Two-step Analysis to Apply to 40-month Backlog
It was close to noon when my phone rang. I didn’t notice until I picked it up that the caller ID said “anonymous.” Crap, another telemarketer, or so I thought.
“Hello, this is Dan Klein, who’s calling?” I asked.
“Hi Dan, this is Raul Torrez, I just read your column, do you have a minute?”
Actually, that minute became 30 minutes as I dove into an extended conversation with our new district attorney. It was refreshing, straight to the point, no excuses. Our talk was a back and forth where it seemed that nothing was off the table.
The main topic we discussed was the more than 30 police shooting cases that have yet to be reviewed by the DA’s office. Some of these cases, such as the shooting of Christopher Chase in October 2013, are almost 40 months old.
His predecessor had utterly failed at promptly reviewing police shootings, so how would Torrez be different, I asked?
The difference is this: Torrez has priorities, a plan and will hold his attorneys accountable. I might not agree with his plan specifics, but the mere fact that he has thought this through and created one was cause for celebration.
Torrez has hired veteran criminal prosecutors, Michael Cox and Jody Curran, and given them the job of reviewing these old police shootings. Both Cox and Curran are esteemed lawyers with strong backgrounds in criminal law. Both have worked at the DA’s office and both have the knowledge to jump in with both feet and start working.
Outside review by other DAs
Both for the backlog and new cases going forward, Torrez said the police shooting review will be a two-step process. Step one is for Cox and Curran to review a case and determine if the shootings followed state statute. If the answer is yes, Torrez’s office will announce that fact to the community and those cases will be done.
If, on the other hand, Cox and Curran determine a police shooting was questionable, it will be referred the District Attorney Review Panel. Torrez used the panel – a group of DAs from around the state – to determine that the James Boyd case would not be retried. The panel will then take a second look at the case to make a final determination on whether charges should be brought.
If the panel determines that no charges are warranted, then the case ends there. If the panel decides charges should be filed, Torrez said his office will proceed by presenting evidence at a preliminary hearing, held in front of a judge in full view of the public.
That way, the community will get to hear all the evidence and a judge will make the final decision on whether probable cause exists to send the case to trial.
On new police shootings, Torrez said his office will have 90 days from when the completed case is handed to his office to analyze it, using the same two-step approach.
Torrez said he believes he can have all 40 old police shooting cases evaluated by the end of this year.
“There is so much going on in this office that you have to set priorities and create plans to efficiently accomplish your goals. I want you to know that the Free Press can call me whenever you have questions. I have an open door and the community needs to know what is going on in my office,” Torrez said.
I was stunned. Here was an elected official, the top dog, planning, prioritizing, transparent and accessible. Spring in New Mexico and a breath of fresh air just blew into the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s office.