ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – Albuquerque Police Department brass took a chance in 2007, when they hired four ex-State Police officers who had freshly been relieved of duty from that agency because of a double-dipping scandal.
One officer had resigned from State Police. The other three had been fired. All four faced criminal charges at one point for receiving payments from a private security contractor while on the clock for State Police, although those never materialized.
But APD was in the midst of a hard push to swell its ranks to 1,000 officers and beyond.
Sean Wallace, the officer who resigned, went to the Albuquerque Police Academy, then to work as a patrol officer.
The other three, then-Deputy Chief Mike Castro told KRQE News 13 at the time, would not be on the streets.
“They do not carry guns, they are not going to be badged,” Castro said in July 2007 . “They’re civilian employees. They’ll be collecting evidence.”
In fact, they all got badges. And they all got guns. And some of them also got tremendous power and standing within the department.
One of them is 38-year-old Keith Sandy. He is one of two officers involved in APD’s most recent fatal police shooting.
The department has refused to provide details about the shooting, other than to confirm the two officers’ names and say they both fired shots at a homeless camper — who police believe was living with paranoid schizophrenia — during a lengthy standoff in the foothills Sunday evening. The man was armed with knives.
Sandy and the other officer, Dominique Perez, are on paid leave. That’s standard after an officer-involved shooting.
Neither Sandy nor Police Chief Gorden Eden responded to requests for comment for this story. A department spokeswoman responded to News 13’s email request to Sandy in writing, saying the detective would not be made available for an interview and that all requests should be sent to APD’s public information office.
Sunday’s officer-involved shooting was the first since Eden took the reins at APD last month. The department’s officers have had more than 20 fatal shootings since 2010. The high instance of shootings is among the primary focus areas of U.S. Justice Department officials, who have been investigating whether APD has an ingrained pattern of violating citizens’ civil rights, specifically through the use of force.
In the past seven years, Sandy has done stints with some of APD’s most elite units, including the tactical team, the Vice unit and his most recent assignment with the Repeat Offender Project (ROP), the plainclothes detective team that is supposed to go after the worst of Albuquerque’s worst criminals.
By the summer of 2011, the civilian-APD-employee-turned-detective had the lead on two high-profile cases that started with a bang and ended with a thud. One of them took down the sitting chief criminal judge of New Mexico’s largest judicial district. The other spelled the the end of a fellow APD officer’s career in law enforcement.
In July 2011, Sandy and his partner in the Vice Unit purchased a video on Albuquerque’s black market from an alleged female prostitute of the woman and Judge Albert S. “Pat” Murdoch having sex. The detectives used the video and the woman’s story to arrest Murdoch in his District Court chambers.
The charges: rape and witness intimidation.
Murdoch’s attorneys immediately launched challenges in the case, calling the investigation faulty. Because of obvious conflicts in Bernalillo County, the case was sent to First Judicial District Attorney Angela “Spence” Pacheco in Santa Fe for review and prosecution.
Last week, after two-and-a-half years, Pacheco announced there would be no prosecution. On Monday, she told News 13 that the case Sandy and APD delivered to her was “terrible” and “a mess.”
She said she revisited the case time and again, trying to make something of it. But Pacheco said she and her top deputies always came to the same conclusion: that the case was so full of holes that there was no choice but to abandon it.
“For example, you have a woman who came to (Murdoch’s) house numerous times,” Pacheco said. “One of those times, she brought a video camera so that she could document whatever sexual acts were taking place. From our perspective, that looks like it could have been a set up for extortion. So we know from the very beginning that this case is problematic.”
It’s unclear whether Sandy and his partner, Detective Matt Vollmer, pursued an extortion case against the woman.
Murdoch, who denied to Sandy during an interrogation that he had ever paid a prostitute for sex, was forced to permanently resign from the bench or risk losing his pension.
Murdoch’s attorney said last week that he is considering “all legal options” in light of Pacheco’s decision not to prosecute.
Less than a month after the Murdoch arrest, another of Sandy’s cases stunned the city.
Then-APD officer Matt Kindle was caught on video in a motel room, with his penis exposed outside his police uniform, discussing sex-for-hire with a female prostitute.
The woman was actually working as an informant for Sandy and Vollmer, who had placed a camera in the room.
Kindle was arrested on several felony charges, including attempted rape, extortion and demanding or receiving a bribe by a public official. According to police, Kindle had agreed to help the woman with charges she was facing in exchange for sex.
APD added three more charges related to Kindle’s alleged involvement in a prostitution ring that was up and running in Albuquerque between 2004 and 2008. In all, Kindle was indicted on eight counts, six of them felonies.
As the case moved forward, Kindle’s attorney raised numerous concerns in court pleadings. Among them was a claim that detectives entrapped Kindle, and that they lied to the grand jury that indicted him.
Prosecutors and Kindle’s attorney geared up for trial. The case was set for jury selection on a Monday, and on the Friday before, Kindle was offered a plea deal.
The eight counts had become one: a misdemeanor charge of attempting to commit a violation of the ethical principles of public service. Kindle took the deal, pleaded no contest and received a 12-month conditional discharge. That means if he doesn’t violate any laws by this June, the lone misdemeanor charge from Sandy and Vollmer’s investigation will disappear from Kindle’s record.
Prosecutors told News 13 on Wednesday that the older charges against Kindle would’ve been impossible to prosecute because of the statute of limitations. And the stiffer of the 2011-related charges would’ve been difficult to earn convictions on for other reasons.
In the end, prosecutors said the fact that Kindle agreed to forfeit his law enforcement certification provided a victory in the case.
Mewnwhile, Sandy was elevated to his next assignment with APD: the ROP team.
In that unit, he had made headlines a few times prior Sunday’s shooting.
In November 2012, he was one of several detectives who conducted a series of meetings with confidential informants in an attempt to recover an assault-style rifle and other tactical equipment that had been stolen from Detective Zach Stephenson’s truck while Stephenson was practicing his golf game in southeast Albuquerque.
The detectives, according to APD, recovered the gun the day a news story was published about the theft. Vollmer found the gun, along with a shotgun that fires Taser prongs, in a black trash bag that was lying in a South Valley street.
In January, Sandy and several other ROP detectives followed a suspected car thief into Rio Rancho and set up surveillance on him. The detectives, who were working under cover, asked for assistance from a uniformed Rio Rancho officer.
The ROP detectives approached the man while he was digging through a trash can in a Walgreen’s parking lot, and the man ran back to the vehicle he had been driving. The detectives broke out one of the vehicle’s windows and reached inside, trying to stop the man from fleeing. The man backed into the Rio Rancho officer’s police car and tried to drive away.
But Sandy used his unmarked police car to ram the suspected thief’s vehicle, pushing the man’s vehicle into a landscaped area. Another ROP detective, Russ Carter, shot out several of the man’s tires, but he was still able to drive away.
Sandy pursued him, reaching high speeds as the man weaved into oncoming traffic. Sandy rammed him again during the chase, this time pushing the man’s vehicle into a pickup truck and onto a curb. The man got out and ran, but ROP detectives caught him and handcuffed him.
The man, 33, was charged with numerous felonies, including three counts each of aggravated battery on a police officer and aggravated assault on a police officer, and aggravated fleeing from a law enforcement officer.
Sandy, along with several other officers, also is the subject of a federal civil rights lawsuit that alleges illegal search and seizure of a suspected drug dealer. According to the lawsuit, Sandy stomped the man in the chest during a search of the man’s apartment.
Back in 2007, then-APD Deputy Chief Castro told News 13 that his department would’ve considered passing on Sandy and the others, who had more than 30 years combined law enforcement experience, a “wasted resource.”
“I have no question of their ethics,” he said.