In today's Albuquerque Journal North there was a story about a tape (subscription required) which the F.B.I. released to the Santa Fe Police Department approximately two years ago. In the tape Chief Eric Johnson and his brother, Capt. Gary Johnson are searching a hotel room during a 2003 drug investigation. According to the story written by Vic Vela and Kiera Hay City Councilor Patti Bushee wants the tape released now that the internal investigation is complete. Rumors have been swirling in regards to bad blood between City Police and City Councilor Patti Bushee.
The disagreements came to a head weeks ago during an incident in which Bushee criticized Santa Fe Police for disciplinary action to be taken against an officer who refused to remove beads given to her during a gay pride parade by Councilor Bushee.
According to leaked information which has been coming out little by little over the last year, the tape reportedly shows money was planted in the room by the FBI. The Johnson's entered the room after being let in by hotel personnel, saw the cash and left. I have heard that the room was under surveillance for some time by city police and that the room was only entered after it was believed that it had been vacated by who ever was believed to be in the room and was reportedly using the room for drug sales. The article in the Albuquerque Journal quotes two lawyers who state that the search could have been in violation of the supposed occupants civil rights. If as I have heard, the room was believed to have been vacated then the rights to privacy by the previous occupants may not be valid.
The real interesting thing is that in 2004 the F.B.I. did the exact same thing in Ramsey County MN. The F.B.I. in what they called an "integrity test" placed $13,500 in a hotel room wired with a video camera. The FBI had a drug dealer call a Deputy and tell him a drug dealer named "Vinnie" had left drugs and money in a room at the Best Western Kelly Inn in St. Paul. Three deputies went into the room and two of them with out the knowledge of the third removed half the money and placed it into the trunk of their car. Later when the began to suspect the whole deal was a set up they returned the money claiming they took it as part of a joke they were playing on the third deputy.
Unlike the Santa Fe case the U.S. Attorney prosecuted the two deputies and on Wednesday August 27, 2008 the two were found guilty and face 20 years in prison for the incident. The important contrast to the Santa Fe Case is the fact that the U.S. Attorney prosecuted the deputies. The fact that no prosecution occurred in the Santa Fe case is clue number one that nothing illegal occurred. The F.B.I. has the ability and in fact is charged with prosecuting civil rights violations by police. If a civil rights violation or a criminal theft had occurred then the F.B.I. and the U.S. Attorney had a responsibility to prosecute.
I have been critical of the F.B.I. and the recent investigations of the City Police in the past and I still feel there was mishandling of this case as well. The F.B.I. had the tape and information on this case for years and only turned over the tape and began leaking information about the tapes existence during their botched investigation of City Officers in an apparent case of drug money theft. The leaks in my opinion were designed to put increased pressure on the City Police and its Chief. 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 Department not knowing how far reaching the cases were put a halt to all narcotics investigations.
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 repercussions of these cases. So the federal government came in, spread around huge allegations. They filed 24 felony counts against two city detectives, and refused 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.
I hope that the release of the tape regarding Chief Eric Johnson and his brother, Capt. Gary Johnson will finally put an end to all of this era of the F.B.I. tearing down the City Police and that the City Police will continue to move forward. I have confidence in the current administration at the City Police and until I am shown evidence to believe otherwise I will continue to support them. I also have supported Councilor Patti Bushee for many years going all the way back to her initial appointment by then Mayor Debbie Jaramillo to fill her council seat. I consider her a friend and for the most part an excellent city councilor. I do feel that she and other city councilors are getting too involved in personnel issues of late and need to allow city staff to do their job. The interference of City Councilors in personnel issues is creating more problems than can ever be solved by their involvement.