Updated: November 02, 2020 10:29 AM
Created: November 01, 2020 05:49 PM
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. —Police misconduct in New Mexico can often be shrouded in secrecy, but after examining hundreds of law enforcement records, the KOB 4 Investigates Team has learned that officers accused of everything from sex crimes to excessive force still have state certifications to be a cop.
There are currently more than 100 police misconduct cases pending before the state's law enforcement oversight board known as the New Mexico Law Enforcement Academy Board.
The cases range from officers accused of serious crimes to lying and excessive force. Many have been fired, but some are still on the job.
EXCESSIVE FORCE IN BELEN
In March 2019, Belen Police Officer Scott Gordon arrested a man on suspicion of disorderly conduct. Body camera footage and surveillance video shows the man was taken to a holding cell when Officer Gordon slammed the suspect into the ground while his hands were handcuffed behind his back. The suspect's head was split open and paramedics were called to render aid.
According to a misconduct report filed with the state, Officer Gordon violated use of force policy and he also lied. Officer Gordon remains on the force and was recently promoted to sergeant.
In a separate incident in April, Belen Police Officer Ed von Kutzleben responded to a call about a fight. Lapel video shows the officer approaching a woman and when she walked away, Officer Kutzleben chased and tackled her.
Officer Kutzleben is accused of using excessive force in this incident, according to a misconduct report. State records reveal the initial call to police described "a male beating up a female" — which suggests the woman was a possible victim and "had not committed a crime."
Officer Kutzleben remains on the job at the Belen Police Department.
HIGH PROFILE MISCONDUCT CASES
The list of pending misconduct cases also includes high-profile incidents like former Albuquerque Police Officer Nelson Begay who was convicted on child porn charges dating back to 2013.
There is also former Sierra County Deputy Grant Taylor who was arrested on the job earlier this year after his supervisor spotted a meth pipe in his patrol car. Taylor resigned that same day.
All these cases have one thing in common— the New Mexico Law Enforcement Academy Board that's supposed to investigate them hasn't taken final action on their certifications to be a peace officer in New Mexico.
"It's very frustrating," said Farmington Police Chief Steve Hebbe who is also President of the New Mexico Police Chiefs Association.
"I think what we're seeing is ... you still have officers that their departments don't believe they should be police officers in New Mexico anymore and they still are," said Hebbe.
REVEALING THE CASES
The KOB 4 Investigates team compiled the never-before-seen list of pending police misconduct cases through a series of law enforcement documents obtained through public records requests.
"The public at large should be able to know the reliability of its own police department," said Peter Simonson, executive director for the ACLU of New Mexico. He said what the list reveals is alarming.
"It is, you know, a very possible very credible threat to people's safety, ironically, in the form of police officers who are supposed to be protecting their safety," said Simonson.
Some of the cases date back to 2013, but more recent ones have piled up because of vacancies on the LEA board and understaffing. It's important to note that many of the pending cases are still considered allegations and there is a lengthy system in place to afford officers' due process.
LEA Board Director Kelly Alzaharna previously declined a request to participate in a recorded interview. However, she recently spoke to lawmakers during a committee hearing.
"Although there may be officers out there you know who can slip through the cracks, there are mechanisms in place that we can minimize people being hired in that transition time while their case is still in the process," Alzaharna told lawmakers during a virtual hearing.
However, many worry that's not enough and that the state should do more to keep the public informed about potentially bad cops.
Copyright 2020 - KOB-TV LLC, A Hubbard Broadcasting Company