ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – Seventeen months have passed since Christopher Chase shot four police officers, wounding them, and later died in a hail of police gunfire following a harrowing chase through the Valley.
Then-Albuquerque police officer Jeremy Dear shot and killed 19-year-old suspected car thief Mary Hawkes nearly 11 months ago in a case that has come to symbolize the beleaguered department’s ongoing struggles with on-body cameras.
And it was more than nine months ago that two SWAT officers from APD shot Jeremy Robertson to death as he was fleeing from a bust operation that went wrong in the middle of the city.
APD is the lead agency in the investigations of those and a half-dozen other police shooting and in-custody death cases that stretch back eight months or longer.
The department hasn’t forwarded a single one of those cases to the District Attorney’s Office for legal review, according to a letter DA Kari Brandenburg sent Police Chief Gorden Eden on Tuesday. The DA’s role is to decide whether the officers involved in shootings and in-custody deaths broke any laws.
The letter is the latest example of a deepening fracture in the relationship between top officials at New Mexico’s largest law enforcement agency and the top prosecutor in the state’s largest judicial district that shows no signs of healing.
“We have been told in the past that we can expect completed investigations within four to six months following the incidents,” Brandenburg wrote in the letter, which KRQE News 13 obtained through a request under the New Mexico Inspection of Public Records Act. “However, there are some cases in excess of 17 months old, and we have not received completed reports on any of the listed cases.”
Further, according to the letter, no one from Brandenburg’s office has been invited to “chief’s briefings” — meetings used to review evidence and discuss status updates in police shooting and in-custody death investigations — since Jan. 29. That’s when APD and city officials promised in a meeting to include the DA’s Office in the briefings.
“We realize it is your prerogative to include us, but the process was very helpful, and gave us some context,” Brandenburg wrote.
Brandenburg, through spokeswoman Kayla Anderson, refused to answer questions from News 13 about the letter.
APD spokesman Tanner Tixier would not answer questions, either. He said Eden had not seen the letter from Brandenburg in his email inbox until News 13 requested his comment Tuesday afternoon. “He will check on this matter in the morning,” Tixier said Tuesday afternoon.
A few hours later, APD made several posts on its social media accounts, including a copy of Brandenburg’s letter with accompanying text that read: “APD investigates all cases thoroughly. This is very time intensive. Priorities are detailed accuracy and transparency.”
Another post from APD, on Twitter, included a photograph of three binders and the message: “Pending case – Christopher Chase. Cases must be investigated, compiled and thoroughly reviewed before they’re sent to the DA.”
The delays outlined in Brandenburg’s letter offer fresh evidence of APD leaders’ unwillingness to cooperate with her office on sensitive cases since the four-term DA decided to proceed with murder charges against SWAT officer Dominique Perez and then-detective Keith Sandy in the shooting death of James Boyd last March.
In early October, Brandenburg notified the police union of her intentions in the Boyd shooting case. What she didn’t know at the time was that she had been under investigation by APD for a year on suspicion that she bribed victims of her son’s burglaries.
APD detectives never interviewed Brandenburg. Their investigation ran from October 2013 through last July and appears to have ground to a halt. Brandenburg learned of it in late November, when the Albuquerque Journal sought her comment for a story that reported the case had been sent to the state Attorney General’s Office with a letter from APD Detective David Nix saying there was probable cause to believe the DA had committed bribery or intimidation of a witness.
The AG is still reviewing the case. Brandenburg has not been charged with a crime.
In January, she announced publicly that she had filed murder charges against Sandy and Perez by criminal information.
Days later, APD officers Michael Oates and Matthew Fisher fatally shot John O’Keefe, who, according to APD, shot at the officers first. In the aftermath of that incident, one of Brandenburg’s top deputies arrived on the scene to offer legal advice and participate in the early stages of the shooting investigation.
But Deputy City Attorney Kathryn Levy and APD officials barred the prosecutor from the scene — in violation of decades of accepted practice, a written agreement signed by Eden and Brandenburg codifying the DA’s role in police shooting investigations and the department’s own policies.
City Chief Administrative Officer Rob Perry followed up with a scathing letter later in the week that described what Perry believed was a conflict of interest for Brandenburg’s office in police shooting cases. He asked her to begin assigning the cases to a special prosecutor.
Perry’s letter, the bribery investigation of Brandenburg and Journal editorials agreeing with Perry’s position about the conflict became the basis for a motion from defense attorneys representing Sandy and Perez to disqualify Brandenburg and her entire office from prosecuting the Boyd shooting case.
At a hearing on that motion in March, Chief Deputy DA Deborah DePalo said it appeared the chill between APD higher-ups and their bosses at City Hall may have begun to thaw. DePalo said Perry had agreed to allow the DA’s Office to participate in the shooting investigations again.
But the letter Brandenburg sent to Eden on Tuesday suggests that things are still tense.
It lists eight APD shooting cases, two U.S. Marshal’s shootings and three in-custody deaths. APD is heading up the investigations for all of them. Ten of the 13 cases are older than seven months.
For perspective, it took APD five months to provide more than 1,000 pages and nine DVDs of evidence to Brandenburg in the highly complex Boyd shooting case.
Among the cases listed in Brandenburg’s letter:
Christopher Chase case: On Oct. 26, 2013, Christopher Chase went on a shooting rampage across the city. In 30 minutes of chaos, he shot three APD officers and a Bernalillo County Sheriff’s deputy. Police caught up with him when the APD cruiser Chase had stolen crashed into a gas station. They opened fire, killing him.
The incident began when Chase ambushed officer Eric Martinez at a downtown tire shop, shooting him in the leg with a pistol-grip-style version of an AK-47 and stealing his police car. Chase then drove through the North Valley, leading police on a pursuit. During the chase, he shot officer Matthew Hannum and officer Daniel Morales, striking each of them in the leg. Deputy Robin Hopkins was also shot in the leg and suffered the most extensive injuries, requiring multiple surgeries and intensive physical therapy.
According to an autopsy report, Chase was shot eight times. APD has identified officer Luke McPeek as one of those who fired, but the department has not released additional names.
Mary Hawkes case: On April 21, 2014, 19-year-old Mary Hawkes pointed a gun “at close range” at then-officer Jeremy Dear, who shot and killed her, according to Chief Eden. Police had searched for Hawkes, suspected of stealing a truck, hours earlier near Zuni and Wyoming SE.
At a news conference later that day, Eden showed reporters a photograph of a gun found near Hawkes’ body — a Davis Industries .32 caliber semi-automatic pistol. The photograph was taken at the APD crime lab.
A month later, police released body-camera video of police searching for Hawkes before the shooting, and video from other officers after the shooting. APD said Dear was the only officer at the scene when he shot Hawkes, and he didn’t have his camera on. He was later fired for lying and insubordination after an internal investigation determined he had not turned his camera on. His attorney is appealing.
The autopsy report shows Hawkes was struck by three bullets.
Armand Martin case: On May 3, 2014, APD officers surrounded 50-year-old Armand Martin’s Ventana Ranch home during a six-hour standoff. When he walked outside, he was shot and killed by APD SWAT officer Daniel Hughes.
Police had responded to a call from Martin’s wife, who told dispatchers he had pulled a gun on her and the couple’s children, threatening them.
Police released a neighbor’s grainy cellphone video of the shooting two weeks ago. In the video, three shots can be heard: two that police say came from Martin, followed by a fatal shot from APD. Previously released lapel video did not show the shooting.
Jeremy Robertson case: On July 22, 2014, undercover officers tried to arrest Jeremy Robertson at a gas station for car theft charges. He ran across the street, into a field and onto a street in a nearby neighborhood. Officers fired four shots, killing him.
Police say they thought he had a gun, and that when he ran into the neighborhood, they thought he would carjack someone.
Two SWAT team officers fired shots: Anthony Sedler and Ramon Ornelas. Ornelas had shot and killed one person before the Robertson incident; it was Sedler’s third fatal shooting.This story has been updated to reflect APD’s comments on social media, which were posted hours after KRQE requested an interview with Chief Gorden Eden.