Brandenburg Could Have Been Agent of Change at APD
DA Was Too Tight with Police Department when it Counted
Now, the pendulum has swung and DA and APD Chief Gorden Eden don’t even talk
BY DAN KLEIN
Sixteen years is a long time for someone to hold the same public office. Kari Brandenburg has been Bernalillo County district attorney since 2001, and now, in 2016, her office is in shambles.
In the time that Brandenburg has been in office, we have gone from a DA who was accused of being too cozy with Albuquerque Police Chief Ray Schultz to one who says current Chief Gorden Eden won’t return her phone calls or emails.
In 16 years, Brandenburg has lurched between both ends of the spectrum, never landing in the middle.
When Brandenburg first took office, the Albuquerque Police Department was embroiled in the Evidence Room scandal, which forced APD Chief Gilbert Gallegos to resign. Brandenburg should have convened a special grand jury to investigate the allegations of fraud, embezzlement and tampering with evidence surrounding that mess, but instead she did nothing. An opportunity to right a seriously troubled APD ship was squandered.
After Gallegos resigned, Ray Schultz was appointed police chief. Both Schultz and Brandenburg stated they had a great working relationship. They would meet weekly for lunch to work on issues affecting both agencies. In hindsight, it seems the Brandenburg-Schultz relationship was far too close, and it appears they came to an informal agreement in which neither would say or do anything negative about the other’s agency.
During the Schultz years, police use of deadly and nondeadly force skyrocketed. There were instances where citizens had their ears burned off by APD officers using Tasers, and several unarmed men were shot and killed. In all of these instances of APD abuse of force, Brandenburg’s office (through the grand jury system) concluded that justifiable force was used. Even when civil court judges were publicly questioning APD actions and testimony – and judges and juries awarded massive damage awards in use-of-force cases – Brandenburg did nothing. She never voiced complaint or concern over Schultz’s APD.
To show how tethered Schultz’s APD and Brandenburg’s DA office had become, in 2010 both APD and the Bernalillo County district attorney were accused of malicious prosecution after a mentally disabled man was arrested and held in solitary confinement for three years, for a rape/murder that DNA evidence proved he did not commit. Albuquerque paid $1.3 million, and the DA was sanctioned for $45,000. This is what happens when the agency tasked to be the “check and balance” fails to act and instead is seen cozily working hand in hand with the very people they are supposed to be watching.
In 2013, Schultz was forced into retirement as the U.S. Department of Justice began doing what the District Attorney’s Office had for years refused to do – investigate APD’s use of force.
In 2014, Eden became APD’s chief, and soon after, the pendulum of the APD-DA relationship went from overly friendly to downright hostile. APD began investigating Brandenburg for witness intimidation regarding criminal charges involving her son. APD suspended the investigation, but after Brandenburg charged two APD officers with murder in the James Boyd homeless camper case, APD command staff sent the investigation to the New Mexico attorney general.
Attorney General Hector Balderas reviewed the case and found no merit in the criminal allegations against Brandenburg and stated he felt it was politically motivated on APD’s part. Balderas went so far as to state that both Eden and Brandenburg had failed in their leadership positions.
Criminal cases began being dismissed in large numbers mainly because APD and the DA were not presenting evidence in a timely manner. Even acknowledging APD’s history of slow processing of criminal cases and sending them over to the DA, had Eden and Brandenburg not been at war with each other, the two could have worked together to expedite the workload.
The impasse led the New Mexico Supreme Court to step in and set deadlines for prosecutions. The high court’s order is prima facie evidence that both Eden and Brandenburg have mismanaged their agencies, and the public has suffered.
As the open war between Eden and Brandenburg escalated, APD officer-involved shooting cases sat unresolved, sometimes for years. Brandenburg openly admonished APD for its work with the Jaquise Lewis Los Altos Skate Park killing, but that case too sits somewhere in her agency, unresolved.
Brandenburg is leaving, but Eden, somehow, remains, despite APD’s miserable record in reforming itself.
The new district attorney must set firm guidelines between the DA and APD. The DA must collaborate with APD to make sure the system runs smoothly, but the DA must be an advocate for the public’s rights in dealing with a police department that has a history of misconduct, criminal acts and corruption. The DA must find middle ground in working with APD. The next District Attorney’s Office can’t be run by APD.
Dan Klein is a retired Albuquerque police sergeant. Reach him through Facebook.
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