Albuquerque cop admits to running illegal background check

regina sanchez
APD officer Regina Sanchez admitted to illegally accessing a federal law enforcement database for personal purposes. She is pictured being sworn in as a witness during the Levi Chavez murder trial in 2013.

ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – When Albuquerque police officer Regina Sanchez admitted to investigators from the newly retooled citizen police watchdog agency that she had accessed the National Crime Information Centers database for personal purposes late last year, she was admitting to a federal crime.

Sanchez used the database, which is available only to law enforcement officers, to pull the address and other personal information of the boyfriend of a 30-year-old Albuquerque woman named Tammy Martinez on Nov. 24, 2014, according to documents obtained by KRQE News 13. Sanchez passed the information to Joshua Martinez, who at the time was Tammy Martinez’s estranged husband. Sanchez is the girlfriend of Joshua Martinez’s brother.

Officials from the Albuquerque office of the FBI and the local U.S. Attorney’s Office would not say Monday whether Sanchez will be prosecuted — or even whether she is under federal investigation. A U.S. Attorney’s spokeswoman provided the federal statute that covers illegal access of the NCIC database.

If charged and convicted, Sanchez could face up to a year in prison.

Sanchez is still employed at APD. She has not been disciplined.

Assistant Police Chief Robert Huntsman is reviewing the case to determine whether Sanchez violated any of the department’s policies and whether she will be disciplined, spokeswoman Celina Espinoza said in an interview. A decision is forthcoming “likely within the next couple of weeks or so.”

“It’s very concerning to the department that a database of this sort would be used in any concerning nature, and cases of that claim are investigated thoroughly,” Espinoza said. “The database is used for a specific purpose, it contains specific information, and that information is used for law enforcement purposes. There are no other reasons to be using it.”

Sanchez did not return a message left at the police substation where she is assigned. According to the woman who answered the telephone at the substation, Sanchez was on patrol Monday.

This is not the first time she has been in the spotlight. In 2013, Sanchez was one in a parade of extramarital lovers of former APD officer Levi Chavez who testified when Chavez was put on trial for the murder of his wife. Chavez was acquitted.

At the time Sanchez tapped into the database, the Martinezes were in the middle of a bitterly contested divorce that involved custody of two small children, visitation and child support, court records show.

Tammy Martinez had filed a temporary domestic order against her husband, and she was working to make sure he didn’t know where she lived. That’s because she didn’t trust him.

Those efforts, however, were thwarted when Sanchez got involved.

“When arriving to court mediation, he had my address, apartment number, boyfriend’s name, background, (parole officer’s) name and contact info,” Tammy Martinez wrote in a citizen complaint against Sanchez dated Dec. 30.

The Albuquerque Civilian Police Oversight Agency took up the case after Tammy Martinez filed her complaint. Its investigators determined that Sanchez had violated two APD standard operating procedures related to using computers and truthfulness by officers, according to a draft copy of the agency’s findings report obtained by News 13. Sanchez admitted to pulling information about Tammy Martinez’s boyfriend from NCIC. But she lied about whether she provided information about the boyfriend, including information about his parole, to Joshua Martinez.

Investigators also determined that Sanchez violated a department special order that says: “Personnel are reminded that NCIC/NMLETS is to be used for official criminal justice purposes. Utilizing this system for purposes other than official business is a violation of state and federal policy and procedure, and doing so may result in discipline.”

The findings report does not say whether investigators made a determination about the allegation that Sanchez also had accessed Tammy Martinez’s information through NCIC. The report does, however, say that “the NCIC database was the only database available to (Sanchez) which had Ms. Martinez’s and (her boyfriend’s) current home address listed.”

Robin Hammer, the agency’s acting executive director, presented an overview of the case to the newly appointed Police Oversight Board during its first meeting last month — along with a proposed letter detailing investigators’ findings to be sent to Police Chief Gorden Eden. The chief has the option to disagree with the findings, and he is the final arbiter of discipline for police officers.

Board members were concerned that the letter, which did not name Sanchez, did not list any recommendations for her discipline or spell out the federal crime she had committed.

One of the members, Joanne Fine, said the findings letter undersold the gravity of what Sanchez had done.

“This, literally, could cost someone their life,” Fine said at the time. “This is such a serious crime, such a serious infraction, and I didn’t get the seriousness of this from the letter .”

Kicked out of day care

Tammy Martinez did not return telephone calls seeking comment for this story. Reached Monday, her attorney declined to comment.

But documents she filed in the divorce case show a series of events that followed Sanchez’s accessing of NCIC.

On Dec. 11, Joshua Martinez told the new boyfriend’s parole officer that the boyfriend was living with Tammy Martinez in violation of his parole, the documents say. The parole officer visited the home and determined that the boyfriend wasn’t living there.

The following week, Joshua Martinez twice called APD and asked to have officers sent to Tammy Martinez’s home to check on the couple’s children, according to the documents. He told police the children had been physically abused. As a result, officers, following policy, pulled down the pants of the 2-year-old child to check for injuries. They found none.

The documents say that, on Feb. 5, Joshua Martinez visited the daycare center the couple uses. He “gave the manager a picture of (Tammy Martinez’s) boyfriend and told her about his criminal history.” The boyfriend is in good standing with his parole officer. He has a full-time job. And he has never been charged with or convicted of domestic violence or crimes against children.

Nevertheless, according to the court documents, the daycare kicked the children out. Tammy Martinez now has to pay a babysitter $10 per hour to watch the children while she works.

On Feb. 9, there was a shooting at the apartment complex where Tammy Martinez lives, the court documents say. Joshua Martinez called her to ask whether the children were OK. Tammy Martinez told him they were “fine.” But Joshua Martinez drove to the complex a half-hour later, unannounced, and demanded to see the children. He was armed with a handgun when he arrived.

Reached by telephone Monday, Joshua Martinez’s attorney, Les Sandoval said he was not aware of the police oversight agency’s findings.

“Without talking to (Joshua Martinez) I have no comment,” Sandoval said. The judge in the divorce case “will sort this out. We’ll see what either party has done to break the agreements that are in place.”

Before the divorce was finalized on March 16, there were several agreements in place and other documents filed in the case. One of them was a temporary domestic order, which Tammy Martinez filed Aug. 20. Among its provisions: “Do not injure or physically or mentally abuse, molest, intimidate, threaten or harass the other party or any child of either party.” The order was to remain in effect “until modified.”

Tammy Martinez alleged that her husband violated it at least once, according to court records. Later, on Feb. 25, she requested a no-contact order against Joshua Martinez.

During her interview with News 13, Espinoza, the APD spokeswoman, said: “You should probably look at when that restraining order was put into place.” This reporter showed Espinoza a copy of the temporary domestic order, to which she replied: “But it had expired; it’s not gonna say that on here.”

Espinoza refused several times to say why she mentioned the order or what significance it bore to Sanchez’s illegal use of NCIC.

Neither the federal statute nor APD standard operating procedures that govern the use of NCIC mention any exceptions to search restrictions related to domestic orders or restraining orders.

‘Still an active case’

Espinoza said discipline for Sanchez, if the brass determines she has broken policy, could range from a reprimand to termination. One of the factors will be any prior discipline for Sanchez.

In the interview, Espinoza said she didn’t know whether Sanchez had previously been disciplined.

“I have not reviewed her personnel file, so I am not aware of that at this point,” she said.

In 2006, Sanchez began an intimate dating relationship with then-fellow APD officer Levi Chavez, according to her testimony in Chavez’s murder trial. She knew he was married, but was under the impression that he was “separated and in the process of getting a divorce.”

At one point, Chavez moved in with Sanchez, according to her testimony. She broke the relationship off after receiving an angry call from Chavez’s wife, Tera Chavez.

APD did not have a fraternization policy in place at the time of the affair. Sanchez was not disciplined.

In the NCIC case, the administrative investigation is ongoing, according to Hammer, the acting director for the police oversight agency.

“There were questions raised at the last (Police Oversight Board) meeting, facts that still needed to be investigated,” Hammer said. “This is still an active case … We are still waiting for additional information.”

She would not say what inquiries remain in the case. She did, however, say she did not expect the initial findings — that Sanchez illegally accessed the federal database and lied about it — to change.

The oversight board will not hear the completed case until after its members are fully trained, Hammer said. That won’t be until the middle of the summer or later. Meanwhile, Hammer said she notified Internal Affairs about the case,

The board ultimately will send a letter to Chief Eden that lays out recommended findings.

Those findings are likely to be moot, given the APD brass’ timetable of a few weeks to determine whether Sanchez violated policy and whether she will be disciplined.

Regardless of the administrative outcome, a possible criminal case looms.

There is recent precedent for charging police officers in the federal system for illegally accessing NCIC. In 2012, that charge was one of several leveled against Gilberto Valle, the so-called “cannibal cop” of the New York Police Department. And last year, a pair of Colorado police officers were indicted on charges of illegally accessing crime databases and other alleged crimes.

During last month’s Police Oversight Board meeting, Hammer conceded during questioning from board members that what Sanchez had admitted to was a crime.

In the interview on Monday, she said her investigators notified the New Mexico Department of Public Safety about Sanchez’s actions. The Public Safety department administers NCIC for the state. Hammer said she did not notify the FBI or the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

“As a matter of policy, the U.S. Attorney’s Office can neither confirm nor deny that it is investigating alleged violations of this statute,” U.S. Attorney’s spokeswoman Elizabeth Martinez wrote in an email to News 13.

KRQE News 13 journalist Tina Jensen contributed reporting for this story.

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