Albuquerque Police worker admits to trashing evidence

On Special Assignment

A now former employee of the Albuquerque Police Department was caught bungling case after case, according to internal affairs investigations obtained by KRQE.

The investigations reveal he failed to turn in police reports, left evidence lying around and even threw it in the trash in some instances.

It was at the height of Albuquerque’s property crime problem.

One of the guys APD trusted with a crucial role in investigating a lot of those kinds of crimes from 2015 through 2016 screwed up again and again, according to a series of internal affairs investigations.

“I was disgusted,” said Scientific Evidence Division Commander Christopher George. “It’s totally unacceptable what he did.”

While George wasn’t in charge at the time, he knows all about the APD investigations that found Crime Scene Specialist Thomas Gorham didn’t tag evidence in countless cases and then lied about it.

“The victims of those crimes, they didn’t get the justice they deserve,” Commander George said.

Yet, most of them probably have no idea. This happened a couple of years ago, but as KRQE uncovered the details and tracked down victims in cases Gorham’s accused of mishandling, those victims said it was the first they had heard about it. 

Untagged Evidence

For a closer look at what Gorham was supposed to be doing and where things went wrong, KRQE stepped inside APD’s Crime Lab.

“There’s actually over a million pieces of evidence within this facility,” George said.

He said crime scene specialists collecting some of the evidence are civilian employees, not officers.

The rows and rows of bins at the Crime Lab include one that is full of evidence, which APD said it found in October 2016.

APD said it sat un-tagged—for who knows how long—in Gorham’s crime scene investigations van.

That included a kitchen knife with an 8-inch blade, a folding knife with a 3-inch blade, three bullet fragments, two cartridge casings, a used syringe, a Taser prong and someone’s purse with more stuff inside.

“We know what calls [Gorham] was dispatched to but the haphazard fashion that he chose to store his evidence, we cannot trace that back to individual case numbers,” George said.

This became the subject of one of Gorham’s many internal affairs investigations in his time at APD.

APD said none of the evidence was labeled or secured right away, which is against APD policy.

Breaking that rule can mean a “Get Out of Jail Free” card for suspected criminals. 

TIMELINE: Albuquerque Police worker admits to trashing evidence

Mishandling Evidence

“A single case can be destroyed with one break in the chain of custody,” Commander George said.

Like in May 2016, for example, when APD said Travis Lopez and Jesus Olivas tried to get away after they were caught in a stolen car that was used in a home burglary.

APD arrested Olivas and then an overnight SWAT standoff near Zuni and Wyoming ended with Lopez’s arrest after police found him hiding in a dryer in a laundry room.

Gorham was the crime scene specialist there, and how he handled it sparked his first internal affairs investigation.

It found he left a key piece of evidence, un-tagged in his crime scene van for nearly two weeks.

On top of that, the investigation claims Gorham lied to cover it up, and then made excuses before admitting he “made a mistake.”

That mistake ended with Lopez and Olivas’ release.

Court documents show charges were dropped because prosecutors missed a deadline and were still waiting on evidence.

Meanwhile, records show APD’s Internal Affairs Division finished its investigation into Gorham on August 2, 2016 and recommended that Chief Gorden Eden fire him.

In a letter to Gorham on October 12, 2016, Chief Gorden Eden said he decided instead “to impose an 80 hour suspension, with 60 hours to be served and 20 hours to be held in abeyance.” 

Missing Police Reports

Just one day earlier, on October 11, 2016, APD had launched its second internal affairs investigation after someone started noticing Gorham’s missing police reports.

When it was all said and done, it amounted to three internal affairs investigations launched in just four months.

In that time, APD put Gorham on desk duty with the Telephone Reporting Unit, documenting crimes people called in.

However, APD said, Gorham wasn’t actually finishing his reports. And before that, as crime scene specialist, a review of Gorham’s cases turned up nearly a hundred missing police reports in one year.

Gorham also admitted, on 10 to 15 occasions, he threw evidence away in the trash.

In other instances, records show that instead of writing up a police report after someone called about a crime, he lied and claimed the caller didn’t want to file a report after all.

“Well, it’s horrible. I mean, of course, it’s a terrible thing,” said Joanne Fine, a member of the Police Oversight Board.

As a member of the Board, Fine helps provide civilian oversight and community feedback to APD. 

“I’m grateful that the police department found this, pursued it and got rid of this employee,” she said.

With the completion of Gorham’s second internal affairs investigation in December 2016, it again was recommended that Chief Eden fire Gorham.

Days after that recommendation came down, Gorham sent the chief his letter of resignation instead.

Now, more than two years later, crime victims Gorham encountered on the job are learning for the first time that they may not have gotten the justice they deserve.

“We’d like to apologize to the victims in those crimes,” Commander George said. “The intent of the Albuquerque Police Department is to give every citizen what they deserve and that is the utmost respect and the follow-through on any scene that we get called to.”

Gorham appears to have moved out of state.

KRQE tried to reach him for comment and didn’t hear back.

An investigation also found Gorham’s supervisor, Sgt. Brian Maurer, wasn’t properly monitoring Gorham’s work to catch the problems sooner.

Sgt. Maurer retired during that investigation.

TIMELINE: Mobile users click here

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