Española’s top police official said this week he will look into two instances in which key documents in a manslaughter case and a civil rights trial have disappeared, including the file of a confidential informant who supposedly provided details that led to a failed 2010 drug raid.
U.S. District Judge Stephan M. Vidmar will consider a motion Monday in Albuquerque asking for an in-camera interview with the informant in the drug raid, and motions requesting sanctions against the city and the police department for failing to comply with discovery and for intentional destruction of evidence.
The family that was the subject of the raid is suing the city of Española and several police officers, claiming they lied in a 2010 affidavit to obtain a search warrant on the family’s double-wide mobile home. The affidavit, citing information from a confidential informant, said the home was being used to manufacture methamphetamine. Some 40 officers, including a New Mexico State Police SWAT team, surrounded the home in the early morning hours of May 12, 2010, and pulled the family out at gunpoint. But police found nothing illegal.
The family claims Robert Vigil, the officer who obtained the search warrant, made up the informant. In April, after Judge Vidmar ordered the police department to produce the confidential informant’s file, a lawyer for the city told the judge in an email that, according to Vigil, the file had been destroyed by another officer when he retired from the police force. That would be a violation of the department’s policy.
Current Española police Chief Richard Gallegos said this week he has begun looking into the missing file after learning about it in a front-page story May 26 in The New Mexican.
“I read the story and I said, ‘Wow’,” Gallegos said. “We’ve been meeting and looking into this case going back to 2010 to find out from the initial report, affidavits, search warrants, where we go from here.”
Gallegos said from what he can tell, the department never conducted an internal investigation into the case, even after the family’s lawyer filed a lawsuit against the department in 2012.
Gallegos said he also plans to meet with the city manager, his legal department, and possibly the District Attorney’s Office to discuss Vigil’s allegations that a former officer destroyed the department’s file on the informant.
“It’s not something we are just going to turn our head away on,” Gallegos said. “Rest assured that I’m going to do anything and everything I possibly can with the information that I have. Even though it happened some time back, it’s my responsibility to look into those things and ultimately hold those people responsible.”
If he finds anything amiss, Gallegos said, he’ll likely refer the matter to an outside agency for investigation.
The 2010 raid was made on the home of Tony Rapatz and his family, and resulted in no charges being filed after no drugmaking equipment was found in the home.
Police officials said at the time that Rapatz must have been tipped off, but Rapatz’s lawyer claims in court documents that operation “Sweet Revenge” was cooked up by Vigil and Officer Danny Pacheco, whose mother and father were Rapatz’s neighbor and had been feuding with him, according to the lawsuit.
Robert Cole, the attorney representing the city in the lawsuit, told the judge in an April 23 email that Vigil claimed the confidential informant’s file was destroyed in 2013 by Lt. Christian Lopez when he left the department.
According to documents obtained by The New Mexican, records also disappeared in another case Lopez worked on in 2010, in which a man was allegedly beaten to death at a car wash in Española.
Assistant Public Defender Morgan Wood, the defense attorney in that case, petitioned the court to dismiss the voluntary manslaughter charges against her client, Joseph Gallegos. Wood said one of the key witnesses changed her story considerably from one interview to the next, but that Lopez’s supplemental report and recording of the second interview are missing, which harms her client. A judge denied her motion to dismiss, but ruled that the jury in the case will be informed of the missing evidence.
Wood, who has worked in the public defenders office since 2012, said this is the first time she’s encountered allegations of missing files from the Española Police Department. But the fact that both digital and physical versions of the report in her case are missing makes her question the circumstances of their disappearance.
Gallegos said he didn’t know anything about the allegations in that case, which was filed in 2013, but he intends to look into it as well.
Lopez has denied destroying files or evidence in either case.
Vigil had a documented history of unprofessional conduct — including complaints from the public — when he was an officer in Cuba, N.M. It is unclear if the Española Police Department did a background check on Vigil before hiring him.
Former Cuba Police Chief Jason Griego said he never received any inquiries from the Española Police Department about Vigil. An Española city human resources director said in a 2013 deposition in a different case that she had no record of Vigil undergoing a psychological evaluation when he was hired.
Griego said he’s barred from commenting on Vigil’s past performance beyond stating whether or not he would rehire Vigil as an officer. The answer to that question, Griego said, is a resounding “no, definitely not.”
According to records obtained by The New Mexican, Griego disciplined Vigil numerous times during the nearly two years that Vigil worked in Cuba between 2007 and 2008. Griego also demoted Vigil from the position of captain.
“I have received numerous complaints in reference to your interpersonal skills,” Griego wrote in a Feb. 22, 2008, letter in which he informed Vigil he was being stripped of his rank. “It is my hope that you see this as an opportunity to self reflect and come to terms that not everyone who has come to me with the same complaints, as to the way you treat them and talk to them, are wrong.”
According to Cuba Police Department records, Vigil was docked eight hours of compensatory time for unprofessional conduct, stripped of his privilege to take his patrol car home for failing to maintain the vehicle, reprimanded for failing to complete assigned tasks and forced to apologize to a citizen who reported Vigil had threatened to beat him up.
Vigil declined to be interviewed for this story and referred questions to the attorney representing the city in the lawsuit, Robert Cole. Cole also declined to comment on the pending litigation.
The New Mexican filed a written request with the city of Española for documents related to Vigil’s hiring, including any background checks performed. As of Thursday, the request had not been filled.
In response to questions from The New Mexican, state Attorney General’s Office spokesman James Hallinan said he could neither confirm nor deny the existence of any current investigations. But he said the office was aware of the allegations made against Vigil — and by Vigil against Lopez — in the Rapatz case and is “currently monitoring” the civil litigation.
Contact Phaedra Haywood at 986-3068 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @phaedraann.