ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – It’s an issue that’s plagued the Albuquerque Police Department for years. Since 2014, there have been a half dozen audits and investigations into APD abuse of overtime.
Last year, following the 7th investigation in eight years, State Auditor Brian Colon blasted the police department for failure to take corrective action relating to officer overtime. “Time and time again, leadership at APD and the City of Albuquerque clearly ignored the findings that were presented in those six prior audits and reports. Enough is enough. The City of Albuquerque and APD have got to get it right,” State Auditor Colon says.
After reviewing the State Auditor’s report last Fall, APD Police Chief Harold Medina implemented new policy directives designed to crack down on abuse of officer overtime. However, behind the scenes, top police officials were hiding a troubling secret. It involved a pair of Internal Affairs investigations, high level wrong-doing, disciplinary action, an officer firing, and overtime misdeeds that bilked APD out of tens of thousands of dollars.
“I’m embarrassed for the department. It definitely is shameful,” says former APD Chief Mike Geier who reviewed the Internal Affair’s documentation. “From what I reviewed these were almost daily occurrences going on seven days a week, 24/7. I would say that it definitely is the worst (case) I’ve seen. On so many different levels this is wrong,” Mike Geier said.
“(Overtime abuse) happens because nobody is held accountable. The buck doesn’t stop with anybody. It just gets passed around,” says private attorney Tom Grover who is a former APD officer. “It’s as big a deal as you can get because … there’s indifference to wrongdoing, especially at the higher level,” Grover said.
To understand what happened you need to go back to early 2020 and the first days of the pandemic. Lt. Jim Edison is brought to the Chief’s Office to head up APD’s COVID-19 response. Lt. Edison was responsible for coordinating testing, contact tracing, pandemic-related stats, emails and phone calls.
Over the course of one year on the job, Lt. Edison earned $242,758. That’s more than the Chief of Police ($145,018), the Mayor of Albuquerque ($125,279), even the Governor ($110,000).
How did he pull it off? He cheated on his overtime, practically every day for a year. And even though Edison’s illicit overtime pay flagrantly violated a host of rules, regulations, and policies, APD’s Brass signed off on it.
Lt. Edison’s job in the Chief’s Office was primarily administrative desk work. However, on a daily basis, even weekends, the Lt. padded his pay with thousands of hours in what’s known as ‘call-out overtime’.
According to APD policy call-out overtime is paid to off-duty officers who are called back to work outside their regular shift. For example, if there is a murder at 2 a.m., the Homicide Detective who goes to the crime scene will be paid time and a half for reporting to duty in the middle of the night.
From April 2020 to April 2021, Edison claimed $132,964 in dubious overtime payments.
For example, whenever Edison was off-duty and forwarded a voicemail to someone else, he claimed two hours of call-out overtime. And, it was not uncommon for the Lt. to send an email at 3 a.m. or 4 a.m. and then claim call-out overtime.
January 8, 2021. Edison went to Lowes to ” pick up supplies” and claimed an hour call-out overtime.
January 13, 2021. The Lt. put in for a half-hour O.T. to investigate who parked in a deputy chief’s parking place.
Saturday, January 16, 2021. Edison’s hit up APD 12 hours in time and a half call-back overtime for making phone calls and sending emails from his home on his day off.
January 22, 2021. The Lt. documented seven minutes of off-duty work and claimed eight hours overtime.
Sunday, January 31, 2021. On his day off, Edison could account for 22 minutes of work and claimed 10 1/2 hours call-out overtime.
February 2, 2021. Before work, Lt. Edison emailed a routine spreadsheet to a Deputy Chief and put in for two hours call-out overtime.
The list goes on and on, practically every day, for a full year.
Former APD Chief Mike Geier says Edison’s duties were not consistent with the requirements for callout overtime. “In essence, he was creating his own overtime cash register,” Mike Geier says.
“He abused his position for his own enrichment,” attorney Tom Grover said. “That’s totally abusive conduct. That’s not overtime callout. That’s overtime abuse,” Grover says.
An anonymous complaint to Albuquerque’s Civilian Police Oversight Agency launched an Internal Affairs investigation. The Case Agent concluded Lt. Edison violated rules, regulations and codes of conduct by cheating on his overtime. He was handed a two-week suspension.
Despite APD’s investigation, Edison continued to misrepresent overtime on his timesheets which led to a second Internal Affairs investigation. In October, Lt. Jim Edison was fired.
Edison’s supervisor was Deputy Chief Mike Smathers. Even though Edison’s daily overtime clearly violated APD policy, Deputy Chief Smathers never questioned discrepancies on Edison’s timesheet and routinely approved the Lt.’s time on the department’s payroll system.
“At best, (Smathers) failed to supervise,” Tom Grover says. “At worst, he’s incompetent to hold his position because he just was ambivalent about it or didn’t even recognize the abuse that was going on,” Grover said.
The Internal Affairs Investigator concluded Deputy Chief Smathers violated multiple rules and regulations by failing to review Edison’s timesheets. Smathers received a one-day suspension. “I’m appalled,” former Police Chief Mike Geier says. “I couldn’t believe it when I first read it. A Deputy Chief receiving that minimal disciplinary action for such major offenses just boggles my mind,” Geier said.
In a second Internal Affairs probe, the Investigator concluded Smathers, again, violated APD rules and policy by failing to review Lt. Edison’s timesheets. “There is no evidence DC Smathers conducted any follow-up with anyone (except Lt. Edison) to ensure things were done correctly,” Internal Affairs Detective Anastacio Zamora wrote. Deputy Chief Smathers was handed a written reprimand for his role in the Internal Affairs case.
Albuquerque’s Superintendent for Police Reform, Sylvester Stanley, made the final decision to discipline APD’s deputy chief. Stanley has since resigned. Contacted by phone, the former city official declined to comment on this case. APD Deputy Chief Eric Garcia is the Acting Superintendent for Police Reform. “It was an appropriate discipline for those violations,” Eric Garcia says. “Chief Smathers took responsibility. He did not give misleading statements. He was truthful. He admitted he should have done more,” Garcia said.
Tom Grover is critical of APD’s leadership for failing to notice Edison’s timesheet irregularities. “I’m not convinced nobody noticed. I think Deputy Chief Smathers knew about it. He just didn’t care or was in on it. But nobody had that internal fortitude to step up and say, this is abuse and this needs to stop,” attorney Grover says.
“Up here on the fifth floor of the Police Department, the executive staff, we’re so busy that to go through the fine details of looking through somebody’s timesheets is not something that we’re going to be carving out time for,” APD Police Chief Harold Medina said. “Jim Edison deceived Deputy Chief Smathers and Deputy Chief Smathers took accountability for that and was disciplined,” Chief Medina says.
“The biggest thing that Deputy Chief Smathers did wrong is he had faith and belief in Jim Edison. Jim Edison betrayed that trust. And it’s very difficult for me to paint a negative brush on Deputy Chief Smathers for being a good leader, respecting his people, listening to his people and believing in his people,” Chief Medina said.
“It’s extremely concerning, extremely concerning,” says Albuquerque City Councilor Louie Sanchez. Councilor Sanchez is a retired APD officer. “When I was hired on as a police officer the rules were very specific. You did not lie. You did not cheat. You did not steal. If you did any of those things … you were just about guaranteed to lose your position as a law enforcement officer,” Councilor Sanchez said.
And, there may be additional fallout from the Edison case. Because the Lt.’s duties related exclusively to COVID-19 response, his pay, including overtime, was picked up by the feds under the CARES Act (Coronavirus Air Relief & Economic Security Act). Because much of the overtime was inappropriate the City of Albuquerque may be responsible for reimbursing the federal government.
Deputy Chief Mike Smathers did not return a phone call for comment. Through a spokesman, he declined to be interviewed.
Former APD Lt. Jim Edison has appealed his termination to Albuquerque’s Personnel Board. The Personnel Board will hear his case in April. Edison did not respond to KRQE News 13’s request for an interview. A law enforcement source says Edison’s overtime case has been referred to the Attorney General’s Office for a criminal investigation. Chief Medina said he doesn’t believe the former APD Lt. has been asked to repay the department the bogus overtime payments.
So why should we care if a high-ranking police officer cheats on overtime? “Because first, it’s (our) tax dollars being wasted. But significantly, and I think, more importantly, it has to do with the integrity of the people running the state’s largest police department,” former APD officer Tom Grover says.