ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The police chief in New Mexico’s largest city vowed Friday that the Albuquerque Police Department will “leave no stone unturned” as it moves ahead with an internal investigation into allegations of possible corruption within the Driving While Intoxicated unit.
Chief Harold Medina declined to give many specifics during a news conference Friday, saying he didn’t want to compromise the work being done by his agency or the FBI. Still, he tried to ease public concerns by saying the department has been working with the district attorney's office to streamline the process for flagging when officers fail to appear in court for those cases in which a motorist is suspected of driving drunk or impaired.
Medina shared a timeline of DWI cases dating back to 2015. He said changes in how the department and prosecutors handle such cases has led to fewer dismissals overall in the last two years. In 2019, the dismissal rate topped 43%. Last year, only 3% of the 1,027 cases filed were dismissed.
The chief said he, like other officers, has worked hundreds of DWI cases over his career and that it has long been a tactic of defense attorneys to seek delays with the hope of officers eventually not being able to show up in court.
While refusing to point fingers at the district attorney's office or any of his own officers, he said the overall system still needs fixing.
“Systems that struggle, systems that have loopholes are really open to corruption,” he said, referencing a conversation he had with fellow officers over breakfast in which they shared concerns and talked about what the department will be reviewing as it moves forward.
“We’re dealing with stuff that we anticipate started decades ago, and we’ve done a lot of things that have got us to this point," Medina said. "But we will continue to dig and look and leave no stone unturned and make sure that we get to the bottom of this.”
As part of the federal investigation, search warrants were recently served at the homes of officers who had worked with the DWI unit and a prominent local defense attorney who had served for years as chairman of the state Public Defender Commission. Those warrants remain sealed and federal officials have refused to discuss the specifics of the case.
Medina confirmed five officers remain on administrative leave pending Albuquerque's internal investigation. No one has been charged or arrested.
According to documents obtained by the Albuquerque Journal, the probe began following a stop by one of the officers last August in which he allegedly told the driver that he should contact a certain attorney, who, if hired, would ensure that no case would be filed in court by the police department.
Medina said his staff first heard vague allegations about possible corruption within the DWI unit more than two years ago and learned last year that federal authorities were looking into the claims. He said he didn't want to come forward then and risk compromising either investigation.
Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller last week issued a statement saying, if true, the allegations are a disgrace and erode faith in law enforcement. Some members of the City Council also sent the chief a letter, demanding answers and requesting that he appear at the next council meeting.
Medina said Friday he would be willing to do so but that he's limited from sharing specific and confidential information. He sent the council a letter Thursday that provided details about how such cases move through the court, required pre-trial interviews, policies about officers appearing in court and the disciplinary process for officers who miss court dates.
The letter cites four cases in 2023 in which officers were disciplined for failing to appear at required pretrial interviews, court hearings or trial settings.
Medina said the police force recently gained access to court system data and is now working to automate tracking of officer appearances.