Prosecutor investigated amid police shootings

AP News
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Posted: Dec 08, 2014 6:20 PM
Prosecutor investigated amid police shootings

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A New Mexico district attorney who has faced scrutiny for not prosecuting officers linked to Albuquerque police shootings said Monday she is being investigated as part of a bribery case.

The disclosure by Bernalillo County District Attorney Kari Brandenburg creates even more uncertainty as the city tries to overhaul its police force.

Brandenburg said she learned that she was being investigated by Albuquerque police after a reporter contacted her last week.

Citing police documents, the Albuquerque Journal has reported that Brandenburg is suspected of reimbursing burglary victims to protect her son, 26-year-old Justin Koch, who has been implicated in the theft cases.

The newspaper said Brandenburg contacted victims in two burglaries and a larceny case.

In the documents, Detective David Nix said police had been investigating Brandenburg for the past year and believed there was probable cause for felony charges against her.

At a hastily arranged news conference, Brandenburg said she never broke any laws but declined to comment directly when asked if she offered burglary victims any money.

"That act would be illegal and I said I did not, absolutely, without any hesitation, doubt or question commit any criminal offense," she said. "I did not do anything wrong."

Brandenburg also said she has not seen any of the police reports.

Brandenburg said she's never deviated from acting ethically and morally while in office. She said her son is a drug addict who has had a number of run-ins with the law but she has never interfered with his cases.

Court records show he faces shoplifting and larceny charges, but it was unclear if those allegations were involved in the bribery probe.

Brandenburg said her son is currently in jail.

"Tough love is my practice," she said. "His only hope for recovery is hitting rock bottom and pulling himself out of this."

Albuquerque police spokesman Tanner Tixier said the department conducted a fair probe and submitted the results to the state attorney general's office for a decision on possible charges.

"We stand by the thoroughness of the investigation," Tixier said.

Phil Sisneros, a spokesman for the attorney general's office, declined to comment.

A handful of protesters demonstrated Monday in downtown Albuquerque and called for Brandenburg to step down.

For months, Brandenburg has faced criticism for failing to prosecute officers linked to any of the more than 40 Albuquerque police shootings since 2010. Brandenburg has said she was personally reviewing the March police shooting of homeless camper James Boyd.

The 38-year-old Boyd was fatally shot in the foothills of the Sandia Mountains during an hours-long standoff with Albuquerque police. Video from an officer's helmet camera showed police fired on Boyd, who had struggled with mental illness, as he appeared to be preparing to surrender.

Days later, a demonstration over the shooting turned violent, leading police to use tear gas on protesters. The U.S. Justice Department then released a harsh report faulting Albuquerque police over excessive force.

The city and the Justice Department recently signed an agreement to overhaul the police agency.

Brandenburg, a Democrat who was elected in 2000, said she would continue with her duties despite the pending bribery investigation. "I said it is business as usual," Brandenburg said.

However, she said her office might evaluate whether she should recuse herself if it finds probable cause to prosecute any officer in the Boyd case.

David Correia, a police critic and American Studies professor at the University of New Mexico, said Brandenburg should remove herself from the Boyd case and others involving police shootings in case police are trying to manipulate her actions through the bribery investigation.

"Kari Brandenburg has always sided with APD on justice," Correia said. "So, I wouldn't put it past APD that they did this to send a message."

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Follow Russell Contreras at http://twitter.com/russcontreras.