Sunday, December 24, 2006

The Blue Wall: Intimidation and Bullies

What’s wrong with this picture?

This is Albuquerque Police Officer Sam Costales, seen in a harsh light on Thursday, before being notified that the Albuquerque Police Department had cleared him of any wrongdoing for testifying as a witness, in uniform, under a court ordered subpoena requested by the defense, two weeks ago.

I commend Chief of Police Ray Schultz for allowing cooler heads to prevail and resolving the matter quickly.

Costales took the stand during four-time Indy 500 winner Al Unser Sr.’s case. Unser was acquitted by a jury, in Metropolitan Court of two misdemeanor charges: disobeying a police officer and resisting arrest.

Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Department Deputies had arrested Unser Sr., and his brother Bobby, Aug. 9, in two separate incidents, just minutes apart while they assisted Costales in manning a roadblock at Central Avenue and Unser Boulevard. They were keeping people from entering the crime scene where a suspected carjacker, involved in a high-speed pursuit with APD officers and who had fired shots at them. He crashed the stolen car north of the intersection. A standoff followed, a Special Weapons and Tactics operation ensued and after several hours of attempted negotiations, it was determined that the suspect was already dead. He may have accidentally taken his own life while reloading his shotgun at the time of the collision and setting off the weapon.

The not guilty jury verdict at the Unser trial, and Costales’ testimony, seem to have caused some sour grapes.

KRQE News’ Jessica Garate ran a story that purports to show Al Unser lied on the witness stand when, under cross examination, he stated that he had never had a confrontation with any officer.

Garate said the tape came from evidence used in Unser’s trial.

An unidentified Albuquerque Police Officer tape-recorded a conversation with Unser at a July 2000 traffic stop. Unser was the passenger in a car when the driver was stopped. The officer determined he was going to issue some citations.

Unser apparently thought the paper was excessive and the following conversation, that KRQE News terms a confrontation, was displayed as a graphic:

APD Officer: “Just a few citations and then we’re out of here.”

Al Unser: You’re really going to do it?”

APD Officer: “Yeah, I am.”

Al Unser: You’re really going to be an A** H*** over this. For no reason.”

APD Officer: “Okay, sir, at this time I have to have you go back to your vehicle and just sit there.”

Apparently that was the end of it. Not a confrontation in my book. I doubt that you can find a street cop who hasn’t been called a name or two and not been able to understand where the name-calling came from. One of the tricks to seasoning an officer is to learn that insults are directed at the fulfillment of their duty and not at them personally.

We don’t know what else happened at the tape-recorded event and ultimately it doesn’t matter, except for how it plays out from a public policy standpoint.

Someone, who doesn’t like the outcome of the trial, is trying to make something of it in the court of public opinion. The jury spoke and legally, the state’s right to pursue Unser Sr. on criminal charges in this incident is over.

Loyal readers know my stand on free speech, more not less. However, in this case we have something going on that slaps at the integrity of the legal judicial system. It is the government, in the form of the sheriff and his department, who is attacking, spinning for his own purposes, trying to throw mud after losing their weak case.

Whoever released the tape has an agenda that is inconsistent with their duty as a police officer, sheriff’s employee, prosecutor or court official.

If the prosecutors, during cross-examination, thought they could impeach Unser’s testimony with the tape, we would have heard it during the trial coverage on KRQE. The tape was excluded as evidence from the trial.

If the prosecutors thought Unser had perjured himself, we would have seen the press conference announcing the District Attorney seeking a grand jury indictment. No, instead, we hear this celebrity trophy tape, in an effort to smear Unser.

Maybe the officer who recorded this tape made it available to prosecutors in anticipation of the, “I’m a good guy,” defense by Unser.

If the person who released the tape, to KRQE, was a police officer or member of the sheriff’s department, then he or she violated the formal law enforcement code of ethics, to not let his or her personal feelings interfere with the job. If the person was a prosecutor or court official, they have their own set of ethical codes to answer to.

So what’s wrong with this picture?

Yes this is Darren White, “Ace crime reporter” for KRQE TV News 13 in 2001. This picture was taken for a book project I was working on tentatively entitled, “Warriors.” It was intended to put a face on those who were fighting the “War on Drugs.” The project died on Sept. 11, 2001, when the “War on Drugs” was replaced with the “War on Terror.”

Gov. Gary Johnson appointed White, a former Houston and Albuquerque police officer, as secretary of the New Mexico Department of Public Safety. He served until Johnson, in his second term, proposed legislation decriminalizing certain drug use and to examine how the corrections department could improve drug rehabilitation as part of the prison and probation and parole systems. White was publicly outraged at Johnson’s suggestion and resigned.

It would appear that White has taken his position far beyond its lawful duties. He shows little things as evidence; his professional e-mail address is It's telling if one examines the history of the office of sheriff, who was the first official law enforcement officer in middle-ages England. The shire was made up of one thousand able bodied free men and their families who selected one man to be the rieve, hence a sheriff. Often, the sheriff was also a knight and therefore entitled a lord; the title “Lord High Sheriff” was common. It might appear that he wishes to glorify himself as a “High Sheriff.”

As any good journalist or law enforcement officer and especially a successful politician do, White has cultivated and maintained his sources and contacts. He has worked hard to try to get the media to condemn Officer Costales for testifying under a defense subpoena.

White had an e-mail exchange Sat., Dec. 16, 2006, started by APD officer and Albuquerque Police Officers’ Association Secretary James Badway. Badway, insinuating that he was writing on behalf of the APOA, stated, “As Secretary of the APOA i feel it is my duty and responsibility to apologize to you and your officers. Ofc. Sam Costales does not represent APD/APOA. The majority of our officers look at the BCSO as our brother and sisters in blue. We are embarrassed and ashamed of Ofc. Costales's testimony in the Unser trial. If there is anything we can do to rebuild the damage caused by Sam please let me know.”

“I was shocked and dismayed when I learned that Sam was on the stand sucker-punching our deputies,” White responded: “Make no mistake, while his testimony was a work of fiction, it was pretty much game over after he finished. I worked with Sam years ago in the Southeast. If he was so offended by the actions of the deputies, he could have picked up a phone and called me. Instead, he called the Unsers. Also, I have a hard time believing Sam would have taken the same steps had the accused been some crack dealer.”

White just gets it wrong. Costales did not seek out Unser. A private investigator working for Unser’s lawyers, in the course of trying to determine what transpired, ascertained from police reports and his own investigation, that Costales was at the scene and sought him out.

“If an APD officer witnesses another agency involved in questionable behavior, the officer would be expected to report it up the chain of command, Walsh said. Depending on the severity of the incident, it could easily rise to the chief's office, he said,” The Tribune reported, in its Dec. 15 story, quoting APD‘s Public Information Officer John Walsh.

Immediately after the incident, on Aug 9, not the next day as reported in the Journal, Costales was told by his Lieutenant, Brian Carr, to contact Walsh, who was at the crime scene. Costales, using his cellular phone, called Walsh and told him that the story the deputies were telling the news about the Unsers’ arrest, was not what happened.

“Walsh just laughed and said, ‘It’s only the Unsers,’” Costales said in an interview. “He (Walsh) just blew it off.”

What is curious is the fact that Costales’ testimony paralleled the deputies’ accounts of the sequence of events.

In my analysis of the incident posted Sept. 7, the reports indicated that the deputies were in a verbal confrontation with Unser Sr., and that he was pulled from his vehicle and forced to the ground. Costales’ testimony added a professional’s view from a distance. He filled in details that differed and that were neglected from the deputies’ points of view. They included perceived levels of volume, tone and tenor, in what was said and transpired. The deputies’ testimonies were self-serving, yet Costales told what he saw.

In an interview with Unser’s lawyer, Robert McNeill, who is now also representing Costales, since the Sheriff’s attack, said Costales had done nothing wrong. McNeill produced a letter he sent to Chief Schultz on Dec. 15.

“I met with the Chief Deputy District Attorney Gary Cade and Deputy District Attorney Peter Decker just a few days after August 9th and informed them that a reputable law enforcement officer would testify for the defense in this matter, suggesting that this might not be a case they should pursue, McNeill wrote: “I also informed Mr. Decker and Assistant District Attorney Jeremy Pena that ‘we have interviewed Officer Sam Costales, the Albuquerque Police Department officer in charge of the scene’ in a letter dated October 4, 2006. Further, Officer Costales was listed as a defense witness on a witness list filed with the court and provided to the state well in advance of the trial, as required by the rules.”

According to a Dec. 21 Journal article, prosecutors never interviewed Costales because the deputies told them that there was no one around who could have seen the incident.

According to a Dec. 23, copyrighted story by Albuquerque Journal staff writer Carolyn Carlson, APD’s PIO Trish Hoffman, said that the investigation into Costales’ testifying in uniform was over and it was the only issue.

“She said the investigation focused on why Costales testified in his APD uniform.

‘It confuses the jury,’ Hoffman said.

She said it is ‘common knowledge,’ not written policy, that to avoid confusing the jury, officers should not wear their uniforms when testifying against other law enforcement agencies.”

Hoffman’s comment is inaccurate and she continues to propagate a negative spin against Costales. It’s not now, nor has it ever been “common knowledge” “that officers should not wear their uniforms when testifying against other law enforcement agencies.” The emphasis that testifying for or against, mischaracterizes what an officers’ duty, obligation and role is in the judicial system. Officers testify to facts, not for or against. Whether it is a law enforcement officer or alleged heinous criminal, the truth is the only concern.

This statement by Hoffman is a rebuilding of the blue wall of silence. What she wants the policy to be, rather than what the actual code of ethics for officers is.

McNeill sent letters to Attorney General Patricia Madrid and District Attorney Kari Brandenburg requesting an investigation into what he sees as, “an orchestrated effort to persecute and discredit an honest police officer is under way.”

This is Officer Conrad Candelaria, right, in the dark uniform, in 1991 when he was a police academy instructor. I was at the academy in the advanced training unit, video productions detail. I taught an occasional class and everyone in the training section had contact with cadets. It was everybody’s role to monitor the integrity of the training process.

It became apparent to me that Candelaria had lost the proper focus in his dealings with cadets. He had become abusive and bullied the squad under his supervision. I brought my concerns to the chain of command and they attempted to rectify his behavior. He did not change and was reassigned.

The move did not hurt his career as he was soon promoted to sergeant and he returned to the academy and became the advanced training unit supervisor where he was my boss. Later, he was promoted to lieutenant and was working on his master’s degree at UNM. He contacted me and asked for a copy of my professional paper in order to do a peer review. I gave him a copy on the condition that he gives me a copy of his paper. He agreed, but never followed through.

In the academic world, ones writing is always open to such peer review. It’s a form of discussion and advances thoughts and ideas within the academic community. Failure to make a peer review available to the original source’s author is bad form. I cannot grant Candelaria the peer respect because of his failure to grant me equal respect.

With lieutenant bars on Candelaria’s collar for only about eight months, a captain’s slot opened up. When he was not selected, Candelaria called then Chief of Police Gerald Galvin, to complain that he should have been promoted.

Such arrogance didn’t seem to hurt him, as he was eventually promoted and is now commander of the west side area.

Candelaria drew public attention and criticism in Feb. 2004, when he exercised his “discretion” and altered a parking citation written by one of his officers to the mayor’s wife’s car, changing it to a warning. At the time, then Chief of Police Gilbert Gallegos ordered a full internal investigation to determine who changed the citation. Then PIO Jeff Arbogast said, “only the officer issuing the ticket has the discretion to change a citation to a warning,” according to the Feb 28, 2004, Albuquerque Journal. Candelaria took full responsibility for changing the document.

According to Costales, after last weeks Dec.15, shooting of Officer Marcus Moya, the west side units responded to the scene. Costales, who was a long way away, did not arrive before the signal, “code four,” meaning no further units are needed, was broadcast. Costales remained in-service to handle any other emergency calls.

At the end of shift, the officers at the shooting scene were called to the substation for a critical incident debriefing. Costales did not go because he had not been at the scene.

Candelaria called the squad together again a few days later and praised the assistance of the deputy sheriffs at the Moya shooting scene. The entire time, Costales said that Candelaria stared directly at him. When he was finished, Candelaria dismissed the squad, but held back Costales, asking him if he understood what was said. Costales acknowledged that he did and began to leave. Candelaria again asked Costales if he was OK. Costales responded that he was OK.

It would appear that Candelaria, in a not so subtle way, seemed to be threatening Costales. Candelaria’s actions, so close to Unser’s acquittal, raise this concern.

It wasn’t until the determination was made that Costales had done nothing wrong at the Unser trial, that Candelaria finally assured support.

Costales said that he has the full support of the officers he works with and his lieutenant. However, messages left on the union’s internal webpage included a threat from at least one officer, from another area command in the city, who said if Costales were ever assigned to assist him at a scene, he would kick him out.

“They are creating a hostile work environment.” Costales said.

One last thought: there has been a lot of noise about an officer testifying, accusations being made, investigations started, recollections of warnings being given no longer recalled and “evidence” being disclosed; all in an effort to discredit one man for having raised his hand and swearing to tell the truth. Why have we heard nothing about the launching of an internal investigation into the conduct of the deputies towards Unser? It appears that White was not as shocked by what Costales said about what his deputies did, but that another law enforcement officer had contradicted his deputies accounts of events.

“I have a hard time believing Sam would have taken the same steps had the accused been some crack dealer,” White wrote, in response to Badway’s e-mail. This raises a huge question. Does White suggest that he believes it is OK for his deputies to abuse crack dealers?

With White and his supporters and operatives’ open effort to manipulate the media with the disclosure of an old audiotape and the releasing of information about Costales’ bizarre arrest in Rio Rancho. White pushed the story that Costales was arrested in his home eight years ago for disorderly conduct for alleged acts that did not occur in an officer’s presence as required by law. Costales was found guilty and the case was ultimately dismissed after he was given a deferred sentence. His status at APD was not adversely affected by that case.

White has a history of trying to manipulate events and does so in a ham-fisted manner. As a leader of the State Republican Party a few years ago, when Vice President Dick Cheney was going to hold a political event at Rio Rancho High School, White required people interested in seeing Cheney to sign a loyalty oath to the Republican Party.

It seems that one of the only bad political behaviors left for White to do is go “Nixonian” and generate an enemies' list. If I don’t make his top ten, I’ll be offended.


Ched MacQuigg said...

Loyalty above all else; except honor. unk.

Anonymous said...

People sometimes forget that law enforcement can CLEAR someone as well as DAMN them. Any deputy or officer who takes the position of "us against them" has just taken that roaming piece of jurisdiction around him or her back 50 years.

It can be both exciting and terrifying at the same time, doing any kind of police or security work that puts you in the real danger of being hurt or killed just to get your job done. I think many young agents of the law do indeed get toughened up by the military style academies, but they also can come out with a "kick ass now" and "ask questions later"[as jaw heals] attitude.

I think cops need to be UTTERLY RUTHLESS with those who would do them harm, or try to harm others within the presence of the deputy, but also only kick the ass of ONLY those who need it kicked.

The car-cams on every cop-car doing routine traffic stops has changed the way American cops watch their p's and q's; but they can still just tag an empty tape and say they forgot to press "record". For safety and ethics sake, why not outfit every cop with a small DVR/cam that records what he does and says, and sends the stream back to his wi-fi car, which sends it to dispatch for permanant record? I think P and Q minding would be at an all time high!

These little DVR/cam combos can be found on Ebay and are about 500 each. If APD/BCSD went and got one for each cop, they would get a wholesale discount I bet.

J H Lopez
Thanks for the Blog, great stuff!