Albuquerque (KRQE) – A state District Court judge on Monday morning postponed a hearing on a defense motion to disqualify District Attorney Kari Brandenburg’s office — on conflict-of-interest grounds — from the prosecution of two Albuquerque police officers she charged in November with murder for the shooting of homeless man James Boyd.
The reason for the postponement: conflict of interest allegations.
Only this time, the allegations are coming from the District Attorney’s Office. Prosecutors say the case can’t move forward yet because Luis Robles, the defense attorney for one of the officers, represented both officers in the early stages of APD’s investigation of the March 16 shooting that led to Boyd’s death.
“The two officers could have very adverse interests as this case moves forward,” Chief Deputy DA Deborah DaPalo said in an interview after Monday’s abbreviated hearing. “So the fact that (Robles) represented both of them leaves an open conflict.”
To resolve it, the officers, Keith Sandy and Dominique Perez, must submit detailed, written waivers stating that they don’t believe their defense will be adversely impacted by Robles’ dual role. Robles, who now represents Perez, and Sam Bregman, who represents Sandy, both told District Judge Alisa Hadfield that their clients will sign the waivers.
Perez already has signed a waiver. But Sandy lives in the East Mountains. Bregman told Hadfield he may not be able to contact his client right away, so the judge rescheduled the hearing for March 12 at 9 a.m., sending a courtroom packed with reporters, news managers and media attorneys back to their desks without the closure that the hearing initially promised.
In an interview, Robles said his representation of both officers during their interviews with investigators does not present a conflict.
The allegation, freshly raised by prosecutors late last week, “shows a bit of the desperation on the part of the DA’s Office,” Robles said. “They’ve never disputed any of the facts we’ve raised. Instead, this is what they respond with?”
Bregman and Robles laid out their argument in a January court filing. They say Brandenburg and her officer have a two-fold conflict.
First, APD investigated her for attempting to bribe victims of her son’s alleged burglaries and and forwarded a case to the Attorney General’s Office for review. Neither Brandenburg nor her son has been charged with a crime, the AG’s review is still in progress and, as News 13 has reported, the case appears to be flimsy at its base.
The DA’s Office also shouldn’t remain on the Boyd shooting prosecution, defense attorneys said, because DePalo went to the scene, where she offered legal advice and spoke to witnesses. That protocol has been in place here for 30 years. It is mandated in a memorandum of agreement signed by the DA’s Office, several other law enforcement agencies and the city of Albuquerque.
Monday’s postponement puts yet another impediment in front of a first-of-its-kind potential murder trial for police officers in Albuquerque. Before it ever reaches that stage, Judge Hadfield will hear arguments from both sides in a preliminary hearing, then decide whether Sandy and Perez should be bound over for trial. And before that happens, the conflict allegations against Brandenburg must be resolved.
The new allegations raised by prosecutors underscore the interconnected nature of Robles’ many roles in police shooting cases.
He has served as a contract attorney to defend officers and the city in civil lawsuits. The longtime Albuquerque attorney also has been hired as a use-of-force expert by the city in personnel proceedings. And now, he is defending an officer against a charge that could lead to a life sentence.
Yet another of Robles’ roles has been as the de facto, in-house attorney for officers assigned to the APD SWAT team and other specialized squads. Typically, when a police officer shoots someone, one of two APD union attorneys represents the officer during the criminal investigation that follows.
Sandy was assigned to the now-disbanded Repeat Offender Project, known as the ROP team, when he shot Boyd. Perez was assigned to SWAT. So when investigators interviewed the officers seperately during the days and weeks after the shooting, Robles accompanied them.
That’s what led to the alleged conflict that caused Monday’s delay.
“These are very serious charges,” Hadfield said in court, referring to the open counts of murder Brandenburg filed against Sandy and Perez by criminal information last December. “I don’t want to rush it.”
Hadfield also was scheduled to hear arguments from the news media about the way the hearing would be covered with cameras and livestreaming equipment. She said in court Monday that she will hear those arguments on March 12, as well.