BERNALILLO, N.M. (KRQE) – A New Mexico police chief was investigated for his role in planting a hidden camera in the station to spy on his officers. When the camera was exposed, a female sergeant said it left her feeling violated. KRQE News 13 investigative reporter Gabrielle Burkhart obtained the hidden camera surveillance video that sparked a criminal investigation.
“We’re doing secret squirrel s***,” a voice is heard saying during the installation of the hidden camera in November of 2020.
“Secret squirrel, huh?” A voice is heard on a cell phone speaker. Bernalillo Police Lt. Chris Stoyell replies, “Yeah, we’ll call you after.”
- Behind the story: Camera hidden in police office vent
- KRQE Investigates illegal roadside car lot on state land
- ‘Lost in the shuffle’: What happens after someone attacks a healthcare worker?
- On the front lines: Healthcare workers facing violent encounters on the job
- New Mexico firefighter threatens to sue over DWI arrest
Video obtained by KRQE News 13 shows two high-ranking officials installing a hidden camera inside a ceiling vent in the sergeant’s office at the Bernalillo Police Department. Bernalillo Police Chief Broderick Sharp, and Lt. Chris Stoyell, appear to be looking at the footage through a cell phone screen that Stoyell is holding.
“That’s her screen,” Lt. Stoyell motioned to former BPD Sergeant Monica Torres’ computer screen during the hidden camera installation. At the time of the hidden camera’s installation, Torres was out on vacation.
According to a New Mexico State Police investigation, Sharp, the new police chief at BPD, was behind the hidden camera installation.
“Get the tape,” Chief Sharp is heard saying during the camera’s installation. “We don’t want to leave no evidence. It’s like the f****** CIA. When they’ve been through your sh** you won’t even know.”
Video during the camera’s installation shows Chief Sharp and Lt. Chris Stoyell directing the town’s IT tech to hide the camera in a vent above a female sergeant’s desk while she was on vacation. According to the IT tech, he was provided a specific time to install the camera.
Discovering the hidden camera
“I was just mortified,” Monica Torres, the former BPD sergeant, told KRQE News 13. “I was traumatized.”
Today, now former BPD Sgt. Torres is planning to sue over the hidden camera. She said she noticed debris on her desk when she returned from vacation, but not the camera.
“Maybe a week or two after, two of the guys approached me, they were talking to me about an investigation,” Torres recalled. “And the officer looks up and he tells me, ‘Hey, Sarge, there’s a camera in your vent.'”
“I freaked out,” Torres recalled. “I had changed numerous times in there,” she added.
Torres said she emailed a complaint to HR, the town administrator, Chief Sharp, and Lt. Stoyell, asking if she was being investigated. “I changed in my office with the expectation of privacy,” she wrote. She asked what the town was doing with potential images of her exposed.
When asked if she ever got answers to those questions, Torres replied, “No. No one would ever answer me.” After her emailed complaint, the hidden camera was moved to a wall in plain sight.
‘Voyeurism’ investigation launched
Torres said she felt violated and stonewalled by her own administration, so she called the New Mexico State Police, and they launched their own voyeurism investigation. KRQE News 13 obtained records from the state police investigation through a public records request.
New Mexico State Police lapel videos from back in January show interviews with Chief Sharp, and other town administrators who knew about the camera’s installation. “That’s a shared office space,” Chief Sharp told New Mexico State Police investigators. “It’s not a private office.”
Chief Sharp explained to state police agents that he was new to the department, and said he’d heard there had been problems of theft and fighting in the office. He said he called the town’s IT department to upgrade BPD’s surveillance system and specifically requested a camera with audio for the sergeant’s office.
“I didn’t specifically say, ‘hey put it in the vent above her desk,” said the Chief. “The camera is in the vent where it captures the entire office. This wasn’t targeting her.”
What Sharp told state police investigators does not line up with what the installation video shows. “The blue light is on, clearly showing anyone that looks, cameras are on,” Chief Sharp told state police.
However, during the camera’s installation, Lt. Stoyell can be heard asking, “The blue light stays on all the time?” The IT tech responds, “I wonder if we can disable it in settings?”
After the tech appears to hide the camera more, Chief Sharp states, “I can’t see it now. I can’t see it.” The chief is also heard during the camera’s installation saying, “Makes you wonder, can we get more of her screen? A better view?”
Who authorized the camera’s placement?
State Police investigators specifically asked the IT tech about the hidden camera’s placement. “Who told you where to install them?” An agent with state police asked the IT tech. “They told me,” he replied. “Who’s they?” The state police agent asked. “Chief and LT,” the tech responds.
The IT tech told investigators he didn’t question the camera’s placement to the chief directly, but that he did have a conversation about it with his own supervisor.
State police also interviewed the tech’s supervisor. “Irving informed me that they had him put it inside a vent, and I said ‘what do you mean in a vent?'” The IT supervisor recalled a conversation he had with the employee who installed the camera.
The IT supervisor expressed confusion about how the camera could have been placed in a vent due to the air conditioning in the office. “And he said, ‘No they went and bought a vent,’ and I said ‘okay,'” said the supervisor.
The supervisor said he even took concerns about the hidden camera to the town’s administrator but was told not to worry about it. “I had my reservations about the whole thing from the beginning,” he told state police.
At the time, Torres shared the office with two male sergeants. Torres said only one sergeant is on shift at a time, aside from a short overlap during shift-change.
Torres wasn’t the only person who used the office to change into gear. Footage from the hidden camera shows a male sergeant shut the door to undress, and the camera captures it all.
When asked if there was an expectation of privacy when she was the only one in her office, Torres replied, “Absolutely. I was told I could breastfeed in there. Pump my breasts when I had my daughter.”
Chief Sharp told state police he read the town policy and believed the hidden camera did not violate any rules. “I know for a fact it wasn’t illegal, it wasn’t unethical, it wasn’t immoral, and these guys all have the policy,” Sharp told investigators.
Chief Sharp wouldn’t go on camera with KRQE News 13, writing in an email, “Thank you for the opportunity, however it is our policy to not comment on pending litigation.”
Upon request, Bernalillo’s town clerk sent KRQE News 13 copies of its conduct policy, and a 2014 General Order written by BPD’s former police chief. The order states in part, “Bernalillo Police Department personnel will not surreptitiously audio or video record other Bernalillo police department or town employees if it does not involve an authorized active legitimate criminal investigation. Surreptitiously audio or video recording any other police or town personnel must be authorized by the Chief of Police.”
KRQE News 13 asked Torres if she believed that she was not the target of this hidden camera’s placement. “No, I don’t believe that at all,” said Torres. “I believe I was the target of it.”
Torres claims Sharp had problems with her before he joined Bernalillo Police. She said she was the sergeant who signed off on a crash report along 550 that placed Sharp’s daughter at fault.
At the time, Sharp was with the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office. Audio dispatch recordings from Sandoval County reveal Sharp called to speak to the supervisor on duty after his daughter’s crash.
“Yeah, I guess he’s upset about the determination on the traffic crash,” a shift supervisor is heard saying to the dispatcher. “Right. Yeah, ok, I’ll transfer you over now, his name is Captain Sharp,” the dispatcher states.
While Sharp denied to state police investigators that he had any prior issues with Torres, he did say this about the Bernalillo Police Department: “I don’t have to sugar-coat it. We hire other people’s leftovers,” Sharp said.
“I stepped into kind of a crap soup. And as an administrator, I’m trying to make the best out of the crap soup for the department.”Chief Broderick Sharp, Bernalillo Police Department
After the hidden camera incident, Torres said she was fired from BPD for failing to search a suspect and mischarging him. She refutes those allegations.
“I enjoy being a small-town cop,” Torres told KRQE News 13. “I’ve always enjoyed being a small-town cop, and he’s not going to change that for me.” She’s now a Torrance County deputy.
As for Chief Sharp, the state police investigation ends with an agent writing, “I did not observe any crime was committed. This case is considered closed and will be forwarded to the Sandoval County District attorney’s office for case review.”
“It’s disgusting, it’s humiliating,” said Torres. “This has been the most traumatizing thing that’s ever happened to me in my life.”
To reach the threshold for a voyeurism charge, a hidden camera has to be in a place where the victim has a reasonable expectation of privacy. Voyeurism is considered a misdemeanor if such a camera captures an adult’s ‘intimate areas,’ or in their underwear.
A special prosecutor will decide if there should be any charges filed in this case. The Sandoval County DA’s office says the special prosecutor does not have a set deadline to decide that.
Torres’ attorney claims Chief Sharp violated New Mexico’s one-party consent recording law, requiring at least one party involved in the recording to consent. At this point, Torres and her attorney filed a notice of Tort, letting the town know of their intent to file a lawsuit.
The Town of Bernalillo sent KRQE News 13 a written statement on Wednesday, stating in part, “The Town of Bernalillo stands by its policies and would like to state that nothing improper was identified on our end.”