Tabitha Clay is an investigative journalist with a focus on criminal justice and policing. She previously reported for the Rio Grande Sun.

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Editor’s note: This article is one in a series of stories about the Law Enforcement Academy (LEA), its scope and practices and how they serve — or don’t serve — the people of New Mexico. Database reporting derived from LEA records and documents obtained by FOIA requests were used in this series.

New Mexico’s Law Enforcement Academy Board claims it has limited authority to revoke or suspend an officer based solely on excessive force. The board, which is tasked with overseeing the licensure of the state’s cops, has dismissed multiple cases for “lack of evidence the respondent violated a board rule.”

Now, some of those cops are out on the streets and they are killing people.

Ricardo Delgado was a Roswell Police Department officer when his supervisor said he used unnecessary and excessive force, throwing a handcuffed woman to the ground and holding her there with his knee on her neck for about 3 minutes. His actions were reported to the LEAB by the Roswell Police Department.

According to documents The Paper. received from the Law Enforcement Academy, Delgado arrested a woman on May 23, 2020 in Roswell.  He had already brought her to the police department and completed the paperwork for her arrest when he asked her to have a seat in the back of his patrol car. As she was getting into the car, she kicked him near the groin area.

He then reached into the car and forcefully pulled her out of the seat by her hair and jacket before throwing her to the ground.

“Officer Delgado placed his left knee across the back of [her] neck and his right knee across her lower back as she laid facedown. Officer Delgado remained on top of [her], with his knee on the back of her neck, for over 3 minutes as other officers arrived to assist. [She] sustained a broken nose and required medical attention,” states a misconduct report submitted to the LEA.

A review of Officer Delgado’s body-worn camera, as well as video surveillance from the Roswell Police Department’s booking area conducted by a supervisor, led to the allegation of excessive force.

Delgado’s misconduct case was dismissed by the LEAB at the recommendation of LEA Director Kelly Alzaharna. According to a report she submitted to the board, Delgado resigned in lieu of termination from the Roswell Police Department and was already working as a Chavez County Deputy when the board decided to dismiss his case on April 1, 2021. without ever seeing the video evidence in the case.

“We do not watch physical body cam footage, we mostly rely on the written reports.”

Santa fe county sheriff adan mendoza

Santa Fe County Sheriff Adan Mendoza said that during his time on the LEAB, the board hasn’t reviewed any video evidence in any cases.

“We do not watch the physical body cam footage,” Mendoza said.  “We mostly rely on the written reports.”

The written report submitted to the LEA didn’t mince words.

“His use of force was clearly unnecessary and excessive,” the misconduct report submitted by Roswell Police Department states. “Officer Delgado did admit to those violations during his formal interview.”

Just 87 days after the LEAB dismissed the misconduct complaint filed against him for excessive force, Delgado shot to death Oscar Najera III, who was unarmed, in Roswell.

Albuquerque-based attorney Laura Schauer Ives is representing Najera’s family as they pursue civil claims against Chaves County Sheriff’s Office and the two deputies involved: Ricardo Delgado and Raul Ramos. She was shocked to learn that Delgado’s previous allegation of excessive force was dismissed by the LEAB when none of the board members had reviewed the video evidence in the case.

“What Delgado did, the woman he attacked was handcuffed,” Ives said.  “She broke her nose, he had his knee on her neck for three minutes, and that [the LEAB members] didn’t even watch the video and have allowed him to continue to be an officer is appalling.”

The LEAB has previously dismissed other excessive force cases including allegations of excessive force filed against Keith Sandy, the former Albuquerque Police Department officer who shot James Boyd, which was dismissed by the board at the same meeting where Delgado’s complaint was dismissed, citing a “lack of evidence.”

Board members used similar language when dismissing an allegation of excessive force filed against Justin Lee, another Albuquerque Police Department officer who was terminated by the city, “based on the lack of sufficient evidence that the [Lee] violated a Board rule.” He was later hired by Bosque Farms Police Department.

“We can’t always depend on departments to make the right recommendation to the LEA, in this instance (Delgado’s excessive force case) they did, and they sent the form and they referred it, and they sent the form and that they (LEAB) didn’t even bother to know what it was they were looking at before allowing him to continue to be an officer is outrageous,” Ives said. “And when you combine that with the lack of oversight on whether or not these guys are trained, I mean, there are very few people that are actually suited to be officers and they should never ever get a second chance at hurting people unnecessarily.”

Another officer, Monica Torres, was working at the Bernalillo Police Department when she was accused of tasing an unarmed man in the back during a January 11, 2019 traffic stop.

“This guy pulls up behind my traffic stop and he’s watching me,” Torres said to another officer at the scene according to the civil court filing. “So I told him can you get around and pull in the front for officer safety issues, so he’s all no, so I said sir, can you go in the front, I asked him like four f*cking times to go in the front. And he gets out of his vehicle and starts coming up to my stop. So I drew down on him and told him to get back from my stop. The(sic) he starts going back and walks back to the vehicle after I told him to stop so I tasered him. He didn’t listen to me. He’s bigger than me and he would have whooped my ass, it’s not like I shot him.” 

Attorney Les Romaine filed the civil complaint on behalf of Brandon Collins, the man Torres tased, which he said has since been resolved. He declined to provide any additional details about the resolution, which is common in civil suits once a public body has entered into a settlement agreement that includes a non-disclosure agreement.

“The conduct in Brandon’s case was concerning,” Romaine said. “And essentially [Torres] just kind skated and went to the next department. The Law Enforcement Academy, I know they’re backlogged, but they’ve got to move quicker.”

Torres now works at the Torrance County Sheriff’s Office, where she shot 34-year-old Andrew Castellano on February 24, after she was dispatched to an area of Edgewood where a car was reportedly stuck in the snow. According to a New Mexico State Police press release, Castellano brandished a gun and fired at the deputies on the scene before being shot.

The LEAB will decide the outcome of a pending misconduct case filed against Torres at the March 10, 2022 meeting, thus far, there have been no allegations of misconduct related to the shooting of Castellano.

For now, the public must rely on individual police departments to determine when an officer is a danger to the public and then rely on other departments to hold the same opinion.

Mendoza said the challenge for LEAB members when officers are accused of excessive force is the limitation of the board’s authority.

“We have a limited authority,” Mendoza said.  “It’s not that, you know we may not disagree with what an officer did, but it’s just that those cases don’t fall within our authority as a board. So that sometimes it’s a little frustrating because I think the public is wondering you know, ‘Why isn’t the board doing something?’ Well, sometimes we don’t have that authority.”

Mendoza explained that in cases of excessive force, the board has a limited course of action.

“There are some instances of force that may be excessive, but not to the point where it’s under the board’s authority,” Mendoza said. “If we looked at every claim of excessive force, there’s just no way, but if it rises to a level where the normal citizen or officer ⁠— I say shocks the conscience — or sees it as grossly excessive then that’s different, but if we’re looking at day to day operation and if someone uses more force than what is reasonable, that may not be under the board’s purview, or our authority.”

Mendoza said that he believes that the state’s administrative code may need to be updated or broadened concerning excessive force. Currently, the board is only authorized to suspend or revoke an officer’s certification in specific excessive force cases, according to Jerri Mares, Director of Communication and Legislative Affairs for the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office.

“The LEAB does have the authority to review use of force if it rises to a criminal violation,” Mares said. “And will review use of force when involving moral character.”