Monday, August 19, 2013
Mary Han Mystery Enters Political Arena: AG King's Findings Impact Guv Campaign; King's Surprise Reinvigorates Sleepy Effort, Plus: Jeff Vs. Susana For Guv? Let's Talk About That One
Yep. That Gary King.
The laid back and soft spoken AG surprised nearly everyone by roaring into Campaign '14 Friday with this news:
The attorney general issued a scathing critique of the Albuquerque Police Department over its finding that a high-profile civil rights attorney committed suicide, saying the death scene was "terribly mishandled." The mysterious death of Mary Han in November 2010 has been the source of controversy in New Mexico ever since Albuquerque police quickly ruled it a suicide.
Han was a vocal adversary of the police department and her family believes officers failed to look at other explanations for the feisty lawyer's death after she was found dead in the driver's seat of her BMW inside her garage. Attorney General King said his review of the case found the evidence fails to definitively indicate she took her own life. He said the real cause of death may never be determined because of the "puzzling police investigation."
That was more than enough for King to end up on all the TV nets, not a usual occurrence for him. And it also provoked the ABQ city attorney's office into implying that King was making a political play not a legal one, calling his critical report of APD "highly suspicious." In other words, they think he is playing politics.
But the problem for Mr. & Mrs. Albuquerque is not who is playing--but who's paying. The King report is going to be fodder for Mary Han's family as they seek damages from the city for what appears to be a very botched investigation.
Han was a tough lawyer who won millions in lawsuit settlements against the city and APD for official wrongdoing.
The Han death scene is now widely seen as a disgrace to law enforcement, with then-ABQ Public Safety Officer Darren White and then-APD Chief Schultz failing to secure the scene and allowing a ghoulish mess to develop.
Han's cadaver was removed from her car, laid on the garage floor and viewed and photographed by an array of law enforcement and city staff. An astounding 26 officers and others were reported to have been at the scene.
Among them was Han's law partner Paul Kennedy who was the one who found her dead. APD has been chastised for allowing Kennedy to leave the scene with Han's cell phone and laptap computer.
If Mary didn't kill herself, she died as the result of an accident or was murdered. King is doing his best to give her some justice. The "terribly mishandled" scene courtesy of Messrs. Schultz and White makes achieving complete justice more than elusive.
BANKING ON BANKS
Mayor Berry is now being prodded by some to make Banks the permanent chief of the troubled department. But Banks' insistence that nothing went wrong with the Han probe is going to be viewed by APD critics as more evidence that a a chief from outside the city is needed to clean up the soiled department culture.
What would Chief Banks do differently than Chief Schultz? That's the question and Banks' response to the AG's Han finding indicates the answer is nothing much.
By the way, Chief Banks, the AG says he considers the Han investigation to be an "open, ongoing investigation." Rather than whining that the AG didn't call you, why aren't you calling him asking to help him find the truth? And telling him what you saw when you were at that scene? Isn't that what officers of the law are supposed to do? Please, US Justice Department, help us out here.
(And we're sure the local law enforcement folks (and current and former district attorneys) know enough to stay off the NCIC computers when they get upset and are looking for info on their foes. That, of course, is against the law.)
KING VS. LOPEZ
Now back to the politics of all this. King's bombshell announcement that Mary Han may not have killed herself as previously ruled by the medical investigator also shook some of the ground under the sleepy ABQ mayor's race.
It again turns the spotlight back on APD which is the target of a federal civil rights investigation because of numerous police shootings--many that resulted in death--that plagued the city during the first half of Mayor Berry's term.
Dem Pete Dinelli--Berry's main challenger--is a former ABQ Public Safety Officer--the same job White had before Berry was forced to bounce him out. Don't be surprised to see Dinelli now devote a line or two of his stump speech to Mary's mysterious death....
As for the Guv's race, the report was a breath of life for King's heretofore moribund campaign. It was getting so bad for him among political insiders that State Senator Linda Lopez--also chasing the Dem nomination--was starting to pick up support just for showing up.
The Han report showed the Dems--and the Republican Governor--that King is still capable of making the big move. He dropped his bomb right in the middle of a mayoral campaign, giving rise to that snarky comment by the city attorney's office, but there's no denying it was a deft move for the AG.
JEFF AND SUSANA
Well, we don't have any polling to back our case among the current congressional delegation, but we do have some polling on a former member--retired Dem US Senator Jeff Bingaman. One of our Alligators tell us a recent labor union poll here shows Jeff beating Susana in every corner of the state--including the conservative south--to take a 10 point lead over her for the Guv's chair.
Jeff served 30 years in the Senate, turns 70 in October and has no intention of running again for political office. But if he ever did, the betting windows would be lined up with confident Dems and skeptical R's anxious to get a piece of that action....
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(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2013. Not for reproduction without permission of the author