Monday, August 01, 2011

Vindication Or White Wash? Report Sides With Darren, But It Is Far From Last Word; A Legal Beagle Analysis, Plus: Balderas Goes For Gay Marriage 

ABQ City Council
If the headline writers delivered verdicts ex-ABQ Public Safety Director Darren White would be off the hook. Following the Friday release of the independent review officer's report on the auto accident involving White's wife, the headlines blazed with news of Darren's "exoneration." They screamed that he "didn't interfere" at the scene of that infamous July 6 one car accident involving Mrs. White and her black Porsche. But there are sure to be another round of headlines on this ongoing story and they are unlikely to be as favorable.

The IRO report (complete copy here.) was immediately branded incomplete by the skeptics and a "white wash" by sterner critics. White, of course, claimed victory. He said the report, which asserted he did not use his powerful position to interfere with a criminal investigation, vindicated him. He then dismissed his recent forced resignation as a political event based on misinformation. But was it?

The IRO report, authored by retired Federal magistrate William Deaton, threw officer Al Walck under the bus. It said White's wife was clearly out of it and should have been tested for alcohol and drug abuse. But even though Deaton says Walck and other emergency responders were intimidated by White's presence at the scene, he concludes that that intimidation did not play a role in the failure to pursue the needed tests. In other words, it was Walck's fault. The report promises disciplinary action--not against White--but Walck.

The report drew this harsh assessment from a law enforcement source:

It is a cover up and it is the dumbest thing the (Mayor) Berry administration could have done. Now Walck will sue the city and everyone involved. Isn't it convenient that Darren White didn't testify? There are tapes and videos and the IRO purposefully directed questioning away from those issues, but with Walck's lawsuits that will all become public information. You can expect documents, tapes and videos to start popping up all over the place.

The report says everyone on the accident scene felt intimidated by Darren White being there. Of course, AFD and APD personnel did everything they could not to be the "one" who made sure Darren's wife was arrested. That's what people do when they are afraid their boss will seek vengeance on them for having his wife arrested. Darren White repeatedly stated he didn't drive lights and sirens to or from the scene but that was proven to be untrue. And, he doesn't even testify?

They just started a fight that is going to destroy City Hall.

We don't know about destroying City Hall, but the City Council meets today and is expected to give final approval to having the city's inspector general look at the controversial case. The argument being that Judge Deaton is a member of the executive branch and a truly independent probe is needed to get at the full truth. Deaton's report did nothing to change that perception.

As for videos and documents, we have not independently confirmed their existence, but if there are any, look out for more controversy.

And then there's that promised lawsuit from Officer Walck. That's not going away no matter what the legislative or executive branches of city government do.


A web site put up by a group of ABQ firemen came with a blow-by-blow critique of the Deaton report which seems to lay the groundwork for the Inspector General to explore the many questions left unanswered.


Darren White
We put one of our senior Legal Beagles to work on the IRO report and they came with this exclusive analysis of the Deaton report:

The released portion of the IRO report is an amazing exercise in "mental gymnastics" and will raise more questions than answers.

--The investigation found that the police officer did not do his job and violated police procedure by not administering a field sobriety test or calling for a drug recognition expert when there was an "overwhelming amount of evidence that was presented" of impairment. Then why did APD Chief Schulz say at a news conference there was no probable cause to make an arrest and the Administration attempted to keep the press from reporting, saying there was no story?

--The IRO report finds that the paramedics and police were intimidated by Darren White's presence. The IRO report finds that White merely violated City policy and procedure by improperly using a City vehicle's emergency lights and equipment. The paramedics were "intimidated" by White's presence at the scene but that they were still able to do their jobs because he did "not throw his weight around?" Really?

--If the woman was so impaired, why was White allowed to make the decision to take his wife to the hospital, rather than the paramedic unit demanding that they take her there?

--White arrived at the scene in a city vehicle and with emergency equipment engaged, therefore he was acting in an official capacity and not just as a concerned husband or citizen. White's mere physical presence at the scene and how he got there and then not allowing his wife to be taken to the hospital by the paramedics or ambulance were acts the IRO could have found to be interference and intimidation. What you have is an appearance of impropriety and undue influence.

--The IRO report makes an outlandish conclusion. He says that because the investigating officer asked, "What makes you think I am not going to charge her?" and "Do I need to call a drug recognition expert?" and asserted it was "his scene" that these statements somehow indicate that the officer was not intimidated to handle the case differently than usual.

--The IRO report finds that the Deputy Chief Beth Paiz did nothing wrong even though as Deputy of Field Services she did not know what violates HIPPAA (Federal privacy regulations) in police reports.

--Who ordered or threatened an Internal Affairs Investigation of the officer? Now the police officer may be disciplined for failure to conduct a field sobriety test and turning his report in late.

--The main point: The IRO gave Darren White and Deputy Chief Paiz a pass and came down hard on an experienced patrol officer for not doing his job. There is a clear need for an investigation by the City's Inspector General. The IRO report does not pass the "smell test."

Now there's a Legal Beagle who knows how to sniff out a case.


On another level, we've heard complaints like this stemming from White's presence at the scene of his wife's accident:

If it was Hispanic Democrats pulling this crap--like former Mayor Chavez and his Hispanic police chief-- instead of Mayor Berry, White, Schultz and Chief Administrative Officer Rob Perry, the Republican Party would be screaming 'bloody murder' and yelling about what a corrupt banana republic New Mexico is. I guess as long as the "right" sort of people are doing it, it's okay.


There is not much upside for Deaton here. His long legal career is coming to an end and this may be what he's remembered for. That he came with a report with so many holes does not help his legacy.

A reader dubbing themselves "Curious in ABQ" comes with this:

--If Deaton was concerned about the ethics of his position and being completely and honestly ‘independent’--why did he not recuse himself from any action as to the White ‘scandal’ to insure that a totally and unequivocally independent person was chosen to investigate? This would assure the public as to the integrity of the position of ‘Independent’ review officer.

--Why was there a 'proverbial ‘rush to judgment’ by Deaton as to get his ‘report’ in before Monday’s City Council meeting ?

--Why did White claim to be ‘exonerated’ when all that happened was that a report was issued by a very questionable party--Deaton--when there is no conclusive evidence as to either exoneration or guiltiness in that report?

--What qualifications--other then political connections--make Deaton eligible or trained as an ‘investigator’ as to police matters? Judging and policing are apples to oranges...

In the aftermath of the report's release, the charge that Deaton, a Democrat, was beholden to the GOP consulting machine that has ensnared Mayor Berry immediately resurfaced. His wife is retired Republican Judge Geraldine Rivera who swore Berry into office in December 2009. She is well-acquainted with the machine and its components, including Darren.

Deaton's report was released to the public by email.


White is trying to stay on the offensive, saying he plans to file "state and federal complaints" over his wife's medical information being released to the public. Insiders wonder if he will get a settlement. That would be kind of ironic after the millions the city has paid out over police shootings under Darren's watch.

If the city's IG inspector comes with a substantial report we could still see criminal charges involving the case. And then there's that promised lawsuit from police officer Walck that is going to keep Darren occupied.

He may be sounding like he is on the offensive, even refusing to rule out a future run for political office, but Darren's days ahead are filled with defense.


Here's a development worth nothing. Dem US senate candidate Hector Balderas has announced he supports gay marriage. That will win him favor with many Democrats, but not all of them. Balderas has been courting Hispanic Dems, most of them Catholic, and that group, according to polls, remains opposed to gay marriage.

There was speculation that Balderas, who polls show is doing best against opponent Martin Heinrich with conservative and moderate Democrats, would shy away from a pro-gay marriage stance. That he didn't shows he is ready to do more romancing of the party's liberal wing which in the early going has lined up behind Martin.


Dianna Duran continues to play defense over her decision to launch a massive investigation into alleged voter fraud in the state. The LA Times took a look...

And then there's Governor Martinez's decision to have 10,000 undocumented immigrants who have state driver's licenses come to ABQ to prove they are still living in the state. That promises to create a bureaucratic mess, never mind the issue of forcing people to drive 300 miles to ABQ. And what if mistakes are made with these "random checks?" Well, look for the lawyers and the lawsuits and a bill for the taxpayers. Don't say we didn't tell you...

On another front, here's a long-form interview of state education secretary (designate) Hanna Skandera. She sat down with KOB-TV's Nicole Brady for Sunday's Eye on New Mexico. Skandera shied away from the dreary partisanship that has surrounded so much of the public debate here recently (i.e. driver's licenses for illegals etc.). Instead, she adopted the role of cheerleader and brought optimism and bipartisanship to the table. She said she senses some momentum in the state for real education progress. Setting the right tone can't hurt...

This is the home of New Mexico politics.

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