ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – It was an act of dishonesty orchestrated by high-level police officers at the Albuquerque Police Department. And, nobody seemed to notice. Not Commanders, Deputy Chiefs, the Chief of Police, and no one in the Mayor’s Office. “I think it’s a real shame; I think that the people involved have caused embarrassment to the department,” says Beth Mohr, a Certified Fraud Examiner and former Chair of Albuquerque’s Civilian Review Board.
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Trouble began last summer after APD’s third highest-ranking officer, Chief of Staff John Ross, bought himself a $2,400 Apple laptop computer. Then APD Chief Mike Geier said the purchase was unauthorized and called for an Internal Affairs investigation.
Following a two-month Internal Affairs (IA) probe, a Police Department Spokesman announced John Ross had been cleared of wrongdoing, and the computer purchase was found to be by the book. However, a KRQE News 13 investigation finds, instead of exposing wrongdoing, APD covered it up.
Internal Affairs investigations are supposed to be impartial and based on evidence. At best, the John Ross investigation was bungled. At worst, it was intentionally whitewashed.
Beth Mohr, a former police officer, and a licensed Private Investigator reviewed the Internal Affairs case file. “I have a real problem with someone who is doing an investigation mishandling and mischaracterizing the evidence and essentially lying about what someone said. That’s a huge problem,” Mohr said.
Exhibit Number 1 is a March 5, 2020 memo from John Ross’ assistant, Angela Langley, which states Chief of Staff Ross received authorization to purchase an Apple MacBook from Albuquerque’s Technology Department and the Mayor’s Chief Administrative Officer Sarita Nair. But that statement was a lie. Documents in the Internal Affairs case file show neither the Technology Department nor CAO Nair had authorized the computer purchase. Even though APD’s Investigator knew John Ross did not have permission to buy that computer, he did not question the misrepresentations.
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“We did not find that there were any policies violated by that memo,” says Commander Zak Cottrell, who heads up APD’s Internal Affairs. KRQE News 13 asked Commander Cottrell about Angela Langley’s misrepresentations in the March 5 memo. “The investigation did address the memo through several interviews of the department employees as well as city employees, and there was no violation of department policy,” Commander Cottrell said.
The March 5 laptop authorization memo bears Chief Geier’s stamped signature approval. However, Chief Geier says the memo is a fabrication. He told KRQE News 13 he did not authorize John Ross’ purchase of the Apple laptop and did not stamp his signature on the March 5th memo. “This was an important matter. A $2,400 expenditure, this is not something you would just simply stamp,” Mike Geier says.
The Chief’s signature stamp was kept by his assistant Paulette Diaz in an unlocked desk drawer. In a recorded statement, Paulette Diaz told Internal Affairs she did not use the Chief’s signature stamp to authorize the computer purchase. Ms. Diaz told Investigators both Angela Langley and John Ross had access to Chief Geier’s signature stamp.
Despite her denial, Internal Affairs Investigators concluded a “preponderance (of) evidence shows … Paulette Diaz stamped that memo with the Chief’s signature stamp.” Nowhere in the report are there documents showing Diaz used the Chief’s stamp to authorize the computer purchase. In referring to the March 5 memo, Mike Geier said, “From a law enforcement perspective, it’s a forgery.”
“The memo could be considered fraudulent,” Beth Mohr says. “In my opinion, (Internal Affairs) did not look into whether or not this document or any of the other documents that were presented were false documents, so they did not appropriately investigate that aspect of the case,” Mohr said.
Angela Langley, who authored the bogus March 5 memo, had no comment on our report.
When contacted by Internal Affairs Investigator Paul Skotchdopole, Albuquerque’s Chief Information Officer Brian Osterloh, said in a July 27, 2020 email, he had no record of a request from John Ross to buy an Apple computer. However, Skotchdopole later misrepresented Osterloh’s email when he wrote in the case file that Osterloh “…could remember specifically approving the purchase.”
“I would say that it is a typographical error in the report, and it should have been caught,” Internal Affairs Commander Zak Cottrell says.
Investigator Skotchdopole referenced an August 18, 2020 email from Albuquerque’s Procurement Officer Jennifer Bradley, which he said confirmed the computer purchase did not violate procurement procedures. In fact, Bradley’s email did not mention John Ross or an Apple laptop.
Despite strong evidence Ross’ computer purchase was unauthorized, APD brass cleared John Ross of wrongdoing. In its final report, Internal Affairs concluded: “…the alleged misconduct did not occur.”
“In my opinion, this finding is not consistent with the evidence. The evidence was actually misrepresented by the investigator,” Beth Mohr says.
Last Fall, John Ross voluntarily surrendered the laptop computer.
And there’s more.
After John Ross was accused of giving himself an unauthorized pay raise, Internal Affairs investigated. At issue is a February 7, 2020 memo purportedly from Chief Geier to Chief Administrative Officer Sarita Nair requesting a “salary adjustment” for John Ross. “I approved the pay raise for Chief of Staff Ross based on a memo that I got from Mike Geier,” CAO Nair said.
“It was a fraudulent document,” Mike Geier tells KRQE News 13. “I did not create that memo. I did not initial it. I never saw that memo. And yet it’s portraying that I am asking for approval from the CAO for that salary increase for John Ross,” Geier says.
Mike Geier says he told Internal Affairs he did discuss a small pay raise for John Ross but not to the level of a Deputy Chief as Ross was requesting. “That was a point of contention. I made it clear to John, salary is based on position and rank, and you can’t cross lines. You can’t say, ok, I’m going to have a Sergeant receive Lieutenant’s pay… I believe John Ross prepared that memo. I believe he gave it to Sarita,” Geier said.
Internal Affairs determined Chief Geier did not write the February 7 memo. “The investigation did show by (an) interview with Mr. John Ross that he did write that memo,” Commander Cottrell said. “If Mike Geier had not directed that memo to be issued then.. that would (be) a problem,” Sarita Nair said.
Even though the pay raise memo was an apparent forgery, its authenticity was not questioned by APD investigators. Nor did IA refer the matter for a criminal investigation. “Internal Affairs does not investigate criminal. Our job is to investigate any policy violations done by employees of the department, and that is it,” Commander Cottrell said. In an August memo, Chief Geier asked CAO Nair to rescind John Ross’s pay raise.
When Internal Affairs submitted its 1,000-page case file to the Chief’s office, Investigators stated the pay raise allegation “was not investigated by (Internal Affairs). Determined to be an HR issue.”
“That is another typographical error; I will admit that,” IA Commander Zak Cottrell now says. A Spokesman for APD told the Albuquerque Journal, “The investigation… found no wrongdoing regarding Ross’ pay raise which was appropriately approved by Chief (Michael) Geier.”
“The community and the department are counting on Internal Affairs to do a thorough, neutral, and correct investigation. If they didn’t investigate (the pay raise), they can’t then state that they did investigate it and that nothing was found to be wrong. That’s simply untrue,” Beth Mohr says.
Following a two-month investigation, Internal Affairs found John Ross committed a single minor Standard Operating Procedure violation by not reporting the Apple laptop purchase to the department’s Property Division within three days. Chief Harold Medina ordered Ross be served with a written reprimand. However, Ross had already resigned.
By the time the Internal Affairs case file landed in the Chief’s office, Mike Geier had been fired by Mayor Keller. The case was reviewed and signed off by Internal Affairs Commander Zak Cottrell, Deputy Chief Michael Smathers, and Deputy Chief Eric Garcia. Chief Medina and CAO Nair in the Mayor’s Office were also briefed on the investigation. However, no one raised any concerns about the flawed police probe.
Following KRQE News 13’s findings, Chief Medina asked the Attorney General and the State Auditor to investigate. “It is of concern that we make sure that all investigations have the integrity necessary,” Chief Medina tells KRQE News 13.
“I am very concerned. We’ve asked the AG to look into it. And if there’s any wrongdoing, I’ll hold folks accountable.” Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller said.
John Ross did not return a phone call for comment.
“I believe the investigation looked at every allegation that was brought forth by the complaint and that there were no major policy violations committed by any department employee,” Commander Cottrell says.
“I think that it’s doing a disservice to both the community and the officers when you have an investigation like this that is completely not factual and not based on correct evidence,” police procedures expert Beth Mohr says.
APD’s mishandling of the John Ross Internal Affairs probe may also have implications relating to the court-approved Settlement Agreement with the Department of Justice. A provision in the Agreement provides, “APD … shall ensure that investigations of officer misconduct complaints shall be as thorough as necessary to reach reliable and complete findings.”
“It’s really disheartening to me,” former Chief Mike Geier said. “It kind of violates the trust that’s supposed to apply to the department and also the transparency for the community as well that believe that we can police ourselves,” Mike Geier said.
Note: Below are the memos and emails in order of reference from story above.