On Friday Night I received several calls letting me know that the federal govenment had dropped all charges against former Santa Fe police detective-sergeant Steve Altonji. As I spoke to several individuals involved either peripherally or some what directly over the weekend I can't help but wonder what the federal government was thinking. In May of 2007 The F.B.I. filed charges and searched the homes of two of Santa Fe City Police Detectives. There was a number of leaks of information in the weeks leading up to the charges as well as afterwards regarding the case. The F.B.I. seemed to have no trouble leaking information to the press yet would not release information to the agency heads at the City Police Department. The Police Chief, not knowing for sure who was involved and how strong the case was had no choice but to suspend narcotics investigations in the city.
This created an increase in narcotics and burglary cases that plagued the city and stretched out into the county and even surrounding counties. We all had to deal with the repocutions of these cases. So the federal government comes in, spreads around huge allegations. They file 24 felony counts against these detectives, and refuses to cooperate with agency heads allowing them to make informed decisions regarding the agency they head. Then a year later they drop all but one count against one detective and work out a deal with the other in which he agrees to not be a cop in New Mexico and they just walk away. Considering that the federal government already filed a motion in court which says they do not have enough evidence to prosecute these cases, what was their bargaining chip and what is the hammer they hold over the head of Steve Altonjie to make him give up his career as a cop in New Mexico? The only thing they possibly had was the fact that Steve probably wanted to just end the whole thing and make it all go away. So he agrees to give up his career in New Mexico as an officer.
The truth probably is, What Career? With their slash and burn tactics the feds had already ruined the careers of these two detectives and even when you look at the one charge that Detective Danny Ramirez plead guilty for, and his explanation verses the federal governments explanation, there is still much to suspect about whether Detective Rameriz was really guilty of anything. I have to admit when I first read the indictments (read them here) the purported evidence seemed insurmountable. But the truth seems to be that the federal government threw together a bunch of circumstantial evidence and filed the cases in court before anything could be proven. This is very amateurish in the sense of what a good prosecutor and law enforcement agency should do and seems to have been designed to put enormous pressure on the two detectives to just take the easy way out and plead guilty to something rather than face the costs and pressure of going to court.
This is not the way our system of justice is supposed to work. When charges are filed you should have enough evidence to present a case to a jury. Granted their is always extra work that may need to be done prior to trial but you do not file charges and hope the defendant takes a plea and you don't ever have to prove your case. I am embarrassed by the way this was handled. The Federal Government has come into Santa Fe, blew through the City Police Department like a tornado, left the city to pick up the pieces and walked away. Someone in the federal government should have to answer to the way these cases were handled. I call on our congressional representatives to look into this matter and see who dropped the ball and hold them accountable.
If these detectives were guilty the public deserves to have them held accountable. If they were innocent they are owed their lives and their careers back.