SILVER CITY, N.M. (KRQE, AP) – The New Mexico district attorney who was caught on camera swerving across a state highway is now the focus of a criminal investigation by the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office.
According to search warrants obtained by KRQE News 13, investigators with Attorney General Hector Balderas’ office raided Grant County (Sixth Judicial) District Attorney Francesca Estevez’s office in Silver City on Tuesday around 5 p.m, seizing boxes of documents related to the office’s vehicle use and more.
KRQE News 13 has also learned that investigators searched and seized a 2015 dark blue, state-owned, Dodge Charger that Estevez has been known to drive.
Investigators appear to be looking into whether or not Estevez has been abusing her driving privileges. So far, she has not been charged with any crimes.
Estevez’s attorney, Jim Foy responded to the search warrants Wednesday calling the effort, in part, “an investigation that will, as the others have, bear no fruit.”
The raid and criminal investigation tie back to the widely viewed video of a June 2016 driving incident involving Estevez, who was driving the dark blue, state-owned Dodge Charger that authorities seized. A witness driving behind Estevez called 911 after recording several minutes of video showing Estevez’s vehicle swerving in and out of a driving lane on Highway 180, west of Silver City. The witness believed the driver, Estevez, was impaired.
Minutes later, Silver City and New Mexico State Police caught up with Estevez, who was pulled over in an empty gas station parking lot in Silver City. Estevez told officers a flat tire caused her to swerve.
Despite concerns raised by police officers about Estevez’s sobriety, the district attorney was let go with a new tire and no formal sobriety checks.
Estevez has repeatedly refused to answer any questions from KRQE News 13 about the incident, instead only letting her attorney speak for her. During a July 2016 news conference, attorney Jim Foy repeatedly denied that Estevez was driving impaired, instead, blaming Estevez’s driving on a flat tire and fear of the driver behind her. Foy claimed Estevez was being tailgated on the narrow highway.
According to search warrants filed by the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office, investigators believe “probable cause exists to believe Estevez recklessly drove a state vehicle, failed to provide immediate notice of an accident, and acted in violation of the New Mexico Governmental Conduct Act.”
The search warrants show investigators took documents related to Estevez’s Dodge Charger, multiple documents regarding vehicle records, a copy of the hard drive used by the DA’s office’s chief financial officer, state fleet vehicle gas receipts, and documentation related to vehicle use logs.
Investigators also took certificates of completion for defensive driving course for Estevez’s, and documentation related to employee orientation.
The search warrants indicate that investigators are, in part, trying to find out if Estevez has a pattern of using her work car as her personal car. When police stopped Estevez in June, she told officers that she was delivering soup to a friend on a Saturday afternoon.
In the search warrant, investigators spell out several rules related to driving state vehicles. New Mexico’s various district attorneys follow rules set out by New Mexico’s Administrative Office of District Attorneys (AODA). According to AODA’s vehicle rules, “an employee involved in a collision in a state vehicle shall immediately notify his/her immediate supervisor as soon as practicable, and in any event, within one calendar day of such accident.”
Investigators also cited state law in the search warrant, pointing to NMSA 66-7-206, which states that “any driver of a vehicle involved in an accident involving damage to a vehicle to an apparent extent of five hundred dollars or more to immediately give notice of the accident to the appropriate jurisdictional Law Enforcement agency.”
Investigators say it is “unknown how, to whom, or by whom” payment was made for maintenance, repairs or replacements to Estevez’s state vehicle. During a field visit in September, investigators also noted that the dark blue Dodge Charger involved in the incident still had noticeable damage, but that the vehicle had a rim replaced.
As part of the search warrant, investigators wrote, “obtaining records and document regarding Estevez’s access and authorized (or unauthorized) use of State vehicles is vital and necessary in order to determine is Estevez abused this privilege, or her power and authority in a manner unbefitting a public officer, whether any person or their property were endangered as a result, and whether or not the State incurred any losses as a result.”
In Foy’s response to news of the search warrants Wednesday, Estevez’s attorney called the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office’s move “political grandstanding,” while admonishing the media for the use of the word “raid” to describe the execution of a search warrant.
The New Mexico Attorney General’s Office declined requests for an interview on Wednesday, citing an “ongoing investigation.” It’s unclear when that investigation will wrap.
Full Statement from Francesca Estevez’s Attorney:
The actions of the attorney general in calling the execution of a search warrant a “raid” and the reporting of activities regarding an on-going investigation are absolutely unprecedented. First, in my 30 years as a lawyer I have never known the attorney general to prosecute allegations of speeding or reckless driving, let alone use that crime as a basis to collect evidence in a search warrant.
Second, I have never known or heard that an elected official’s driving could constitute a violation of the New Mexico Governmental Conduct Act.
Third, there was no accident or accident investigation involving this matter, so to claim Ms. Estevez could be charged with leaving the scene of an accident or failure to report an accident after the police held her for two hours is ludicrous. Months ago, Ms. Estevez was stopped by the police and the matter was investigated by two police agencies and neither chose to charge any crimes including reckless driving, failure to report an accident or leaving the scene of the accident. There was no collision which is required by statute for failure to report. Further, the only damage was to the tire and not the vehicle. The cost of a flat tire was way under the $500 statutory limit.
THE ATTORNEY’S GENERAL’S ACTIONS ARE PURE POLITICAL GRANDSTANDING. FURTHER, WHEN I WAS THE DISTRICT ATTORNEY I USUALLY DID NOT COMMENT ON ANY ON-GOING INVESTIGATION regardless of whether or not it involved minor motor vehicle offenses. Yet now the world is aware of an investigation that will, as the others have, bear no fruit.
–Jim Foy, Attorney for 6th Judicial District Attorney Francesca Estevez