposes that some retired rehires were not vetted in the rush to hire them back. One was found to have a criminal history (and was terminated) and another was hired before a drug test, which he failed (again terminated). Also hired were many lateral officers with questionable backgrounds, yet the Command Staff at APD approved their hiring even when lower level APD officers brought it to their attention. Several of these lateral officers have been a black eye on APD (Levi Chavez for example), yet the command staff does not order a review to the practice of hiring laterals. It appears that Schultz / Chavez want numbers; Albuquerque will pay for this in the years to come.
Pete Dwyer takes a brief tenure as APOA president but he too resigns because of allegations of corruption. APD fails again to order an investigation and Ron Olivas takes over as APOA president. Dwyer is later fired for comments on his Facebook page and his name comes up in the Levi Chavez case because of suspicious circumstances surrounding Levi’s stolen truck. Nothing is followed up of course.
During this time period several suicides of women who are associated with APD officers, supervisors and command staff occur. Yet even when affairs are exposed nothing happens to those involved. In one example the offending sergeant is promoted to lieutenant after the female APD officer he was having an affair with committed suicide. The command staff turns a blind eye, why? One speculation is because the command staff is having their own affairs and to discipline someone for this would open a can of worms.
Also in 2009 the West Mesa murders mass burial ground are discovered. No one has ever been named as the murderer. This killing field is presented as a “surprise” to community by Schultz and crime lab chief Paul Feist when in reality scores of officers had been reporting and documenting the disappearance of prostitutes since as early as 2006. I should know, I wrote one of the memos expressing concern that there was a killer preying on street girls.
Several lawsuits against APD for false arrest are filed and even more stunning, APD officers are suing their own department. The Gonzales case (2006) costs taxpayers $1,300,000 for the 2 year false incarceration of a mentally ill adult for a murder / rape he did not commit. Court documents state that months after Gonzales arrest and confession DNA evidence cleared him. Yet APD did not disclose this to the court or defense and Gonzales, a mentally ill man, remained in solitary confinement at MDC for almost 2 years. Two years, a million dollars for false arrest and Schultz does not order an internal investigation. The Bernalillo DA does not order any investigation.
In 2009 the Clifton Bloomfield murders cause many lawsuits against APD. Some filed by Bloomfield’s victims who stated shoddy police work caused their loved ones to be murdered. Two other lawsuits filed by two men who were falsely accused of some of the murders. They were held at MDC for over 15 months even after DNA evidence excluded them. Again this evidence was withheld and once the defense and judge found out they released these two men immediately. Again Ray Schultz does nothing. Again the Bernalillo County DA does nothing. So far these lawsuits have cost us over a million dollars
In October of 2009 in Federal Court in Santa Fe the city of Albuquerque, after trial, reaches an agreement with retired APD officer Samson Costales regarding allegations of civil rights violations directly against APD Chief Ray Schultz. This is the beginning of officers and citizens seeking recourse for actions by APD Command Staff through court filings. Since officers and citizens can no longer depend upon the NM AG and the Bernalillo County DA to monitor APD actions they start suing……… and winning. Costales was awarded almost $1,000,000 for civil rights violations filed against Schultz.
Richard Berry is elected Mayor of Albuquerque during this time in the Fall of 2009. A chance for the elected mayor of Albuquerque to do his job and hold city employees at all levels accountable. Yet Berry decides to keep Schultz as chief of police and he names Darren White as Public Safety Director. This is another example of an elected official who is there as a check and balance who fails to do his duty for the citizens. In any other public or private sector job Schultz would have been fired for costing the taxpayer $1,000,000 but not in Albuquerque. The elected officials keep failing to do their jobs.
Former APOA president Ron Olivas “leaks” information to APD officer Brad Ahrensfield. And while there has been rampant corruption and misconduct by high ranking APD officials since the evidence room scandal with little or no scrutiny, Ahrensfield endures the full pressure of the FBI and US Attorney’s office because of allegations made by a convicted felon. APD detective Ryan Buckner and Schultz’s directing spearheads and investigation which ultimately leads to Ahrensfield’s conviction and incarceration. APOA President Joey Sigala is accused of stealing APOA funds. Schultz tries to keep the investigation internal but is forced to refer the matter to the NMSP when APD detectives try to intimidate retired APD sergeant Paul Heh. NMSP finds that while money was inappropriately spent it did not rise to the level of a criminal offense. Sigala becomes the first APOA executive board member who is investigated for criminal conduct. He later resigns and then is arrested for DV charges and is subsequently fired. Sigala is not sentenced to any prison time or ordered to pay any restitution....
Part II to come later this week.