APD chief answers city council’s questions over investigation into DWI unit
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Albuquerque’s city council and police chief came face-to-face to somewhat hash out the tension brewing for a few weeks.
Councilors requested the chief be at Monday night’s council meeting to answer their questions about the federal investigation into his DWI unit.
APD Chief Harold Medina made it clear he couldn’t answer questions about the ongoing investigation.
Instead, a handful of councilors mainly asked about the department’s procedures and discipline surrounding officers missing court appearances, since that’s at the center of this FBI investigation.
To recap, the Bernalillo County district attorney dismissed dozens of DWI cases connected to a handful of APD officers and one local attorney.
The alleged scheme is that officers were purposely not showing up for court, leading to many DWI cases getting thrown out.
On Monday night, City Councilor Nichole Rogers asked how many missed court hearings is too many.
Medina said it’s a case-by-case basis, including the reason why the officer didn’t show up. He also said the department currently does not have a database to track how many times an officer misses.
However, City Councilor Louie Sanchez had some issues with that explanation. He said as a former APD, he knows hearing schedules are public record, and anyone can look up when cases are dismissed because an officer was a no-show.
But Medina says they don’t have the manpower to check those appearances.
“We have never had the staffing to look up every case in newmexicocourts.com. Today for example, there are 547 cases in the system for the Albuquerque Police Department. Historically, we have relied on other entities to relay information to us that an officer has missed court. Given the fact that individuals are not going to be able to do that, we can do it, but it would be very time intense,” said Medina.
Medina said they would need about 20 full time staff to track and manage a database like that, which led to a question by Rogers:
“Do we have a data sharing agreement with what other entities that are supposed to share this information?” said Rogers.
“As of this moment, no, we don’t have agreements with any of the entities that we are working with. We never have had one, this is the way the system has always worked and that is what we are working on right now,” Medina said.
Those entities he’s talking about include the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office.
Medina says prosecutors were supposed to send them notifications when an officer missed court.
But Sanchez read a letter from District Attorney Sam Bregman’s office, saying it was never the DA’s job to report officer no-shows. Instead, it was a courtesy.
Other councilors said while it’s obvious something needs to change, they are not sure if we have enough information to move forward yet.
“Until the FBI comes back and giving us some solid answers and solid evidence, I am going to refrain from comment or judgment beyond this moment in time,” said City Councilor Brook Bassan.
Another interesting question asked Monday night was when City Councilor Dan Champine, who is also a former APD officer. He asked about the status of the DWI unit since this investigation started.
He says while there’s no longer a unit, those officers were put in various fields, and they are still handling DWI cases as they come in.
In fact, there was a sobriety checkpoint over this last weekend.