ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The circumstances that led to the release of a repeat offender who authorities say went on to kill a police officer will be part of an inquiry being launched by New Mexico's top prosecutor.
Attorney General Hector Balderas this week will summon about a dozen criminal justice and social service providers who came in contact with 28-year-old Andrew Romero. The goal is to review Romero's case, which has created waves throughout the state's justice system as people look for answers as to why the convicted felon was not behind bars.
"The justice system failed, and that is not acceptable to police officers or the community they protect," Balderas said in a statement released Monday. "There are 100 other potential Andrew Romeros out there right now in New Mexico, and we must identify opportunities for prevention and intervention by agencies and service providers or we will continue to experience these tragedies in New Mexico."
Prosecutors have charged Romero with first-degree murder and several other counts in the Memorial Day shooting that killed Rio Rancho police officer Gregg "Nigel" Benner.
Romero, who is being held in lieu of $5 million bond, has yet to enter a plea. Court records show he was scheduled for a preliminary examination Tuesday and grand jury proceedings were expected to begin later this week.
"We haven't even seen an indictment yet so it's difficult to comment on the case," said Stephen Taylor, Romero's public defender.
Romero, who has a lengthy criminal history that includes a manslaughter conviction, was put on probation when he could have received more jail time for possessing illegal drugs, a stolen car and a weapon.
At the time of Benner's shooting, Romero was wanted an outstanding warrant for probation violations. Authorities say he skipped out from participating in a court-ordered drug treatment program.
Police have said Romero also was suspected in a string of gas station armed robberies.
Romero's case and the death of the police officer have sparked outrage throughout the community.
Those who are being called together by Balderas' office include the district attorney's office for the state's largest judicial district, Albuquerque-area law enforcement agencies, state corrections and probation officials, the state's child welfare agency and public education officials.
Balderas said he wants to know where the system broke down and why so officials can begin to address the gaps.
Authorities have said Benner, an Air Force veteran and a four-year member of the police force, was shot at the end of his shift on May 25 after he tried to pull over a vehicle in which Romero was a passenger. Court documents allege that Romero was in Rio Rancho looking for potential targets to rob.
Information from: Albuquerque Journal, http://www.abqjournal.com