City police filed nearly three dozen criminal complaints in Magistrate Court one day last week, many with months-old charges, drawing criticism from prosecutors, public defenders and a Santa Fe County judge who said the delays raise public safety concerns and could cause problems with prosecution.
The allegations in the batch of cases ranged from domestic violence, kidnapping and child abuse to shoplifting and burglary.
There was a common thread in each case: The suspect had not been arrested, most often because they had left the scene before officers arrived.
County Magistrate David Segura said that in some of the cases, “warrants should have been acquired and summons should have been sent.”
He cited, in particular, cases involving allegations of domestic violence in which suspects were left with unrestricted access to their accusers.
Some of the cases dated back to February, he said, and others were more recent, like mid-September.
Deputy Chief Ben Valdez of the Santa Fe Police Department said most of the court filing delays were due to routine procedures and pandemic-related city government furloughs that stretched the department’s staff.
Valdez said accusers in cases involving violent crimes weren’t left without protections because they were given information about options available to them, such as filing temporary restraining orders.
The department filed 34 cases in Magistrate Court on Sept. 29, Valdez said, and only about nine were cases he “would have liked to have seen get to the courts in a more timely manner.”
One case involved the burglary of a commercial firearms dealer, where six firearms were reported stolen in early May.
Another concerned an Aug. 16 case in which a man previously accused of domestic violence was suspected of battering a woman after dragging her out of a car by her hair.
In a Sept. 9 incident, two children, ages 6 and 9, were taken into state custody after a welfare check determined they had been left unattended in a filthy home.
Cases involving the arrest of a suspect must be filed in Magistrate Court within three days.
In cases like these, however, in which the suspect has not been jailed, police have more time to file charges, Public Defender Jennifer Burrill said Tuesday.
“It’s not illegal if they don’t take them to jail, and then they report on it later,” she said. “But time is not good for either side. Witnesses disappear, and three months later you aren’t going to remember who ran by you at Target in a shoplifting case.”
Segura said the late filing isn’t likely to trigger statute-of limitations issues in any of the cases.
But District Attorney-elect Mary Carmack-Atlwies said the delays could pose issues for prosecutors.
Her office has had to adjust its workflow to accommodate the dump of cases, she said in an email Tuesday, and is conducting an expedited review “to determine whether there is probable cause to charge, whether prosecution is still viable, and whether it is fundamentally fair and just to proceed.”
“The problem is that these complaints, many of which were felonies, didn’t get filed for months in some cases,” she said. “So we didn’t know about them and neither did the courts. The impact is that victims and officers thought that their cases were being handled and defendants were either off the streets or on conditions of release but they weren’t because no case had been initiated.”
Carmack-Altwies said the length and reason for the filing delay in each case will be considered when making decisions on whether to prosecute.
“We have also spoken with the [police department] and the courts and are trying to come up with a solution so this doesn’t ever happen again,” she said.
Valdez confirmed his agency has been speaking with the District Attorney’s Office “to see how we can avoid this in the future. But that is still in the early stages.”
Valdez said the cases were delayed for a variety of reasons, including the need for further investigation.
Another contributing factor, he said, was that there were only four employees in the department’s records unit — down from five — and those employees were only allowed to work four hours per week from May 6 through June 30, due to furloughs.
“For us, anything could have caused this type of thing to happen,” he said.