Home News DWI scandal: APD officers are resigning instead of speaking up

DWI scandal: APD officers are resigning instead of speaking up

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – One by one, Albuquerque police officers have decided to give up their badges instead of being interviewed by internal affairs. All of this is happening during a federal and internal investigation into what KRQE News 13 has learned involves allegations officers were paid to dismiss DWI cases.

KRQE Investigators sat down with APD Chief Harold Medina to discuss how officers will be held accountable if they get away. It’s been two months since Albuquerque Police Chief Harold Medina announced the launch of an internal investigation into his department’s own DWI officers.

“I wasn’t shocked that any of them resigned and they weren’t going to give us a statement,” Chief Medina told KRQV. Five officers resigned from APD.

They are all targets of an internal affairs investigation, and all are connected to a federal investigation KRQE News 13 has learned surrounding allegations that officers are paying to have DWI cases dismissed. Lt. Justin Hunt resigned in February after 24 years with the department.

Honorio Alba resigned the same month after 10 years. This month, Harvey Johnson and Nelson Ortiz resigned after a combined 18 years with APD. And the latest to resign last week, Officer Joshua Montao. He has been with APD for almost 20 years.

Each of the five officers wore their badges before an internal affairs investigator could interview them about possible involvement in the corruption case.

“I think it looks terrible on the individual officer, and I think it looks bad and it makes them look guilty,” explained Chief Medina. “But I also know that an inconsistent statement or something they’ve told the FBI before can lead to federal charges for lying to an FBI agent. So there is a lot of risk of them coming back to us here.”

Chief Medina believes these officers are following an attorney’s advice without speaking up. He claims that not only is it possible to conclude the investigation, but it is a priority to interview other witnesses.

Meanwhile, a sixth official, a commander of the Department of Internal Affairs, is on administrative leave.

How far can this plan go?

KRQE asked Chief Medina if the alleged scheme could go beyond these six officials. “Without a doubt, we see that there is potential. And while we’re currently still working, a lot of people have retired,” Medina explained.

And if those officers were part of a corruption scheme, it raises the question: How do you assure the public that officers will be held accountable when some of them seem to have quietly resigned or retired?

“We can’t force them to stay here until we finish them off,” Medina said. “But these people have lost greatly. There are some that are very close to retirement that are being lost,” Medina added. “And we haven’t even reached the point of criminal accountability.”

Financially, Medina said they are losing an entire career, including paychecks and retirement benefits. And when the FBI completes its investigation, federal criminal charges may follow.

“We may never know the full truth and find every member, but we will do our due diligence to ensure that those who have worn these uniforms and badges in the past are held accountable,” Chief Medina said.

The federal investigation prompted the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office to dismiss more than 200 pending criminal cases, mostly involving five officers with DWIs.

KRQE investigated, uncovering red flags in some cases, linking the DWI arrests to the office of defense attorney Thomas Clear III, whose home was also raided by the feds.

A case involving an arrest made by Officer Montano involved a voicemail and secret recordings with a paralegal that the DWI defendant said revealed more about how the scheme may have worked. Below is a transcript of part of a conversation DWI defendant Carlos Smith had with a man he said was Rick Mendez, a Thomas Cleare paralegal:

Paralegal: If you need to get rid of it –
Smith: I do.

Paralegal: Okay. You’re in the right place. If you’re one of those people who can live with it, hire an inexpensive attorney.
Paralegal: We are not the cheapest.

“Part of where you fall between the lines is some benefit to the officer from the attorney charging above market rates,” said Leon Howard, deputy director of the ACLU of New Mexico.

KRQE News 13 obtained a copy of Officer Montao’s resignation letter from March 20, which states, “The problems I allowed myself to get into within the DWI unit were generational.” To make his point, he said, “…the city didn’t need to be the scapegoat for its own failures.”

“I take responsibility for my actions,” Montao wrote. However, the official did not give any details about this.

“I made my promise to the public that no stone will be left unturned,” Medina told KRQE News 13.

Chief credits DOJ reforms for exposing wrongdoing

After nearly a decade of Justice Department oversight of a settlement agreement focused on reform, this year, APD is closer than ever to full compliance. As news of the DWI scandal broke, critics asked how it hadn’t been brought to light earlier.

“I really appreciate a lot of where we are today because we actually went into compliance and established accountability,” Medina said. Chief credits part of the reform process with exposing wrongdoing.

“A lot of the changes that we’ve made through our reform process, actually, I think ultimately goes to explain a little bit of the fact that this scheme was forced to change to the point where it unfolded,” Medina said.

Asked if there was anything he had learned through the process since January that surprised him, Medina replied, “I’ve learned that politics is rough. And, God put me in this position, and I’m in a good place in my life and in my career where I’m here to do the right thing.”

“But without a doubt, this was probably the most challenging three months of my 29 years in law enforcement,” Chief Medina added.

Chief Medina said he has already filed police misconduct reports with the state law enforcement academy, which could affect those officers’ law enforcement credentials. He said the public will know the results when the APD’s internal investigation is completed.

“Even as recently as this week, the city itself has refused,” Thomas Grover, attorney for former officer Joshua Montao, said despite presenting multiple scenarios in which investigators could interview my client.

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