Bernalillo County District Attorney Kari Brandenburg fears for her safety because of her decision to charge two Albuquerque police officers with murder in the fatal shooting of homeless camper James Boyd last year, she told ABQ Free Press.
The DA said she’s been told by friendly APD officers that she’s a target of forces who want her out of office and punished for daring to challenge the police department.
In a wide-ranging interview, Brandenburg told ABQ Free Press that she knows who those forces are but isn’t yet willing to go public with their names and motives. But she says her fear is real.
“I fear for my safety because other Albuquerque Police Department officers have told me that I should,” Brandenburg said. “I don’t think they’re going to kill me, but I have been told to fear for my safety.”
Brandenburg has hinted that APD’s criminal investigation into allegations that she intimidated and bribed witnesses in connection with a burglary case involving her son are part of the wider attempt to intimidate and smear her.
But she does have allies in the police department. Those friendly officers have told Brandenburg about other problems in the department – revelations apparently so serious they’ve caused the four-term DA sleepless nights, she said.
Oddly, the APD move to leak the bribery and witness intimidation story may have turned Brandenburg from an official publicly perceived as complicit in APD’s culture of aggression into a victim of it.
“I have had people come to me and beg me for help to try to change things. They give me information that they otherwise wouldn’t have had I not been in this situation,” Brandenburg said. “That information doesn’t make me feel good when I go to sleep at night. That information doesn’t make me feel safe.”
There are other things about the leaders at the police department and at City Hall that trouble Brandenburg; they won’t communicate with her, she said.
“When I talk to the chief [Gorden Eden], it’s kind of odd saying that because I never talk [with him]. There is no communication going on with City Hall and the brass of the police department,” Brandenburg said. “Since the chief has been in office, he has not responded to any correspondence. I have not talked to him on the job.”
That lack of communication is remarkable considering two things: One is the U.S. Department of Justice probe of APD and the city’s effort to develop constitutional police practices, and the other is a New Mexico Supreme Court rule that took effect in February.
The rule change requires district judges to dismiss criminal cases if APD fails to share evidence with both the DA and defense attorneys within 10 days of an arrest. Because APD isn’t geared up to meet that deadline, criminal cases are being dismissed. While Brandenburg’s lawyers are working with lower-echelon APD officials on how to comply with the new rule, there have been no discussions between Brandenburg and Eden or his top commanders, she said.
Why isn’t Eden, who took office on Feb. 27, 2014, or anyone from the office of two-term Mayor Richard Berry talking to her?
“I don’t know that, and I would be speculating,” Brandenburg said. “They could not be communicating with me because I’m a suspect, but they didn’t communicate with me before, so I don’t know.”
But, in a way, Brandenburg said she knows. When asked if she’s troubled by that lack of communication, she replied cryptically: “They know that I know.”
When asked if the city’s chief administrative officer, Rob Perry, was responsible for sending the investigation regarding her son to the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office and leaking the material to a local morning newspaper, Brandenburg, a Democrat, said, “I can’t discuss that on tape; I have very specific information about that.”
But she offered insight into the alleged smear campaign. “I think they thought that would be it [and she’d resign] and they would have the DA’s office, and they would be able to manage all the decisions. It didn’t happen. If I had resigned, if they had run me out of office, who would be in office?”
Under New Mexico law, if a district attorney resigns or dies before his or her term of office ends, the governor appoints a successor. The current governor, as well as the mayor of Albuquerque, are Republicans.
Attorney General Hector Balderas, a Democrat, has yet to announce whether he’ll pursue charges against Brandenburg, but even if she’s cleared, the allegations have staggered the district attorney, a mother of four.
“In a nutshell, it’s the worst thing that has ever happened to me besides losing my daughter [of sudden infant death syndrome in 1987], Brandenburg said. “Integrity is everything, truth is everything. I take this role so seriously, and so to be accused of something that would compromise my integrity, even though I know that’s not true, it’s overwhelming. It’s like it negates everything I’ve done my whole life.”
While the allegations have struck Brandenburg to her core, she’s not about to quit or keep silent, she said. The allegation that she filed charges against the two officers – Keith Sandy and Dominque Perez – in retaliation for APD’s investigation into her and her son are baseless, she said.
In a quirk of history, Brandenburg’s father, Jim Brandenburg, who served as district attorney in the early 1970s, prosecuted a man who had shot Keith Sandy’s Albuquerque police officer father, she said.
“There was no retaliation. When they [the officers’ attorneys] filed that motion to conflict [disqualify the district attorney’s office from prosecuting the Sandy-Perez case], you know what we could have done? I could have dismissed it [the case against the officers], gone to a grand jury and ‘boom,’ done,” Brandenburg said.
A Bernalillo County District Court judge ruled on April 9 that Brandenburg’s office could not prosecute the case against Perez and Sandy because of the appearance of a conflict of interest. On April 16, Brandenburg named prominent Albuquerque civil rights attorney Randi McGinn as the special prosecutor in the case.
McGinn, a prominent civil rights lawyer and former assistant district attorney who once made a witness throw up during her cross-examination, took the Perez-Sandy case as an independent counsel for $5,400 plus expenses. McGinn has successfully sued APD in civil cases. She is married to New Mexico Supreme Court Justice Charles Daniels.