NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – KRQE has highlighted cases dismissed over evidence issues or when an officer does not show up to court. But in Bernalillo County, data from the District Attorney’s Office shows the number one reason for case dismissals is a victim failing or refusing to cooperate in the case. As a result, criminals are let loose back into New Mexican communities.

On February 7, 2023, Albuquerque Police arrested Christopher Gutierrez because Smith’s employees told officers Gutierrez shot at them after he was asked to leave the store. This happened a little more than two weeks after APD arrested Gutierrez for armed robbery at a liquor store down the street. A few days after he was charged in that case, it was dismissed because the liquor store employee he was accused of threatening to kill at gunpoint told prosecutors he wouldn’t cooperate and “wished for this case to be dismissed.”

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“There’s nothing more frustrating for our police officers and our detectives to apprehend someone, arrest them, take the to jail, and for that person to be let out,” said APD’s Commander Aaron Jones. He explained the frustration increases because, as with Gutierrez, APD is bound to encounter the person again. “We’ve seen it. Yes, multiple times,” he added.

When Jones became the Investigative Services Division Commander in 2021, he said victims backing out was an “obvious trend,” specifically in shooting cases. He pointed to three reasons why — the victim is involved in criminal activity, fears retaliation, or does not trust the judicial system. He explained, “Whether it’s law enforcement, whether it’s the DA’s Office or the courts, it’s just a perception.”

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Still, Commander Jones said they try — even mailing a letter to the victim’s home. APD also has victim advocates reach out to encourage participation in the case; and in some instances, to make sure they are not out for revenge. “Today’s victim can be tomorrow’s offender. And so we want to make sure that we’re doing what we can to prevent that from happening,” Commander Jones said.

He started tracking victim cooperation in 2022, specifically for non-fatal shootings that are not domestic violence related. Of the 302 cases in 2022, he found about a quarter of the victims chose not to cooperate. Many times that meant APD could not ask the DA’s Office for charges. “As far as prosecution goes, we can’t step in on their behalf in some of these instances. Because they’re still around to testify and be the accuser in a court setting,” Jones explained. That’s why even a recorded interview of the victim recounting what happened cannot stand alone in court.

Officer: Did you see the gun?
Victim: Did I see the gun? Yeah, I saw it. And I ducked.

Police responded to an Albuquerque Wal-Mart in July 2021 for a suspected road rage shooting. The police report stated two brothers — Adil and Shaheen Syed — followed the victim and admitted to shooting at his car about 11 times in the parking lot before taking off. Neither brother was charged because APD said the victim didn’t cooperate.

We’d hear their names again a year later when their Dad, Muhammad Syed, was charged with murdering three Muslim men in Albuquerque. Police are still investigating if Shaheen helped. He’s already faced federal charges for lying to obtain a gun.

“When someone is an offender of violent crime, if there’s no meaningful intervention of that, whatever that looks like, it is extremely likely that they will be an offender in the future of violent crime,” Commander Jones said. “And oftentimes, it raises the level of violence for their subsequent offenses. So shooting someone now where were they weren’t killed, their victim was shot and they survived. Next time, it’s likely that it will be a homicide.”

On February 11, 2023, the Bernalillo County DA’s Office charged Eric Ford with murdering a man at a gas station. APD said the victim intervened when Ford hit the clerk. Court records show Ford previously shot someone in 2019. But, nearly a year into that case moving through the courts, the victim did not want to participate anymore. The charges were dropped.

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“I think our system doesn’t do a good job of really nurturing victims through the process. Our system is very burdensome for victims, and it fatigues them,” explained Adolfo Mendez.

Mendez is now with the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office, after spending six years as the Bernalillo County DA’s Chief of Policy and Planning. “It didn’t surprise me that that that that we were seeing victims and witnesses stop participating down the down the line,” he added.

Mendez said the issue is the number of times victims have to tell their stories. Besides reporting to the police and taking the witness stand, Mendez explained that, only in New Mexico, pre-trial interviews are also required. That’s questioning by the defense outside a courtroom setting. “If we were to do criminal justice from scratch and criminal procedure from scratch, I don’t think we would include that in the process,” he said.

Mendez noted victims will also back out when the suspect is let out of jail before trial. “Half as many will continue to participate when a detention motion is denied,” he explained.

Once the violence rises to murder, suspects do not typically get out of jail. But, that is too late for the next round of victims.

The Bernalillo County DA’s Office also tries to reach victims through advocates. The Office has two teams that mainly serve victims of violent crime. The one is made up of 20 staffers. The other, called the Victim Service Alliance Program, is volunteer-based. Right now, 19 volunteers serve on that team. The DA’s Office said more advocates are always needed. Volunteer training happens every three to six months.