APD hoped child porn case scrutiny would fade

ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – “My feeling at this point is that we let this one go…” APD spokeswoman Janet Blair wrote in an email.

It was Monday afternoon, May 19th, and Blair had just fired off an email to Chief of Police Gorden Eden, APD Assistant Chief Robert Huntsman, city Chief Administrative Officer Rob Perry, mayoral spokeswoman Erin Kinnard Thompson and Deputy City Attorney Kathy Levy.

“It was a Friday night story,” Blair wrote. “And I am hopeful it has no legs.”

The high-level city and police officials were discussing a KRQE News 13 story on accused child pornography offender and suspected rapist Ruben Nieto.

The topic at hand since the previous Friday afternoon was whether APD should offer the public an explanation of the Nieto case or, as Blair suggested, try to let the story fade away into the rest of the week’s news.

After all, Ruben Nieto had been on APD’s radar for quite some time without any blips from the local media.

The Cases

In February 2013, detectives with the Albuquerque Police Department had solid evidence that Nieto was downloading and sharing child pornography online.

It wasn’t until May of this year, 15 months later, that the 45-year-old Nieto was arrested. And it was Bernalillo County Sheriff’s detectives who made the arrest, not APD, on suspicion of downloading and sharing a new set of child porn images.

Both cases were part of a what’s called the Internet Crimes Against Children task force or ICAC. A joint effort funded in part by federal dollars, ICAC cases routinely start at the desk of a special agent at the New Mexico Attorney General’s office.

Once the special agent is able to verify that shared files contain child pornography and match a physical address to a computer address, the evidence is forwarded to a partner agency. Both current and former law enforcement sources have characterized ICAC cases to KRQE News 13 as solid investigations that need little more than the time it takes to write up a search warrant.

It was one of those warrants, filed in state District Court, that described 21 suspected child porn files sent to APD in 2013 as a case that was “never worked by Albuquerque Police Department”.

While that case sat on the desk of an APD detective, court records and law enforcement officials say Nieto allegedly raped his teenage daughter.*

APD Statement

In a statement sent to KRQE News 13 Thursday evening, Blair refuted that series of events, writing that APD had been “actively working the (child porn) case for about a month when in mid-March (2013) they discovered the street address involved in their investigation was also part of an active investigation by the (APD) Crimes Against Children Unit.”

The department, Blair’s statement said, then focused its efforts on the more important child abuse case. The case culminated when the girl made the rape allegation against her father.

Blair’s statement claimed APD detectives “resumed the pornography investigation in August 2013″ only to find that the AG had already transferred the case to the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office. However, court documents directly contradict that claim and indicate the case was APD’s to prosecute until April of 2014.

Blair did not provide evidence of APD’s child porn investigation and did not respond to a request for more information.

The department has steadfastly refused to sit down with News 13 to do an on-camera interview about Ruben Nieto.

Email Conversation

APD refused to comment on KRQE News 13’s initial story about the Nieto case on May 16. In the days after that report, News 13 followed up with Blair several times seeking answers. Six days later, after chastising a journalist and complaining about News 13’s coverage of the Police Department, she provided a response that raised as many questions as it answered.

So, KRQE News 13 filed a request under the New Mexico Inspection of Public Records Act for all of Blair’s emails between May 16 and May 21. The city withheld an undisclosed number of emails, citing the “attorney/client privilege,” with no further explanation.

But the emails provided show a conversation among Blair, the city’s top two cops and City Hall as they debated whether to respond to News 13’s detailed request for comment on May 16.

Initially, the email conversation focused almost entirely on the case and, within a few hours, top department officials and City Hall knew which APD units handled Nieto’s child porn case and the alleged rape.

But at about 9 p.m. on May 16, an hour before the initial story aired, Blair sent an email to Police Chief Gorden Eden and others suggesting it would be best to stay silent: “Sounds very complicated and I just don’t think there’s anything we can do about it at this point.”

There’s no indication that Chief Eden or any of the others objected to Blair’s suggested course of action.

Moments after the story aired, the tone of the conversation changed. The subsequent emails show both APD and City Hall concerned less about public accountability than about public image.

Erin Kinnard Thompson called the timing of News 13’s inquiry about Nieto “ridiculous”.

After both Chief Eden and Assistant Chief Huntsman wrote that they hadn’t been contacted directly by reporters in connection with the story, Blair called the News 13 story “an ambush”. As a matter of policy, APD requests that journalists use the public information office to inquire about police matters.

Emails provided by the city show there was no response or objection to Blair’s suggestion that the City and APD “let this one go”.

A reporter spent time on the phone Thursday afternoon going through the email conversation with Blair and highlighting questions that were raised by it. The statement Blair provided a few hours later did not address the emails, nor did Blair respond to follow-up questions about the statement.

Chief Eden hired Blair at APD in an effort to smooth communication between the department and the community. A press release to announce the moved quoted Eden as saying “It will be Ms. Blair’s job to craft communications strategies that ensure transparency and the steady flow of information about our efforts.”

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*Ordinarily, News 13 makes every effort to conceal the identity of alleged sexual assault victims. However, a news release by the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office has already said Nieto is a suspect in the rape of his daughter.

 

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