Two Albuquerque Police Department spokespeople lied to the public when they said the department had investigated a child abuse claim regarding 10-year-old Victoria Martens.
APD’s Command Staff, Including Chief Eden, Told In December That No Action Was Taken On Victoria’s Referral
But In January, Fred Duran And Celina Espinoza Lied About It
APD Didn’t Correct The Lie For Six Weeks
BY DENNIS DOMRZALSKI AND CHARLES ARASIM
A Civilian Police Oversight Agency investigation has concluded that two Albuquerque Police Department spokespeople lied to the public about the department’s role in the Victoria Martens case before the girl was drugged, raped, murdered and dismembered.
The spokespeople, officer Fred Duran and civilian Celina Espinoza, lied when they told a reporter earlier this year that APD detectives had investigated a report that the boyfriend of Victoria’s mother had tried to kiss the 10-year-old girl several months before she was murdered in August of 2016.
No APD personnel ever visited Victoria or her mother to investigate the allegations, the investigation said.
In addition, APD Chief Gorden Eden was told of the lie in January, but the department waited six weeks to tell the truth about it. And APD told the truth only after being confronted by a reporter about it, the investigation said.
And, APD officials — including Duran, and possibly Eden — were told last December that no department personnel investigated the child abuse allegations, but Duran still insisted to a reporter in January of this year that they had.
The CPOA probe also found that it was a civilian APD employee who made the decision to not investigate the complaint regarding Michelle Martens’ boyfriend after the state’s Children Youth and Families Department made the referral to APD last year. No one oversees that civilian to determine whether their decisions are the proper ones, the investigation found.
And, APD has no written policy on how to handle referrals about potential child abuse from CYFD, the investigation found.
Details of the probe were released Tuesday during a meeting of the Police Oversight Board’s Case Review Committee. The full POB is expected to approve the investigation during its meeting on Thursday, August 10, and send its recommendation for discipline to Eden.
Those disciplinary recommendations include an 80-hour suspension for Duran and a reprimand for Espinoza.
The investigation found that Duran apparently made up the lie and told it in January to a reporter from the Albuquerque Journal. Espinoza then repeated the lie to the reporter in a subsequent conversation.
During Tuesday’s Case Review Committee meeting, POB Chair Joanne Fine detailed the investigation’s conclusions.
“The investigation showed that absolutely officer D[uran] did lie, set up and lie[ed] about the involvement of APD,” Fine said. “That Celina Espinoza was not guilty of making up the lie; she was guilty of repeating the lie that she was told by officer D. But subsequently, she said that when she discovered the truth that she went to the chief and that she called the reporter. I don’t know if she went to the chief, but she did not call the reporter. The reporter called her.”
The investigation also recommended that APD develop a written policy on how to deal with referrals from CYFD.
“There has to be a policy change about how to handle cases that come from CYFD,” Fine said during the meeting. “What they discovered is that the decision maker was a civilian, about whether or not it should be investigated. And there is no checks and balances on a civilian making that decision.”
The investigation also “pointed out that Officer D is a sworn officer and should know the difference, talked extensively about not completing a kiss. That doesn’t mean it’s not assault and that, in fact they should have gone forward and done an investigation for sure. And that procedurally, there was no logic or safety enhanced by a civilian making that call.
“The whole argument that Celina promoted was that they [APD couldn’t investigate because there was no probable cause], officer D as well, that they couldn’t just go and talk to the kid, which of course, they can. They don’t have to have a warrant.”
CPOA investigator Paul Skotchdopole called Espinoza’s argument about needing probable cause “hogwash.”
The POB will send a letter to Eden about its findings in the case. And that letter, which could be made public on Thursday, might reveal if Duran made up the lie himself, or if he was told to lie.
“The letter lists all the different pieces that [CPOA investigator] Paul [Skotchdopole] went through,” Fine said. “What he looked at, and then, one by one, it talks about how [and] when the [chief knew] where the chief was, where the chief was in meetings when this was revealed and the subsequent lying by … when they knew, what they knew and exactly proving that what they told the public was a lie and they knew it.”
Skotchdopole gave this summary of the case to committee members:
Victoria was murdered on August 4, 2016. In November, the CYFD secretary met with Eden and other APD officials to inform them that CYFD was releasing its four-page summary of Victoria’s case.
“No one said anything at that meeting about whether APD had gone out,” Skotchdopole said. “It was just, ‘Hey, this is what we are going to put out there and we want you guys to be aware of it.’ In December of 2016, there was another meeting that was held in the chief’s office. During that meeting there is the sergeant, the commander of [APD’s] Crimes Against Children Unit, Fred Duran, the chief of police, and I don’t know whether there were other people there or not.
“But during that meeting in December, the CACU commander, or the CACU sergeant told Fred Duran that there was this referral that came in and they did not go out on it. There was an acknowledgement that in the summer of 2016 that no one from APD responded to the referral. Yet January comes around and he [Duran] makes up all of these convoluted stories.”
Skotchdopole also said that after Duran and Espinoza told a reporter in January that APD did go out on the referral — a lie — that the CACU sergeant contacted Espinoza to say what she told the media was wrong.
“The sergeant contacted Celina and said, ‘I don’t know where you got this information, but I told you guys that we did not go out on this referral, and it’s wrong,'” Skotchdopole said. “According to Celina, she met with the chief, and this would have been at the end of January, that she provided false information to the media, not on purpose but that she was misled.”
The CPOA began investigating the case in March after receiving a complaint from James Larson, a former Dallas police officer and U.S. Secret Service agent.
Larson, who attended Tuesday’s Case Review Committee meeting, said he doubted that Duran acted alone in creating and spreading the lie. He also said that APD’s command staff can’t be trusted.
“How you trust anything these people say? When they came out and said all of these lies,” Larson said. “If I hadn’t filed this complaint, nothing would have happened and we would not have known that they lied.”
This is a breaking story and will be updated.
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