Amid police shortage, one nightmare highlights need for more resources
March 06, 2018 10:32 PM
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – What does it really look like when you call the cops and they don't come? What does it really look like when you fear for your life, and there's no one to step in?
As Albuquerque faces a policing crisis, the story of one man's desperation brings the problem home.
"There's not been one night that I sleep through the night," Emmanuel Castillo says.
Over the summer, Castillo met a guy he was sure he'd always waited for – a man who shared his sense of humor and interests. He dated Manuel Romero for a few weeks after meeting him online and things were going as well as you might expect.
Castillo says there were occasional red flags; raised voices, and jealousy.
Then the 2017 Gulf of Mexico hurricanes hit. Castillo deployed to the Virgin Islands as part of an Air Force relief team. He said his new boyfriend quickly became jealous, and eventually ended the relationship with a text message.
When he got back to New Mexico, Castillo says the official breakup led to an argument which turned into a beating behind the wheel. As Castillo drove his ex home for the last time, he says Romero hit him.
"We kept talking and arguing, and every time we would come to a stop or he would get frustrated or something he'd start hitting me again," Castillo said.
The relationship was over, but the nightmare was only beginning.
"I went to bed and I woke up to my phone being blown up," Castillo said.
All day and all night, Castillo says the texts from his ex wouldn’t stop. He filed a restraining order, and Romero did the same.
Castillo got a new number three different times, but the calls and texts never stopped.
Then, Castillo says his car windshield was smashed in, and an APD officer responded to take a report.
"They said that they couldn't put (Romero) as a suspect because there was not any evidence that could point to it being directly him," he said.
A couple of days later there was another attack. His windshield had been broken again.
Castillo stayed up all night, but says officers didn’t show up the second time.
Then there were the frequent sightings of Romero – across the street from Castillo's home, or driving up and down the block. Castillo says despite what seemed like a violation of the joint restraining order in place, response time was dismal.
Romero had often left by the time an officer would come into the neighborhood.
Then, everything escalated.
"You just see the picture of an individual who is losing control," said Shaun Willoughby, president of the Albuquerque Police Officer's Association.
Willoughby said Romero is the sort of suspect officers would typically follow closely.
"There's nobody there anymore," he said.
Willoughby said the APD FAST unit, designed to track domestic abusers and prevent tragedy once, once had eight dedicated detectives.
Now, Willoughby says, there's only one left on staff working 40 to 60 cases at a time.
"We've seen things fall through the cracks and we've seen people die because of it," Willoughby said.
For Castillo, it was only the beginning.
"One person messaged me saying, 'Hey, did you know there's this page on Instagram with a bunch of nude pictures of you?'" he said.
In disbelief, Castillo said he scrolled through an Instagram account set up in his name. It was filled with explicit photos he says he'd only shared with Romero.
"They pretty much told me, there's nothing you can do about that legally," he said. "That would be a civil matter if you want to take them to court for that."
There are two officers present in lapel camera recordings of the response to Castillo's home when he reported the Instagram account to police. Castillo's claim about the officers' response is represented on the recordings, in which one officer tells him Romero can put whatever he wishes on the Internet.
On the recording, the officer can also be heard telling Castillo there's nothing that can legally be done about the posts.
Posting so-called "revenge pornography" on the Internet is illegal in New Mexico and considered a misdemeanor crime since Gov. Susana Martinez signed legislation criminalizing the practice in 2015. The legislation received unanimous support in New Mexico's state House of Representatives and Senate during that year's legislative session.
"I said, 'Is there anything else you can do?' And he said, 'No,'" Castillo said through tears during an interview in January.
Castillo was commuting to the Law Enforcement Academy in Santa Fe at the height of his troubles at home, in the process of training to be a police dispatcher. He was staying in a dormitory, an hour from home by car, when his sister called him frantically on Dec. 7.
"She said, 'It got bad. It got really bad,'" Castillo said.
One of Castillo's instructors at the academy drove him back to Albuquerque that night.
"He broke in through my bedroom window, he stabbed my mattress, he shattered my shower sliding doors, he shattered my mirror on top of the sink, he took cement (and) put it down my shower and put cement down my toilet," Castillo said.
He told police Romero is the only person who could have committed such a vicious crime.
"The advice they gave me was, 'Set up cameras, reinforce your doors, and if it's really this bad, then you should consider moving,'" Castillo said.
On Dec. 15, Romero was finally arrested, but not for the burglary. A month-and-a-half after Castillo reported the beating in his car, Romero was issued a summons for misdemeanor battery.
He pleaded not guilty to the charge a week later and was released.
Castillo got a call from his neighbors about a week later.
"These two guys just tried burning down your house," Castillo said, adding the caller was watching smoke come out of his house.
Mere days after contacting KOB in mid-December, Castillo said someone tried to set his house on fire. He sent KOB photos of the damage that same day; his bedroom suffered most of all. His bed was fully engulfed.
"It's going to come down to me being dead before they end up believing my stories," he said. "Before they do something."
Castillo said he believes APD didn't act as quickly or prioritize his case because he is a man in a gay relationship. In fact, he said one detective even told him that.
"If it was a woman that was a victim right now, the units would have already done something," he recalls the officer telling him. "(They) pretty much said, 'Be strong, I've seen cases like this before. The attackers get tired of it after a while.'"
Willoughby says a victim's gender should never matter, and that there are simply no resources to do police work that should be done.
KOB first contacted the Albuquerque Police Department about this case on Dec. 28. Warrants for Romero's arrest were issued in mid-January.
Three weeks after our first inquiry, Romero was finally arrested for aggravated stalking and residential burglary.
"I don't believe that anybody really appreciates what the impact of that shortstaffing means until you're a victim like this individual," Willoughby said. "What about all the other victims? What about all the other people who don't have a reporter looking into the details of a case?"
Castillo says his car was last attacked outside his parents' house just weeks ago.
"I have nothing left besides my life and my family," he said. "Everything else is destroyed."
An APD spokesman says response took longer because Castillo declined police surveillance of Romero. Gilbert Gallegos says APD's FAST team currently has two detectives and a sergeant assigned to the unit.
But when KOB asked union leadership to confirm the additional resources added to FAST, the APOA said the organization was unaware of anybody being moved to it.
"The union has never been made aware of additional resources being added to the FAST team," said Willoughby, who added there is a supervisor who oversees the unit, in addition to the Cold Case Unit and Missing Persons Unit.
Castillo adamantly denies he refused surveillance of Romero. In at least one conversation recorded on lapel cam, Castillo discusses ongoing patrols in the neighborhood and asks an officer if units could come closer to his home when conducting welfare checks.
On the recording, Castillo expresses concern the officer checks the scene from a street corner, instead of coming closer to the house.
Gallegos told KOB officers developed a safety and surveillance plan for Castillo and suggested and offered additional surveillance, but that Castillo did not follow through with the plan – including missing appointments he was supposed to attend.
"In addition, Castillo was not treated any different because he is a male," Gallegos said. "All of his allegations were thoroughly investigated and are now pending in the judicial system."
Gallegos said Castillo was aware of resources available to him.
"Detectives pointed out to him that domestic violence is different than other crimes in that many victim resources, like advocacy organizations and shelter, typically cater to women," Gallegos said. "But detectives still identified existing shelters that are open to male victims."
Gallegos also told KOB Castillo faces his own charges in this case, a claim disputed by the Bernalillo County District Attorney's Office.
"As with many domestic violence cases, this case is complicated, because it involves competing and serious allegations made by both parties," Gallegos said.
But Second Judicial District DA spokesman Michael Patrick says APD is likely referencing the alleged November beating inside Castillo's car.
Patrick said both Romero and Castillo filed reports in the case, but the office declined to prosecute Castillo.
Prosecutors did, however, decide to prosecute Romero in the incident.
The APOA's Willoughby said he was surprised to hear the department shift any blame to a victim.
Updated: March 06, 2018 10:32 PM
Created: March 06, 2018 09:27 PM
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