Agency: Of­fi­cer fol­lowed APD pol­icy

Girl’s bloody un­der­wear didn’t need to be kept for ev­i­dence, find­ings say

Albuquerque Journal - - FRONT PAGE - BY RYAN BOETEL

The Al­bu­querque po­lice of­fi­cer who failed to col­lect a 7-year-old girl’s blood­stained un­der­wear as ev­i­dence didn’t vi­o­late de­part­ment pol­icy.

But an­other of­fi­cer didn’t fol­low pro­ce­dures when he or she re­ported ear­lier child abuse al­le­ga­tions in­volv­ing the girl to a state child wel­fare agency and didn’t see to it that the is­sue was also in­ves­ti­gated by law en­force­ment.

Those are the find­ings out­lined in a draft let­ter sum­ma­riz­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion by an agency that looks into ci­ti­zen com­plaints against po­lice.

The ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Civil­ian Po­lice Over­sight Agency said in the let­ter that when pre­sented with the girl’s un­der­wear, the of­fi­cer called Crimes Against Chil­dren Unit de­tec­tives, who said they had talked to the girl in

ques­tion and her brother and there was no proof of a crime so the cloth­ing didn’t need to be col­lected. Months later, the girl’s rel­a­tives were ar­rested. Au­thor­i­ties with the state At­tor­ney Gen­eral’s Of­fice al­lege that the girl was forced into pros­ti­tu­tion, and they have re­vealed that state child wel­fare and law en­force­ment au­thor­i­ties for years had been warned of pos­si­ble abuse within the fam­ily, yet the girl was left in their cus­tody.

The CPOA has com­pleted its ini­tial in­ves­ti­ga­tion of a ci­ti­zen com­plaint that was filed af­ter the ar­rest of James Ste­wart and Teri Sanchez, both 38. In May,

Ste­wart was in­dicted on one count of hu­man traf­fick­ing and mul­ti­ple other charges, in­clud­ing crim­i­nal sex­ual con­tact of a mi­nor and child abuse. Sanchez was in­dicted on five counts of child abuse and con­tribut­ing to the delin­quency of a mi­nor.

Ed­ward Har­ness, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the CPOA, said the agency’s in­ves­ti­ga­tions are lim­ited to find­ing pol­icy vi­o­la­tions and not deep­er­rooted prob­lems within the Po­lice De­part­ment. He told a sub­com­mit­tee of the Po­lice Over­sight Board mem­bers last month that they could pos­si­bly use the case as an ex­am­ple to more deeply re­view po­lice of­fi­cers’ re­sponses to child abuse cases.

The CPOA re­ports to the Po­lice Over­sight Board, a ci­ti­zen vol­un­teer board that makes rec­om­men­da­tions on pol­icy to the Al­bu­querque Po­lice De­part­ment.

“It doesn’t an­swer all the ques­tions,” Har­ness said of the CPOA in­ves­ti­ga­tion. “That’s the board’s func­tion in look­ing at trends and pol­icy anal­y­sis.”

Har­ness also ac­knowl­edged that the CPOA in­ves­ti­ga­tion was lim­ited be­cause the po­lice union didn’t waive a dead­line the CPOA has for com­plet­ing an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into an of­fi­cer.

Shaun Wil­loughby, pres­i­dent of the po­lice union, said, “It was im­por­tant for the of­fi­cers in­volved in the case to en­sure that the city of Al­bu­querque, in­clud­ing the CPOA, fall within their re­spec­tive time­lines that ev­ery­one is very well aware of. That is a right that is be­stowed on the of­fi­cers.”

Har­ness said the case re­quired CPOA in­ves­ti­ga­tors to re­view po­lice con­tacts with the fam­ily dat­ing back to 2012 and in­ter­view at least 20 of­fi­cers. The fam­ily lived in dif­fer­ent ho­tels through­out the city, which fur­ther com­pli­cated the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, he said.

Har­ness de­clined to com­ment fur­ther on the CPOA’s find­ings un­til af­ter board mem­bers vote on whether to ap­prove them, which is sched­uled for next week.

The in­ves­ti­ga­tion was launched when Jim Lar­son, a for­mer Dal­las po­lice of­fi­cer and U.S. Se­cret Ser­vice agent, filed a com­plaint with the CPOA al­leg­ing nu­mer­ous lapses in the po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the fam­ily of Ste­wart and Sanchez.

The only pol­icy vi­o­la­tion the CPOA found was com­mit­ted by a de­tec­tive who was vol­un­teer­ing at the school when a teacher raised a con­cern about the girl’s well-be­ing.

The de­tec­tive, iden­ti­fied as “Det. S,” vol­un­teered at the child’s school on Sept. 22 and Nov. 9 of 2017. Dur­ing those days, a teacher ap­proached the de­tec­tive and re­ported the girl had re­cently said that her grand­mother held a knife to her throat and that the girl had stolen mail with her fa­ther.

The de­tec­tive re­ported the case to CYFD.

The CPOA found that the de­tec­tive vi­o­lated one sec­tion of APD’s pro­ce­dures re­gard­ing crimes against chil­dren, which says that re­fer­ring a case to CYFD does not re­lieve an of­fi­cer of the re­spon­si­bil­ity of com­plet­ing a crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Har­ness, in the draft let­ter to Lar­son, said the CPOA de­ter­mined many of his con­cerns were un­founded.

“I’m com­pletely dis­sat­is­fied,” Lar­son said of the CPOA’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion. “I found it shock­ing. … I think there is sub­stan­tial ev­i­dence that those kids should have been re­moved (from Ste­wart and Sanchez).”

In the years be­fore their ar­rest, CYFD had re­ceived more than 20 tips about the fam­ily al­leg­ing emo­tional, phys­i­cal and med­i­cal abuse and ne­glect. Two of the tips men­tioned pos­si­ble sex­ual as­sault.

Po­lice also had prior deal­ings with the fam­ily. In Novem­ber 2017, po­lice were called to the girl’s school af­ter her teacher, while help­ing her change clothes, no­ticed blood in her un­der­wear. The teacher said in court that the of­fi­cer threw away the clothes and said they couldn’t be col­lected as ev­i­dence.

The CPOA let­ter said that the of­fi­cer first con­tacted de­tec­tives who told him not to col­lect the un­der­wear. The of­fi­cer said he left the school without tak­ing them and doesn’t know what hap­pened to them, ac­cord­ing to Har­ness’ let­ter.

The CPOA’s re­view of the po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tion is just one of the se­cond looks af­ter Ste­wart and Sanchez were ar­rested.

Mayor Tim Keller and Po­lice Chief Michael Geier last sum­mer an­nounced that a po­lice in­ter­nal af­fairs in­ves­ti­ga­tion would be com­pleted. Keller said then that the IA in­ves­ti­ga­tion would be made pub­lic. Gil­bert Gal­le­gos, a po­lice spokesman, said late Thurs­day that five of­fi­cers were found to have vi­o­lated poli­cies and they were dis­ci­plined with ei­ther ver­bal or writ­ten rep­ri­mands or coun­sel­ing.

Po­lice haven’t pro­vided the in­ves­ti­ga­tion to the Jour­nal through an In­spec­tion of Pub­lic Records Act re­quest.

Keller also said last sum­mer that APD is­sued sev­eral spe­cial orders af­ter Ste­wart and Sanchez were ar­rested, such as re­quir­ing of­fi­cers to ac­cess a CYFD data­base when in­ves­ti­gat­ing pos­si­ble child abuse.

APD of­fi­cials didn’t re­spond to ques­tions Thurs­day about what af­fect the spe­cial orders have had in the past six months.

APD Chief Mike Geier

Mayor Tim Keller

Ed Har­ness

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