BY DENIS DOMRZALSKI
The former records custodian for the Albuquerque Police Department has claimed that in 2013, city and APD officials refused to release to the public the cell phone data of a sergeant who allegedly ran a red light, crashed into another vehicle and killed a 21-year-old woman and injured her sister.
The decision to not release the cell phone records of then-Sgt. Adam Casaus came from Assistant Chief Robert Huntsman and then-Deputy City Attorney Kathryn Levy, according to a new affidavit from the former records custodian, Reynaldo Chavez.
And now, attorneys for the family of the dead woman, Ashley Browder, and her younger sister, Lindsey, want to examine Chavez’s old APD computer and backup hard drive to see exactly what Levy and Huntsman told Chavez about Casaus’ phone and its data. The family has filed a federal court civil rights lawsuit against the city and Casaus.
APD never kept Casaus’ cell phone, despite being put on notice that it would be sued over Browder’s death, and the phone was eventually destroyed. Last month, U.S. District Judge Robert Brack found that APD was grossly negligent for having destroyed the phone.
In an affidavit filed May 13 by Browder’s attorneys, Chavez said that in the days following the Feb. 10, 2013 crash, he received written Inspection of Public Records Act requests “from reporters, citizens and media personnel regarding” the fatal collision on the West Side. “Included in those IPRA requests were requests concerning communication records on Sgt. Casaus’ department issue Apple iPhone,” the affidavit said.
As the 15-day deadline approached for Chavez to fulfill those IPRA request, Chavez had meetings with Levy, Huntsman and Deputy Chief Eric Garcia. “In meeting with Ms. Levy concerning Sgt. Casaus’ iPhone and CAD [computer aided dispatch], Ms. Levy stated to me, ‘we’re not releasing anything,’ or words to that effect regarding Sgt. Casaus’ iPhone,” Chavez’s affidavit said. “Ms. Levy also stated that this order of not ‘not releasing anything’ regarding the iPhone came from Asst. Chief Huntsman.”
The affidavit added that Chavez kept records of his communications with Levy, Huntsman and other APD official regarding IPRA requests in the Casaus case on a backup had drive in his APD office. Last year, Chavez was fired by APD. After that, he revealed the existence of his backup hard drive, on which he said are years of information regarding public information requests to APD. Since then, court battles have erupted in an effort to preserve the hard drive and its information.
Chavez has sued the city for wrongful termination. His lawsuit said he was fired for refusing to obey orders from APD commanders, including Chief Gorden Eden, Huntsman and Levy to find ways to deny IPRA requests.
In 2014, Casaus was convicted of two counts of careless driving in connection with the collision. He was also fired from APD. Levy retired from the city last year.