Keller, Geier Get it Wrong
Show us the Policy
"Rape Kit" Mayor Defends Destruction of Potential Sex Abuse Evidence
“When will APD and CYFD ever figure this out?” That was the email I received from a retired APD detective regarding the seven-year old girl who was prostituted by her parents. When indeed?
If it seems like we have been here before it’s because we have been.
When 9-year-old, Omaree Varela was beaten to death by his mother in December 2013, investigations by local media discovered that CYFD and Albuquerque police failed to protect him in the months preceding his murder. CYFD, Albuquerque Mayor R J Berry and Albuquerque Police Chief Gorden Eden, spent thousands in taxpayer dollars for studies and policies to correct the failures of both departments, promising this would not happen again.
Then in August of 2016 10-year-old Victoria Martens was raped, killed and dismembered by her own mother and two others. Once again area journalists exposed that CYFD and APD had several occasions to protect Victoria and once again the system failed. What was different with Victoria was CYFD owned up to their shortcomings, while APD Chief Eden and his staff blatantly lied to everyone about their failures. When caught in their own lies Eden and his staff lied more, making up false stories about violations of Constitutional rights and conversations between Victoria and APD detectives that never occurred.
And once again we were promised that policies would be changed so that no child would “slip through the cracks” ever again. Sadly, it was a promise that would not be kept.
Now we have the horrible story of a 7-year-old girl, prostituted by her parents for months, maybe years, and once again CYFD and APD failed in their mission to protect her.
My focus in this column will be APD; but allow me say one thing about CYFD. They readily admitted to their own faults and CYFD seems to be trying to address them; but how many failures do we accept before we fire the person in charge? Governor Martinez needs to tell us how many children will need to be abused before she holds the top people at CYFD accountable.
Now to APD and their actions, or should I say inaction, regarding this child. Back in November 2017 (when Eden was still police chief and Berry was mayor) APD and CYFD responded to a welfare call involving this child. Officers first went and spoke to the child and her parents at the motel they lived in. Afterwards the officer responded to the school to speak to the teacher who had made the 911 call.
At the school the little girl’s teacher attempted to give the officer bloody underwear that she said she took off the child the day before. The teacher explained that this wasn’t just a welfare check, that she feared the child was being abused.
After watching the lapel video, it becomes clear that the officer was in over his head. The officer at one point asks the CYFD employee what he should do with the bloody underwear! The CYFD employee stated that collecting evidence wasn’t part of his duties. (This should have been a clue for the officer when the CYFD worker said “evidence”.) We are told the officer called a Crimes Against Children Detective who tells him he can’t use the bloody underwear as it would not hold up in a courtroom. It appears that the officer then tossed the bloody underwear into a trash bin.
Wait? What? This bloody underwear was evidence and it was tossed into the trash by the officer!
You might be asking why is this underwear evidence?
Because the underwear had blood on it and possibly other body fluids (urine, feces, semen etc). Girls don’t start menstruating until after age ten. Maybe APD isn’t teaching this in the academy.
Because of this biological fact, blood found in a young girls’ underwear requires an immediate investigation by police. Why is the blood there? Who does the blood belong to? What circumstances led to there being blood in her underwear? Is there semen in the underwear? When did the event happen that put blood into the underwear? Was this child raped? If so, can we identify the offender through DNA?
To answer these questions the officer should have tagged the bloody underwear and immediately taken this child into protective custody where a thorough exam and interview would be performed. None of this happened. The CACU detective didn’t want the evidence and the officer tossed it into the trash. Based upon the information the officer learned from the teacher, he should have reported to his sergeant and lieutenant and then proceeded back to where the child lived to do a follow up investigation. It didn’t happen. Instead the officer trashed the bloody underwear and cleared the call.
And it gets worse. Media reports that in the officer’s report he mentions the bloody underwear but does not state what happened to them. All reports must be signed off on by either a sergeant or lieutenant. So why didn’t one of these supervisors recognize that blood in a little girls’ underwear is possible evidence of a sex crime and do their jobs as supervisors? Did the supervisors even read the report? Do the supervisors not know at what age girls start menstruating? Has common sense left APD?
Police departments are the only entity entrusted with the collection of evidence. It doesn’t matter where the evidence was at before the officer was handed it. It isn’t up to the officer or the detective to try to peer into the future to see if the evidence will hold up in court. The officer’s sole responsibility was to safeguard the evidence once it was handed to him. Evidence that could have contained the DNA of those sexual perverts who were abusing this child. Instead the officer tossed it into the trash and the child continued to be abused. The good guys failed, a child continued to be abused, again.
This occurred in November 2017, it would be six more months before officials from the New Mexico Attorney Generals office would get involved and remove the child from the home and arrest the parents for abuse. Six more months in a living hell that did not have to happen if CYFD and APD would have done their jobs.
When the parents were arrested and the failures of CYFD and APD exposed, the two departments chose completely different methods to explain what happened. CYFD accepted that they failed, opened an investigation and placed four employees on leave.
APD Chief Mike Geier and Mayor Tim Keller on the other hand went before the media and announced that their investigation into this matter was closed. That the officer and detective did not violate any policy or procedure. What!!!!!!!!
Keller stated to the Albuquerque Journal, “Based on the information they had at the time we have no reason to believe protocol wasn’t followed and procedure wasn’t followed.” This statement from Keller is simply unbelievable! The mayor must produce the protocols and procedures that allow bloody underwear (possible evidence of a sex crime) to be tossed into the trash and no follow up investigation be commenced. If they exist, they must be changed. If they don’t exist, then the lies must be corrected.
Keller’s response is even more unsettling when you realize that as State Auditor he exposed the thousands of untested rape kits that dated back decades. As mayor, Keller set in motion a plan to get Albuquerque police rape kits tested, although that plan doesn’t recognize there are not enough police detectives to follow up when a DNA hit is made. How can Keller recognize the importance of testing rape kits and then defend the purposeful destruction of potential rape evidence from a child’s bloodstained underwear? All of Albuquerque is waiting to hear Keller’s response.
Geier told the Albuquerque Journal that, “blood-stained underwear by itself was not a strong enough reason to cause further investigation beyond what the officer did that day.” Are you kidding me!
A police officer is handed bloody underwear that belongs to a small child, premenstrual age, and the chief of police doesn’t believe that is enough evidence to investigate the possible sexual abuse of this girl? As Santa Fe defense attorney John Daly told KOAT, “Ridiculous!”
If the chief of police doesn’t recognize a potential crime, what does that say about the police department as a whole? Are the officers being trained to recognize crimes? Or is the training emphasis on not getting sued? Or on giving the District Attorney a perfect case? Well perfect cases don’t exist and, in this case, APD might just get sued, for not taking the bloody underwear and protecting the child.
In 1999 APD investigated the disappearance of woman named Girly Hossencoft. In the days after her disappearance a New Mexico Department of Transportation worker was clearing a trash pile by the side of the road outside Magdalena. In this pile of trash, he spotted underwear and duct tape. He called police who tagged it into evidence and had it tested. Strands of hair in the underwear and tape matched Girly Hossencoft. The evidence was left in a pile of trash, on a roadside, for who knows how long. But that didn’t matter to the APD and NMSP detectives. They secured it and in doing so it helped to garner a guilty plea from Hossencofts’ killer. The court had no issues then, and I doubt they would have issues now.
After the lies told by Chief Eden and his staff regarding Victoria Martens no one should take APD’s word for anything. They lost our faith and they must work hard to earn it back. Outrageous comments like these from Keller and Geier have ruined any public trust they were building.
I won’t bore the reader with a lesson on search and seizure and the 4th Amendment. I will simply state that it does not matter where this evidence was located at before it was handed to the officer, it only matters that the officer handled it correctly once it was in his custody.
The mayor and chief are completely wrong when they state that the officer couldn’t take the bloody underwear because of search and seizure laws. They are completely wrong when they state any DNA evidence from the underwear would not hold up in court. And where they really have it wrong is, it’s not their job, nor an officers job, to worry about what may or may not hold up as evidence in a courtroom months or years down the road. That concern belongs solely to the District Attorney.
Since the mayor and chief have stated this evidence would not hold up in court, I am waiting for DA Raul Torres to chime in with his opinion. Raul they are dumping this in your lap. The courtroom is your venue. We need to hear from you.
Where is the city council? Most of the council was present for Omaree and Victoria murders. Your silence is killing Albuquerque. Someone on the city council needs to find the courage to step up to their role of leadership, politics be damned. Say something, do something.
It gravely concerns me that almost two years after Victoria was murdered, and now with the prostituted 7-year-old girl, none of the men / women who were paying to abuse them have been identified and charged. Why? Have investigators not been able to figure out who the people were that were raping these girls? Why? Investigators need to start identifying and charging these abusers. You can’t tell me that with all the available resources from the feds, state and local government investigators haven’t been able to identify some of these child rapists. We need to know why arrests are not being made.
It took APD many years of mismanagement to get to this point. Geier and Keller were doing a good job at bringing back public faith in a police department that had lost it through the misdeeds and lies of past command staff. There are lessons for Geier and Keller to learn. Will they?
First lesson is for Keller, how about camera shots of you working at your desk to fix APD and give the playing football, running track, playing firemen and riding your bike on Civic Plaza a break. Every minute of your spare time must be focused on APD and addressing the crime problem. When APD has 1,200 cops and crime is dramatically lower, I will gladly play football with you, or anything else you want to do. Until then, focus on fixing the problems in this city and cool it with the self-promotion.
For Geier and Keller, police officers are going to make mistakes, admit and accept that fact. Don’t whine about how hard it is to be an officer. Don’t complain that the media has it out for you. Don’t cover up. Don’t think for a minute the community doesn’t care, or that we are fools. And officers do not need to be hammered for every mistake. Figure out a way to teach and learn and make them better.
Albuquerque residents want to work alongside their police department, but they have to know they can trust the leadership of the department. That trust took a hit this week with silly excuses and explanations.
Keller and Geier should think about Omaree, Victoria and a little 7 year old girl being prostituted and ask themselves daily, how can we do to protect them. Because when the police don’t protect our children there is no one left.
The mayor and chief would do well to remember that they work for us, they work for the children of Albuquerque, and we are all watching and demanding better performance.
Dan Klein is a retired APD sergeant.