Departing District Attorney To DOJ: Albuquerque Police Department Is A ‘Continuing Criminal Enterprise’ (and semi-relevant news of a crooked cop in Texas)

Departing District Attorney To DOJ: Albuquerque Police Department Is A ‘Continuing Criminal Enterprise’

from the rotting-from-the-top-down dept

District Attorney Kari Brandenburg is done with Albuquerque. More to the point, she’s decided not to seek re-election because she’s especially done with the city’s police force. On her way out the door, Brandenburg — who found herself locked out by the PD after bringing murder charges against two officers for shooting a homeless man — is letting the Department of Justice knows its work with the PD isn’t done yet.

In early 2014, the DOJ released its report on the Albuquerque Police Department. In it were descriptions of the department’s indiscriminate, unchecked uses of force.

Our investigation looked at officer-involved shootings that resulted in fatalities from 2009 to 2012 and found that a majority of them were unreasonable and violated the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. We found that officers used deadly force against people who did not pose an immediate threat of death or serious harm to officers or others, and against people who posed a threat only to themselves. In fact, sometimes it was the conduct of the officers themselves that heightened the danger and escalated the need to use force.

We found that officers use other types of less lethal force, especially electronic control weapons, or Tasers, in an unconstitutional manner. Our investigation looked beyond just the use of deadly force and found a significant number of improper uses of force in our review of over 200 force reports generated between 2009 and early 2013. We found that officers routinely fired their Tasers, which discharge 50,000 volts of electricity, against people who were passively resisting and non-threatening or who were unable to comply with orders due to their mental state. Indeed, we found that encounters between police officers and persons with mental illness or in crisis too frequently resulted in a use of force or a higher level of force than necessary.

Since that point, accusations have arisen that APD officers routinely delete and alter dashcam and body cam footage, allegedly at the behest of supervisors who don’t care for recordings that don’t sync up to the official narratives contained in incident reports. These allegations came in the form of a signed affidavit from a contractor who worked with the police department for several years.

Former DA Brandenburg makes note of these recent allegations in her angry letter [PDF] to the DOJ. But the primary focus of her letter is the toxic Albuquerque police culture, which has turned these public servants into an unaccountable mess.

Since the Settlement Agreement was reached between APD and the Department of Justice, we have seen little progress. Please refer to the independent monitor’s reports for more specific information. In his most recent report, James Ginger, noted the behind the scene reality was that APD has almost no appetite for correcting behavior that violates existing policy.” Further, it was pointed out that investigations looking into use of force by officers appears to rationalize or explain away officer conduct.” Throughout the monitoring process, APD has failed to comply and meet agreed upon standards and measures. In fact, their performance can accurately be characterized as grossly noncompliant.

This part lets the DOJ know just how useless its consent agreements are if it’s not interested in doing anything to ensure the PD lives up to the promises it made to the federal government. So far, the APD appears to be rolling forward with “business as usual” policing — virtually unchanged despite a DOJ investigation and consent decree.

On top of that, the APD appears to be in the (ongoing) business of covering up misconduct and excessive force. The letter notes that whistleblowers have come forward with allegations that police supervisors tend to hand out promotions to officers who help keep department misdeeds under wrap.

Brandenburg sums this up for the DOJ’s convenience, using terms it understands.

Frankly, if any other group of individuals were acting the way APD has allegedly been acting, some of us in law enforcement might refer to them as a continuing criminal enterprise and/or engaged in the act of racketeering. I appreciate how bold a statement that is.

Brandenburg also admits her own office’s culpability in the APD’s toxicity. Since 2010, the APD has shot more members of the public than the NYPD despite policing a population sixteen times smaller. And it’s done this largely without repercussion, thanks to a DA’s office that generally considered itself to be working for cops, rather than working for the public.

One of the major areas of concern are the number of officer involved shootings and instances of unreasonable use of force by APD. In all fairness, our office has been part of that controversy, as we declined to criminally prosecute any officer involved in an officer involved shooting until January 2015.

Of course, Brandenburg now knows from firsthand experience why cops tend to go uncharged in incidents like these. No one wants to bite the hand that feeds it prosecutions, especially not when the bitten entity can bite back just as hard. If the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division is truly serious about fixing American policing, it will need to take a trip back to Albuquerque and start throwing its federal weight around.

A crooked cop’s execution-style killing in Texas exposes the ruthless inner workings of the Mexican Mafia
By Cleve R. Wootson Jr. August 15, 2016

Images from police officer Julian Pesina’s Facebook page. (San Antonio Express-News)
Both sides of Julian Pesina’s double life were closing in on his secrets.

Pesina was a police officer in Balcones Heights, a small city of 3,000 people near San Antonio. But he also claimed allegiance to the Mexican Mafia, a notorious gang known for extortion and precision killings.

Pesina sold drugs for the Texas branch of the Mexican Mafia and paid a weekly tax, or “dime,” for his tattoo parlor, according to court documents. Beneath his police uniform, his body was covered with gang tattoos.

In 2014, federal investigators were probing Pesina’s ties to the Texas Mexican Mafia and getting close to making an arrest that could send him to prison for years. But gang members who learned about his police job from Facebook sentenced Pesina to death instead.

Jerry Idrogo, SID 748993, DOB 11/17/80. Booked for murder. Jerry “Spooks” Idrogo, a sergeant in the Texas Mexican Mafia, admitted he was responsible for killing officer Julian Pesina and another man. (San Antonio Express-News)
Jerry “Spooks” Idrogo was ordered to kill him.

According to court documents, Idrogo, a sergeant in the Texas Mexican Mafia, selected two men to help kill Pesina; one was an aspiring gang member, the other was in bad standing with the Texas Mexican Mafia and hoped to redeem himself with a slaying.

On May 4, 2014, Idrogo called Pesina, saying he was in a hurry and wanted to pick up the “dime” outside Pesina’s tattoo parlor, Notorious Ink.

When Pesina walked up to the car to pay Idrogo, the other gang members rushed around the building, wearing masks.

One carried a shotgun. The other clutched a pistol.

Pesina was shot and killed in the street — though the gunmen waited until he had paid his 10 percent tax before opening fire, according to federal investigators.

Investigation into slain officer’s ties to the Mexican Mafia Embed Share Play Video2:41
A Texas police officer was shot to death outside his tattoo shop in May 2014. Julian Pesina was under federal investigation for ties to the Mexican Mafia at the time of his death. (WOAI News 4)
Video of Pesina’s killing was captured on a pole-mounted camera FBI agents had set up to watch his business and build their case, according to the San Antonio Express-News. FBI sources told the newspaper they had planned to arrest Pesina within a week when he was shot down in cold blood.

[Her job was to help victims of identity theft. Instead, she used them to steal from the IRS.]

On Friday, Idrogo pleaded guilty in federal court to one count of conspiracy to participate in a “Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organization.”

As part of the plea, Idrogo admitted he was was responsible for Pesina’s slaying and the death of another man, Texas Mexican Mafia member Billy Padilla, who was killed in 2013 “for failing to turn over drug proceeds to the organization,” according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Texas.

At his sentencing in November, Idrogo faces life in federal prison.

Julian Pesina, a Balcones Heights police officer, was shot and killed late Sunday while off duty in Northwest San Antonio. (Photo courtesy of the San Antonio Express News) Julian Pesina in his Balcones Heights police uniform. (San Antonio Express-News)
The Mexican Mafia — also known as “La Eme,” Spanish for “the M,” and as “Mexikanemi” — has existed for more than 60 years, according to an Associated Press story on a gang sweep in 2007.

The organization “was formed by Mexican-American inmates in a Northern California prison in the 1950s as a front against racist attacks,” the AP noted. “It has since fanned out across the state prison system and to Mexican and U.S. streets.”

Authorities say the self-proclaimed “gang of all gangs” has cowed a who’s who of the state’s deadliest gangs — including Aryan Brotherhood and 18th Street — into paying taxes in their turf …

“La Eme” hits gangs who refuse the arrangement with a so-called “green light,” making them a target for retaliation by the gang and its allies.

[How the Black Guerrilla Family gang took root in Maryland’s prisons]

The gang’s Texas offshoot gained power in the 1980s, according to court documents.

Behind bars, gang members trafficked drugs and banded together for protection. When members were released, they expanded the enterprise — and the violence — to the streets.

Many Texas Mexican Mafia members were from San Antonio, which became the branch headquarters. Members could join only if they were asked by a “sponsor,” or “padrino.”

To gain membership, inductees had to commit a criminal act, which could include the murder of an enemy.

And according to the Mexican Mafia’s constitution, cooperation with law enforcement was punishable by death.

Pesina’s execution-style killing in 2014 was a textbook example of a Mexican Mafia hit, according to Tony Rafael, the pen name of the author of a book about the gang.

“The smaller weapon is used to pin down or debilitate the target,” Rafael told The Washington Post. “And then they finish them off with the rifle.”

Rafael said it’s not uncommon to find civil servants among the gang’s ranks.

One of the organization’s strengths, he said, is its ability to coerce people and even other gangs into working to benefit “La Eme.”

“They’re very, very good at manipulating people,” Rafael said. “They’ve had female corrections officers and manipulated them into literally marrying them. Prior to marrying them, these [officers] smuggled food and drugs into the jail.

“They’ve corrupted social workers to do their bidding for them, and occasionally police officers, too. They’ll find a weak spot. They’ll befriend you, try to figure out what makes you tick. If you’re short of cash, they’ll get you cash. If it’s drugs, they’ll get you drugs. If it’s women, they’ll get you that, too. They’re excellent, excellent manipulators.”

The gang has only about 300 “made” members in the United States, Rafael said.

But the Mexican Mafia’s number swells into the thousands when you count those who work with “La Eme” in the hopes of becoming “carnales,” or brothers, he said.

[This MS-13 member laughed about a brutal killing. Now he’s going to prison for life plus 30 years.]

In a 2015 Texas Gang Threat Assessment, the state’s Department of Safety estimated there were 4,700 Texas Mexican Mafia members and associates, organized into clearly defined ranks on a paramilitary model.

Idrogo, a sergeant, was on one of the lowest rungs, just above a soldier.

Senior leaders are able to issue orders to subordinates, according to the assessment, which classifies the Mexican Mafia as a Tier 1 gang.

“These groups pose the greatest gang threat to Texas due to their relationships with Mexican cartels, high levels of transnational criminal activity, level of violence, and overall statewide presence,” the assessment said.

Sending gang leaders to prison isn’t enough to stymie the gang, Rafael said. Once imprisoned, the highest-ranking members relay messages to subordinates outside using cellphones, smuggled notes and even family visitors.

Their spirit of cooperation has been extended to Mexican drug cartels in the past decade, said Rafael, whose book argues that the the Mexican Mafia could be “the most dangerous gang in America.”

Rafael said that because the Mexican Mafia has a stranglehold on the prison systems in California and Texas, street gangs, drug dealers and unaffiliated criminals are intimidated into working with them in and out of prison.

“They run virtually every street gang in California,” he said. “Any kid growing up 14, 15, 16 years old knows that if he’s going to continue capering [committing crimes], he better make his peace with the Mafia well before he ends up in prison. He needs people that respect him, people that will protect him. They tell them, ‘You do what we tell you when you’re on the street, we’ll take care of you in prison.’ ”

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