ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – A top prosecutor for District Attorney Kari Brandenburg’s office was shut out of a briefing after a fatal police shooting near San Mateo and Constitution NE on Tuesday evening, Brandenburg told KRQE News 13.
Police officials and others were gathering to discuss the most recent developments in the investigation a few hours after the shooting, Brandenburg said. Chief Deputy DA Sylvia Martinez attempted to join the briefing, but Deputy City Attorney Kathryn Levy would not let Martinez attend.
What Brandenburg said happened Tuesday evening would be an unprecedented move by city of Albuquerque officials, and it comes a day after Brandenburg charged two APD officers with murder in the March shooting death of homeless camper James Boyd.
Levy invoked the charges in barring Martinez from the briefing, according to Brandenburg.
“Sylvia was told that our office has a conflict of interest because we charged the officers,” she said.
Reached by telephone for comment Tuesday evening, Levy, who has for years worked as APD’s attorney, refused to answer questions.
Police said officers went to the area of San Mateo and Constitution after a report of “suspicious activity” shortly before 5 p.m. Tuesday. The took one man into custody, but another man fled on foot. That man fired shots at two officers, who chased him on foot, according to police.
The chase and shootout ended when the officers shot and killed the man, according to police.
The DA’s Office plays an integral role in investigating police shooting cases. Prosecutors are involved from the very beginning of the process, from providing legal advice and approving search warrants right after an officer shoots someone to deciding whether the shooting was justified at the end.
Levy also told Martinez that APD “wouldn’t be needing any legal advice or help” and that Martinez “could go home,” Brandenburg said. “They told her we could call another prosecutor’s office to come down.”
Prosecutors’ presence at the scenes of police shootings and inside the investigatory briefings has been ubiquitous for decades here. In fact, the DA’s participation in the investigations is memorialized in a written agreement with APD and other agencies signed in 2004.
“I have never seen anything like this. Ever,” Brandenburg said in a telephone interview, referring to a city official shutting one of her prosecutors out of a briefing. “Clearly, this could compromise the integrity of the investigation of this shooting.”
The written agreement that governs police shooting investigations in Bernalillo County says representatives from APD, the county Sheriff’s Office, New Mexico State Police and the DA’s Office are to designate representatives to take part in the inquiries. The agency that employs the shooting officer “shall be designated the lead agency,” the agreement says.
Last fall, Mayor Richard Berry’s administration signed a settlement agreement with the U.S. Justice Department of Justice to implement hundreds of reforms at APD. The agreement came after an 18-month DOJ investigation in which federal officials found widespread use of excessive force by APD officers, including in police shootings.
The Justice Department, as part of ongoing reform efforts, adopted the local agreement that spells out the process for police shooting investigations.
“It is my opinion that the city violated” the agreement, Brandenburg said. “And that means they violated their agreement with the DOJ.”
After Brandenburg announced the murder charges against officer Dominique Perez of the APD SWAT team and former detective Keith Sandy in the Boyd shooting on Monday, Berry issued a written statement.
“We trust the judicial system will provide the family, our community and the officers a fair, transparent and unbiased opportunity to explore and present the facts as they relate to this tragic event,” Berry said in the statement. “It is important for all of us to allow the process to progress without prejudice in order for our community to move forward.”