A Year Before Albuquerque’s Police Corruption Scandal Made Headlines, an Internal Probe Found Nothing

In December 2022, the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) obtained a tip that officers assigned to the APD’s DWI unit had been getting paid to make circumstances disappear. The tipster particularly talked about Honorio Alba, considered one of a number of officers who would later resign amid a burgeoning corruption scandal that includes that very allegation. Yet an inside investigation discovered no proof to substantiate the tip.

That episode, lately revealed by City Desk ABQ, helps clarify why proof of longstanding corruption inside the DWI unit didn’t come to mild till the FBI started trying into it. “We’re dealing with stuff that we anticipate started decades ago, and we’ve done a lot of things that have got us to this point,” Albuquerque Police Chief Harold Medina said at a press convention in February. “But we will continue to dig and look and leave no stone unturned and make sure that we get to the bottom of this.”

It looks as if the division left loads of stones unturned when it had an opportunity to scrub its personal home earlier than the feds stepped in. Instead of telling the FBI in regards to the alleged corruption, the APD apparently didn’t take the state of affairs severely till after it heard from the FBI.

In October 2023, 10 months after the APD’s Criminal Intelligence Unit launched its fruitless probe, the FBI knowledgeable Medina that it was investigating the DWI unit. The following month, Albuquerque’s Civilian Police Oversight Agency received a letter from a neighborhood courtroom official who stated Alba reportedly had pulled over a rushing, flagrantly drunk driver and, as an alternative of submitting costs, referred him to a selected native protection legal professional.

The FBI investigation turned public information after brokers executed search warrants at that legal professional’s office and the homes of a number of officers in January 2024. Local information retailers started trying into DWI circumstances that had been dealt with by Alba and his colleagues. They discovered suspiciously low conviction charges that one way or the other had eluded the APD’s investigators in 2022.

In response to the corruption allegations, the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office dropped some 200 DWI circumstances, saying it couldn’t depend on the testimony of the cops who had made the arrests. KOB, the NBC affiliate in Albuquerque, reported that Alba, who was honored as “Officer of the Year” by the New Mexico chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving final July, was the arresting officer in lots of these circumstances.

KRQE, the native CBS affiliate, checked out DWI circumstances filed through the earlier six years. It found that Joshua Montaño, a 19-year veteran, “was named as the officer in at least 36 cases” during which the defendants had been represented by Thomas Clear, the lawyer whose workplace the FBI had searched. Nearly 90 % of these circumstances “ended in dismissals.”

City Desk ABQ examined “85 DWI cases dating back to 2017” involving Clear and Alba, Montaño, or two different members of the DWI unit, Harvey Johnson and Nelson Ortiz. It found that 14 % of the circumstances ended with trial convictions or plea offers, which was “much lower than the Metro Court average of 56% convictions in DWI cases over the same years.” The different 86 % had been dismissed, usually as a result of officers didn’t present up at pretrial interviews or hearings. The “vast majority” of the defendants had been arrested by Alba or Montaño.

Why did not the APD uncover any of this again in 2022? Acting Sgt. Jon O’Guin “started gathering information but—after looking through officer activity—didn’t turn up any evidence,” City Desk ABQ studies, citing a five-page “intel file” that it obtained by way of a public data request.

According to the tipster, APD spokesman Gilbert Gallegos advised City Desk ABQ, three bars in Northeast Albuquerque had been alerting police to intoxicated patrons in order that they may very well be nabbed after they drove away. “They were targeting individuals, who then could get their cases dismissed,” Gallegos stated, describing the tip. “So they would arrest and charge them and then get their cases dismissed and there would be some sort of payment for that.”

In response to that tip, City Desk ABQ says, O’Guin examined “the activity of the seven officers who were on the DWI unit at that time, including Alba, Johnson and Montaño.” But his investigation apparently was restricted to the particular allegation, versus the overall declare that officers had been serving to arrestees keep away from costs in change for payoffs.

In December 2022, the officers’ exercise “did not show any obvious indicators that would match the allegations of the information received for the initial complaint in regards to increased activity in the areas of the three locations mentioned in NE Albuquerque,” O’Guin wrote within the intel file. “All officers’ CAD [computer-aided dispatch] activity showed what would appear to be normal traffic stops and requests for assistance responses across the city.” The identical was true, he stated, for October and November.

That abstract of O’Guin’s investigation is dated January 2024, by which level the FBI had collected sufficient proof to acquire search warrants. “When the allegations were relayed from the FBI, the detective was asked to update the file with documentation of the work that was initially done,” Gallegos defined. “So that part of the report was dated January 2024, when he provided that information.”

Given the timing, O’Guin’s gloss might have been intentionally self-exculpating. In any case, he evidently by no means thought to take a look at what was usually taking place with the DWI circumstances that Alba et al. dealt with. If he had, he would have found the identical curious sample that reporters discovered after the FBI raids. Those excessive dismissal charges reinforce the allegation that these officers, after stopping drivers for DWI, would “get their cases dismissed” in change for “some sort of payment.”

No corruption costs have been filed but. But Alba, Montaño, Johnson, Ortiz, and Lt. Justin Hunt all resigned after they had been positioned on administrative go away pending the result of one other inside investigation, this one prompted by the FBI probe and the letter to the Civilian Police Oversight Agency. On Tuesday, APD spokesman Daren DeAguero, a 15-year veteran who served within the DWI unit from 2014 to 2018, joined the line of exiting officers.

DeAguero resigned the identical day he was scheduled to be interviewed by inside investigators. “Due to the current situation of receiving a letter of investigation with very little time to obtain adequate representation,” he wrote in a memo to Medina, “I unfortunately will be ending my employment [with] the Albuquerque Police Department effective April 30, 2024.”

Montaño was extra expansive when he resigned on March 20. “When I was put on administrative leave, I thought there would be an opportunity for me to talk to the department about what I knew regarding the FBI’s investigation,” he wrote. “I thought there would be a time [when] I could disclose what I knew from within APD and how the issues I let myself get caught up in within the DWI Unit were generational. I thought there would be a time where I could talk about all the other people who should be on administrative leave as well, but aren’t.”

Montaño stated he in the end determined towards cooperating with APD investigators. “In order for me to talk to the City about what I knew,” he wrote, “I needed to not be the City’s scapegoat for its own failures.” He complained that Medina “has made it seem like there are just a few bad officers acting on their own.” That is “far from the truth,” Montaño stated.

Among different issues, the FBI reportedly is investigating claims that officers intentionally missed courtroom dates, ensuing within the dismissal of DWI circumstances. But in keeping with Montaño, “officers all know that our attendance, or non-attendance, at Court is watched over and monitored.” While “I take responsibility for my actions,” he stated, the duty for the alleged misconduct extends up the chain of command and quite a lot of years again in time—in all probability “decades,” in keeping with Medina himself.

“There is a much bigger story here,” Montaño’s lawyer, Thomas Grover, told City Desk ABQ. “If Officer Montaño is a cinder block in this saga, there’s a whole wall to address. It goes outward and upward.”

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