Monday, March 31, 2008

Feds wreck havoc with City Police then walk away.

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.


Anonymous said...

Sheriff Solano,

Very well put. As a lawyer in Santa Fe who worked with Sgt. Altonji and Detective Ramirez as both a former Assistant District Attorney and as a defense attorney, I have always held them both in high regard. The way that this was handled - from the media leaks to the extensive indictments and now, the acknowledgment that there was no evidence, has certainly harmed these men, the Police Department, and the City.

Thanks for your post.

Victor Lioce said...

Sheriff Solano:

I know Steve Altonji very well, as well as his dad and the rest of his family. I also know the sustained hardship it put both him and his children through over the past year. I wholeheartedly concur with you that our congressional delegation should investigate the handlings of this case by the FBI. Santa Fe is losing a good citizen, and a good police officer. Steve has decided to move back to his extended family because he doesn't have a choice. First they blame him, expose him while he worked under cover and then left him in a position to be harrassed and threatened by the very criminals he was trying to put behind bars to make our town better. And the thanks he gets is don't be a cop here any longer and while you're at it, get out of town. It sure doesn't leave the FBI in high opinion with me and a lot of other folks as well.

Anonymous said...

I would just like to say that Danny Ramirez should have gone to prison for the crime he has made. As part of his family, I am ashamed for what he has done, and can only hope his daughters will move on from this. Please forgive me if this seems rude or unprofessional, but again, as a member of that family, I am just disgusted with this action.

Anonymous said...

Are you crazy! If I was a law enforcement office and was not guilty no way in hell would I ever agree to plead guilty to anything nor would I let them take my career. Unless I was guilty of something! I would fight with my last breath! Did you ever think that maybe the Fed government dropped the changes because Santa police Depts. did not assist with the investigation? Nor cooperate or help in any way maybe they just like the corruption. If a law enforcement office commits a crime they should do double the time. Law enforcement office should set the example of honestly, loyalty, and integrity. They got off easy! They all should have done time. Do you really think the fed government has nothing better to do then arrest innocent law enforcement office? Get real!

Anonymous said...

Havoc! I believe the Santa Fe Police did that too themselves! I wish the Feds would dig deeper. I have lived in Santa Fe along time and I know that there is major corruption! Do you want all the bad police to be caught? Or do you just want the corruption to continue?