Police chief says misconduct ‘completely ignored’ by law enforcement commission

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*Editor’s Note – This story is part of our ongoing investigations into cases of police misconduct, law enforcement oversight and their outcomes. Last year, The Paper. found that New Mexico lacked a uniform system for reporting and tracking agent misconduct, allowing problematic agents to move between departments.

The Law Enforcement Academy Board (LEAB) has issued decisions in 205 cases of police misconduct over the past three years. More than half of the appointed officers have retained their law enforcement certifications, leading some police chiefs who have filed misconduct allegations to believe the LEAB isn’t doing enough to root out bad cops.

Documents obtained through a public records request by The paper. of the Ministry of Public Security revealed the details of these cases of misconduct.

A police officer with the Portales Police Department has been fired after the Arizona Child Abuse Hotline received a complaint of possible child sexual abuse. As serious as the allegations are, they have triggered an Internal Affairs (IA) investigation.

“[The officer] displays many signs indicating a child predator. These warning signs cannot be ignored and should be taken seriously,” wrote Chris Williams, then Deputy Chief, now Portales Police Chief, in a misconduct report filed with New Mexico Law Enforcement. Academy (NMLEA) in November 2020.

“NMSP’s criminal investigation, including their evidence, has been ongoing for two years at the request of the District Attorney’s Office. This means that for at least the next two years, [the officer] will be investigated for the crime of criminal sexual contact with a minor,” Lt. Chris Valdez wrote following an AI investigation by the Portales Police Department.

Yet in April 2021, LEAB dismissed the misconduct allegations filed against the Portales police officer. He is now a deputy sheriff 160 miles away in Eddy County where he has worked since November 2021.

“I think they completely ignored [the misconduct allegations]said Chief Williams. “Because it’s one of those things where they don’t give us a clear direction. When I sent it, first they lost everything, I had to send everything back to them. And then they never spoke to us.

Williams said that after his agency sent the misconduct report to the LEA, he received a call that they had received an envelope from them, but it was empty. “I was like, ‘You think we sent a giant envelope with nothing in it?'” Williams said. “They lost everything somewhere, so I fired him, and then I didn’t hear from them again.”

The charges were dismissed by LEAB, then Eddy County Sheriff Mark Cage hired the officer in question as a deputy in November 2021. Sheriff Cage says he knew about the allegations when he hired the officer because they came up during his agency’s background investigation.

“[The LEAB dismissal of the officer’s misconduct case] leads me to the conclusion that a candidate can move forward in the process,” Cage said. “It tells me that the LEA Board investigated and was satisfied that there were insufficient facts to warrant action on its part.” But LEAB did not investigate the case alone; instead, they relied on the Portales Police Department’s misconduct report, the IA investigation, and the prosecutor’s decision not to charge the officer. The board dismissed the case.

Cage admitted that he did not have the full report of the AI ​​investigation nor the misconduct report from the Portales police chief. He said he didn’t ask for the full investigation either. After receiving the complete investigation file which The paper. obtained through a public records request, Cage said, “Well, that might change things.”

In a follow-up interview, the sheriff said Jthe paper. “I agree that some red flags have been raised by the Internal Affairs investigation [Ed.: which said the officer exhibited ‘behaviors indicative of a child predator’], but the officer was never charged or convicted of anything by the NMLEA,” Cage said. He went on to say that the officer will not be working as a school resource officer and will not be interviewing children alone.

Williams isn’t the only police chief to call on LEAB to conduct a deeper review and take stronger action when police misconduct occurs. Roswell Police Chief Philip Smith also said LEAB does not hold officers accountable.

Smith filed two misconduct reports against former Roswell police officer Michael Burkowski.

“Burkowski has opened an investigation into an alleged sexual assault, without the knowledge or authorization of his supervisors,” Roswell Police Internal Affairs Investigator Jon Meredith wrote in a report. “Burkowski located the victim, who happened to be his girlfriend’s younger sister, and immediately interviewed her on the spot. Burkowski declined to arrange a forensic interview for the child. He immediately ‘threw’ his cell phone and obtained evidence against him, without a search warrant.”

According to the Internal Affairs report, Chaves County District Attorney Diana Luce sent a letter from Giglio to Burkowski. A letter from Giglio is based on a Supreme Court decision established in Brady vs. Maryland and United States against Giglio that prosecutors have a duty to disclose when an officer has a known misconduct issue in his personal records that could affect that officer’s credibility.

Yet, when the Burkowski case was brought before the LEAB on August 20, 2020, it was dismissed, “for lack of evidence that the [Burkowski] violated a board rule.

DPS spokesman Herman Lovato said there was no list of “board rules” other than those contained in the New Mexico Administrative Code and state laws.

“In the midst of the governor ranting and raving about police reform and the governor blaming all police departments saying they don’t watch their own and clean up their own messes,” said said Smith, “this advice is letting go of everybody we send out there to have their certifications taken away, they get fired and they get hired by other police departments, that’s about it in a nutshell.

Smith filed a second misconduct report alleging that Burkowski lied to LEAB while investigating the first complaint. This complaint was still pending at the end of 2021.

“He got up on his platform and preached and unfortunately his preaching session was filled with misinformation,” Smith said. “If they don’t tell the truth, they will be held accountable.”

Until LEAB takes action on the second conduct complaint, Burkowski is still working as an officer, like many others who have had their cases dismissed.

“What that leaves me with is a nearby police department hiring the people I fire for dishonesty, and then my officers have to work with them again,” Smith said. “And I do my job for the City of Roswell to remove these people who are not up to standard, and they are rehired alongside and retain their certification.

Williams also expressed frustration that potentially unsuitable agents are working in New Mexico.

“We don’t want these guys, we don’t want them anywhere,” Williams said. “We want bad cops gone, that’s our whole thing, we’re here to protect everyone whether it’s criminals or bad cops.”

In total, the LEAB has ruled on a total of 205 cases over the past three years. Of those cases, three officers were temporarily suspended following felony charges; 12 officers voluntarily relinquished their law enforcement certification; 41 agents were suspended for periods ranging from 30 days to 3 years; 93 officers had their certifications revoked; and 55 cases were dismissed. The NMLEA did not respond to inquiries about the number of pending cases at this time.

Albuquerque-based attorney Thomas Grover, who represents police officers before LEAB, says there’s no way to predict what action will be taken on any given misconduct complaint.

“I saw people being punished [by the LEAB] for routine internal administrative violations,” Grover said. “And I’ve seen people escape punishment when charged in criminal actions.”

He explained that just because there isn’t enough evidence for a criminal conviction doesn’t necessarily mean there isn’t evidence of law enforcement misconduct.

“Officers don’t have a clear picture of what’s going to happen if they end up doing something that’s then determined to be a foul or committing some kind of misconduct,” Grover said. “It’s completely grey, and it seems very arbitrary and capricious. LEAB wields a lot of authority and I think they have a duty to state troopers to conduct themselves in such a way that everyone knows where those lines are and they know, or have an idea , of what the ramifications are if they cross these lines.

The current LEAB may soon be a thing of the past, with the passage of SB231 which will create two entities overseeing the police, a training board to oversee the training aspects of the police service and a separate certification board focusing on misconduct and other issues. certification. This bill is on the governor’s desk now.

There was also a provision in SB231 that would have created a statewide database of police misconduct, something several police chiefs, sheriffs and others have expressed support for. He was pulled at the last minute by Sen. Peter Wirth (D-Santa Fe).

“It’s too bad that politics got in the way of this database, because at the end of the day, it’s all about transparency and accountability,” said Barron Jones, senior political strategist for the ACLU of New Mexico.

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