Former Secret Service agent alleges APD built false case against grandson

December 20, 2016 GMT

A former Secret Service agent, saying a detective may have bullied witnesses and committed perjury, is calling for an investigation of the Albuquerque Police Department for its handling of a murder investigation that led to his grandson being jailed for 10 months before he was cleared.

“Immediately after the arrest of Donovan Maez, my grandson, I continued to be confident that the case would be properly investigated, and whatever involvement my grandson had in the heinous killing would be revealed,” Dennis Maez , a former detective and Secret Service agent, wrote in a complaint filed Monday. “I was very, very mistaken.”

He submitted the complaint to the Albuquerque Civilian Police Oversight Agency.

The district attorney in Albuquerque dropped charges against Donovan Maez , son of former Democratic state Rep. Stephanie Maez , in June. Police have since arrested a new suspect in the shooting death of Jaydon Chavez-Silver.

Albuquerque police initially said Donovan Maez was the primary shooter in a case that sparked outrage. Chavez-Silver was a high achiever, headed to the Air Force Academy, when the drive-by killer took his life.

After police arrested Donovan Maez, Republican lawmakers called for reinstating the death penalty in New Mexico and Rep. Maez resigned from office.

Now Dennis Maez says investigators built their case against his grandson on the claims of witnesses they coerced, threatened and intimidated.

Chavez-Silver died hours after a gunman fired several rounds from a passing car into a southeast Albuquerque home where young people had gathered for a party. But one person who claimed to have been at the home on the night of the shooting was not there, according to Dennis Maez’s complaint.

Maez claims the witness admitted to the investigation’s lead detective, Jodi Gonterman , that he had made up his claim of being at the scene of the shooting. Maez’s complaint alleges Gonterman used the story anyway to persuade a grand jury to indict Donovan Maez and Christopher Cruz, another teenager later cleared in the murder. The complaint says Gonterman told jurors the witness was a “credible, reliable” source, despite his changing story.

Celina Espinoza, a spokeswoman for the Albuquerque Police Department, declined to comment Monday, except to say the department does not review complaints filed with the Civilian Police Oversight Agency unless there are allegations of criminal conduct or the investigation is completed.

Another witness later told lawyers representing Donovan Maez and Cruz that he lied to Gonterman because the detective threatened to put him in jail, but later offered to drop other felony charges if the witness implicated the duo, according to the complaint. The complaint also cites an interview in which Gonterman allegedly told a key witness what to say.

And yet another witness reported that Gonterman told him Donovan Maez and Cruz had accused him of being the shooter, leading him to fabricate a story implicating the two other suspects, according to the complaint.

Meanwhile, the complaint claims, Gonterman and other investigators failed to follow up on the alibi offered by Donovan Maez and Cruz. They said they were at another party around the time of the shooting.

Dennis Maez wants the agency investigate Gonterman for possible perjury and intimidating witnesses. But the complaint also calls for an investigation of the detective’s entire chain of command, up to Chief Gorden Eden .

The Civilian Police Oversight Agency will assign the complaint to an investigator on its staff.

It’s unclear what effect its findings might have. The Albuquerque Police Department did not impose any discipline for the vast majority of complaints sustained during the first half of this year. Of the 52 such cases, one officer was suspended, one was verbally reprimanded, one was ordered to undergo training and three were issued written reprimands. No discipline was imposed on 46 officers.

The investigation of Chavez-Silver’s killing eventually led to charges against three other young men. Police now allege that Esias Madrid, 18, and a 16-year-old boy fired the shots that killed Chavez-Silver. Madrid had already been charged with another murder months later by the time police accused him of killing Chavez-Silver. The 16-year-old took a plea deal this summer to lesser charges and corroborated a version of events one of the original witnesses told police before changing his story to accuse Donovan Maez and Cruz.

Contact Andrew Oxford at 986-3093 or aoxford@sfnewmexican.com. Follow him on Twitter at @andrewboxford.