By DAVID CORREIA
Ashley Browder was 21 years old, a member of the Air National Guard, and a passenger in a car driven by her sister that was rammed by a police cruiser driven by APD police Sgt. Adam Casaus.
Casaus, off duty at the time of the accident, claimed he was in pursuit of a DWI suspect at 1:30 AM on February 10 of last month when he entered a red light at high speed at the intersection of Paseo del Norte and Eagle Ranch Road on Albuquerque’s west-side. Ashley Browder died at the scene. The driver of Ashley’s car, her younger sister Lindsey Browder, 19, suffered a spinal fracture and other injuries. Casaus had only minor injuries.
Some reports suggest Casaus was travelling in excess of 70 miles per hour when he entered the intersection. The Bernalillo County Sheriff’s department is now investigating the accident after Casaus’s initial statements at the scene proved inconsistent with subsequent evidence.
Eye-witness reports confirm that Casaus was using his flashers, but not his siren, as he initially claimed. In addition, Casaus entered against the red light without first clearing the intersection (officers are required to use lights and sirens and reduce speed when entering an intersection against a red light) in an apparent violation of department policy.
Also his claim that he was in pursuit of a DWI suspect now appears shaky. According to police logs, Casaus did not report spotting a DWI suspect, engaging in pursuit, or even activating his emergency equipment.
He went off duty the night of the accident at 11 PM and was not heard from again by dispatch until he reported the accident.
The Bernalillo County Sheriff is tight-lipped on the investigation. Casaus has been placed on desk duty during the investigation.
Commenting on a KRQE.com article on the discrepancies in Casaus’s story, Lindsay Browder wrote “I am truly amazed on how twisted this story has become. You can make up whatever you wish but may I remind everyone what matters here. We lost something that will never be replaced, my sister and best friend Ashley.”
The investigation is expected to continue for another three to four weeks before it’s turned over to the District Attorney’s Office for review and possible charges. In the past, cases forwarded to the DA’s office involving police investigated in fatal shootings, for example, have been treated differently than regular DA investigations. The Albuquerque Journal’s Jeff Proctor has extensively covered the dubious practice of DA “investigative grand juries” in which the DA relies on a special and parallel grand jury procedure designed specifically to adjudicate cases involving police wrongdoing.
Keri Brandenberg, the current Bernalillo County DA told the Journal that the special procedure is in the best interest of the public because “everything is done under oath. That’s a huge benefit to all the parties, and it’s in the interest of justice. If we did an internal review, nothing would be done under oath. … It may be that the public is denied that. I think that would be a shame.”
According to a Journal investigation, however, the special grand jury is in the best interest of accused cops. In the more than two decades it has been in place, no police officer has ever been indicted, even in cases where officers have been later fired for their actions.
Ray Twohig, a local civil rights attorney, told the Journal that the procedure “looks to me like a device that’s designed to give police a pass on shootings. The public should have no confidence whatsoever in this process — there’s no independent investigation … The goal is: ‘Let’s not indict any cops.’ ”
That procedure exonerated APD officer Bret Lampiris-Tremba for the fatal January 2010 shooting of Kenneth Ellis outside a 7-Eleven on Albuquerque’s east side.
According to eye witnesses, Lampiris-Tremba, who prior to killing Ellis had been suspended for lying during an investigation, once Tasered a motorist in a routine traffic stop and accidentally discharged his weapon Barney Fife-style in the Southeast Substation, turned to his partner after killing Ellis and muttered, “Was that me?”
The city’s independent review officer found the shooting unjustified, but Lampiris-Tremba was cleared of any wrongdoing by Internal Affairs and by the special police-friendly grand jury.
Despite the best efforts of APD to white-wash that shooting, including public efforts by APD chief Ray Schultz to paint the Iraq War Veteran Ellis as a dangerous criminal, Ellis’s family filed a wrongful death suit. The city tried to quash the suit but late last month State District Judge Shannon Bacon ruled in the family’s favor, concluding that APD officer Bret Lampiris-Tremba violated Kenneth Ellis’s Fourth Amendment rights. A jury trial is scheduled to begin on Monday.
The Current US Department of Justice investigation of the Albuquerque Police Department (17 people killed by police since 2010) and the recent revelation that internal investigations have been largely efforts to find ways to exonerate cops rather than investigate them, suggests the possibility that Casaus may not get the free pass he expects and the family of Ashley Browder may get the justice it deserves.