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Thursday, July 14, 2011

Days Of Darren: But How Many More Of Them? Wheels Turn At City Council As Crisis Of Confidence Envelops Mayor Berry's Government 

ABQ Journal (Thompson)
The crisis of confidence in ABQ city government continues to spin like a fast moving tornado, with the Mayor of the state's largest city continuing to stand by beleaguered and bunkered Public Safety Director Darren White. Tentative steps to fill the power vaccuum are being taken by the nine member city council. A move to launch a council investigation of White's actions over a one-car accident involving his wife appears to have momentum. That could put pressure on White and Mayor Berry to give up the fight and have White resign.

Republican City Council President Don Harris is seeking bipartisan support for an independent probe conducted by an out-of-state investigator with no ties to La Politica. The four Democrats are sure to go along, but Harris needs some of his fellow R's to come aboard. GOP Councilors Lewis and Winter are seen as most likely.

Separately, Democratic Councilors Sanchez and O'Malley have called for White to be placed on administrative leave while the investigation into his wife's auto accident continues.

Mayor Berry has instructed the city's Independent Review Officer to investigate the case, but because White is the city's chief law enforcement officer, getting a truly independent investigation from the executive branch is a bipartisan concern.

Getting at least six councilors to commit to a council approved probe could be important down the road. If the council made a move to force White out by defunding his position, it would take six votes to override a mayoral veto. Signing up six councilors to the probe--the four Dems and at least two R's--would send a clear political message to the 11th Floor that the balance of power on White has shifted.

But no one wants to go to war over this. The consensus is that there is more than enough reasons already on the record for White to resign. It would stop the bleeding of power from the Mayor's office and begin the process of restoring confidence in city government. Investigations could go on for months, replete with controversy and recrimination, further crippling the administration of the key public safety agencies. Councilors prefer a peaceable end.

Berry issued a statement on the controversy Monday night announcing the investigation by the independent review officer, but has been quiet since. The press has not asked him his current thinking on the White crisis and he has not offered any.

Hovering in the background is the prospect of further political bloodshed---slow and excruciating. Will the Bernalillo County District Attorney investigate and put a prospective criminal indictment of White on the table? Will the relationship between White and ABQ Police Chief Ray Schultz begin to deteriorate as everyone heads to their respective bunkers? Crises like these have been known to end with the players forming a circle and shooting themselves.

The vital police and fire departments--the agencies that receive the most city tax dollars and whose stability and integrity is of most concern--could become pawns in a high-stakes power game. Not good.

White deserves his day in court, but he has to be aware that above all his is a political position and resignation is a political solution. The longer his problems remain the central focus of ABQ government, the longer the city operates under his shadow. The paralysis is bad for this mayoralty, it is bad for business and it is bad for the democratic process in ABQ.

The selfless decision is to get out, but if White, Berry and CAO Rob Perry want to go to the mattresses in the months ahead, they will get the war they want. The Albuquerque public will give its strength to the branch of government it believes is most deserving.

But if we do go forward into more days of controversy, investigations, spin doctoring and City Hall infighting, the mayor and council will need to ask themselves a very simple question: Why? Why are we doing this to ourselves and our wonderful city?

Why?

DATELINE DARREN

The developments continue in the story that is now sucking all the oxygen out of City Hall and its environs--last Wednesday's one-car accident involving the wife of ABQ Public Safety Director Darren White and his subsequent and controversial intervention in that accident.

The 911 call to the fire department was released and the citizen who phoned in repeatedly described Kathy White, who smashed her black, late-model Porsche into a curb "as out of it." The complete audio is here. That again raised questions why law enforcement did not give her a field sobriety test. Mrs. White called Darren White to the scene where he says he spent half an hour. What happened during that time period is critical and the responding officer has now lawyered up. How's that for the plot thickening?

On the political front, Mayor Berry has gone into his bunker and his spokesman has gotten snarky with the media, including the ABQ Journal who he stiff-armed on one of their phone inquiries. Previously, KOAT was told to take a hike and Wednesday night KRQE-TV was told the city would no longer comment on the White story.

(A report from KRQE-TV's Katie Kim called into question the usefulness of the drug test Darren White arranged for his wife when he took her from the scene of the accident without being tested for DWI:

News 13 has learned that Kathleen may not have been tested for Lamictal, the drug she admitted to taking. Pharmacists said the main side effects of the drug are blurred vision, dizziness, drowsiness and a lack of coordination. There are strong warnings against driving while taking Lamictal.

We contacted five pharmacists who all told us that Lamictal does not fall in the categories of drugs for which the hospital tested her....)

We've never found arguing with people who use ink by the barrel or who beam images into hundreds of thousands of living rooms each night is an especially sophisticated or very productive public relations strategy. But we don't seem to have many PR pros any more, but young folks who seem to have chips on their shoulders and believe their purpose is to not provide but deprive the public of information.

THE OTHER REPORT

The newspaper came with an update in which White refuses to release a copy of a fire department report completed after the crash:

After speaking with paramedics at the scene of a crash involving the wife of city Public Safety boss Darren White, an APD officer raised the possibility of bringing in an expert trained to recognize drug use, according to that officer’s report.

Officer Ylaine Hetes, the second officer on the scene, wrote that an Albuquerque Fire Department paramedic had noted that Kathleen White “was unusual” and that her “pupils were constricted indicating possible opiates.” White on Tuesday refused to release a copy of the AFD report that paramedics completed after the crash, saying it contained confidential medical information.

Now to what has been a bulging email bag on this story....

LEGAL BEAGLE CORNER

The Legal Beagles continue to help us cover the White story which might be taking on the characteristics of the Thaddeus Lucero saga. He's the former Bernalillo County Manager who died a political death of a thousand cuts and was forced to resign. Here's our Beagle:

Joe, I practice in the area of DWI defense and also used to prosecute DWI cases. If anyone mentions using prescription drugs at the scene of a one car accident they are at least initially detained to perform field sobriety testing and usually end up either in handcuffs or a cop takes you to jail from the hospital after you are medically cleared. That is the law of the jungle here in ABQ. And that call is made long before any blood test results are known. The lab results come many weeks later. Then and only then when the case is out of the police influence and in the hands of the district attorney is there a chance that the charges could go away. If the lab finds drugs it's full steam ahead with a prosecution and if they don't the DA will toss the case.

This private lab testing that was conducted in the Kathy White case stinks to high heaven. We don't know what the lab was ordered to look for. We don't know their method, we don't know when blood was drawn or how it was preserved.

(KRQE reported:
Kathleen was tested for amphetamines, barbiturates, benzodiazepines, cocaine, methadone, opiates, propoxyphene and THC, according to medical records.)

The folks at the toxicology department of the Scientific Laboratory Division of the Dept. of Health. do all the blood tests under the NM Implied Consent Act. They can tell you that the timing of a blood test is important because some substances metabolize very quickly. Five hours after an accident--as is reported to have happened in this case--is a joke. The law requires a three hour window or the results are inadmissible in court.

They can also tell you whether the specific substances found in her blood are metabolites of other drugs that carry driving warnings on the bottles. A drug does not have to be a narcotic to expose you to criminal liability. Our law says driving under the influence of any drug is DUI.

When attorney Ron Bell was arrested for driving under the influence of a prescription drug, the probable cause was his driving erratically. Chief Schultz claims that White's wife was not arrested as there was "no probable cause," but she wrecked her car. They threw the book at Ron and other citizens, but if you are a member of Mayor Barry's inner circle, you get a pass.


Take a look at Mrs. White's drug test. It was admitted at a lab of their choice, a choice we as citizens don't get. And unlike Bell who had his blood drawn, she took a urinalysis. Also, the test results reported that it was within tolerances, but does not state what tolerance they are referring to. It does not say "negative" or what drugs she was on. The whole thing stinks.


Yes, the Legal Beagles are barking loudly.


WHITEWASH OR WITCH HUNT?

A reader writes:

Joe, It looks to me you are on a witch hunt regarding Mr. White. I have read all this and have concluded any reasonable person would have done the same thing....

Come on. The story has been on the front pages and TV news screens all week. This is news, not a witch hunt. It's about the possible abuse of police power at the highest levels of our local government and trying to keeping in check any future abuse. That is a fundamental American principle. If that's "witch hunting," give us a broom.

By the way, we will give Mr. White or Mayor Berry this forum to rebut anything said here at anytime.


SUSPEND HIM?

From Dem activist Ellen Wedum in Cloudcroft:

(The Journal reports the hospital drug tests were conducted about "five hours" after the crash.)

A five-hour gap is totally unacceptable. His wife's stomach could have been pumped and she could have drunk a gallon of coffee in that time. White should be charged with obstruction of justice and suspended immediately.

It's been a while, but Representative Mimi Stewart
was arrested in 1999 when she parked at the side of the road after after a Cinco de Mayo party and passed out. She pled guilty to drunken driving, took her medicine. She wasn't even driving and was not in an accident, but got caught on a technicality.

Well, you need evidence for an obstruction of justice charge. Let's see what comes.

White's defenders may call all of of this a tempest in a teapot, but we see strong winds buffeting City Hall in the days that follow. Grab your windbreaker, Mayor Berry. You're going to need it.

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