Another Albuquerque police officer resigned last week amid a widening scandal involving cops who allegedly conspired with a local defense attorney to make drunk driving cases disappear in exchange for payoffs. Joshua Montaño, who had been employed by the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) for 19 years, is the fifth officer to quit after being placed on administrative leave. His March 20 resignation letter, which City Desk ABQ obtained through a public records request, sheds light on the extent of the alleged corruption within the APD’s DWI unit, the subject of an ongoing FBI investigation as well as an APD probe.

“When I was put on administrative leave, I thought there would be an opportunity for me to talk to the department about what I knew regarding the FBI’s investigation,” writes Montaño, who missed several scheduled interviews with APD investigators prior to his resignation. “I thought there would be a time [when] I could disclose what I knew from within APD and how the issues I let myself get caught up in within the DWI Unit were generational. I thought there would be a time where I could talk about all the other people who should be on administrative leave as well, but aren’t.”

Montaño says he ultimately decided against cooperating with APD investigators. “In order for me to talk to the City about what I knew,” he writes, “I needed to not be the City’s scapegoat for its own failures.” He complains that Albuquerque Police Chief Harold Medina, who has promised to “make sure that we get to the bottom of this” but is himself under investigation for causing a February 17 accident that severely injured a driver whose car he broadsided, “has made it seem like there are just a few bad officers acting on their own.” That is “far from the truth,” Montaño says.

Among other things, the FBI reportedly is investigating claims that officers deliberately missed court dates, resulting in the dismissal of DWI cases. But according to Montaño, “officers all know that our attendance, or non-attendance, at Court is watched over and monitored.” While “I take responsibility for my actions,” he says, the responsibility for the alleged misconduct extends up the chain of command and more than a few years back in time.

Medina “has made numerous public statements concerning APD’s knowledge of the FBI’s investigation of various APD personnel and made commitments to complete parallel investigations,” Montaño’s lawyer, Thomas Grover, writes in a separate letter to the department. “However, as is evident in the investigations of Ofc. Montano, the department responded to the FBI’ s inquiries in a manner that is haphazard at best and artificial at worst.”

Although Montaño wanted to share “his knowledge of how widespread the issues of concern to the FBI are, how far up the supervisory chain they go, and other personnel they involve,” Grover says, he “could not provide such a statement because of the myriad of deficiencies APD plagued its investigations of him, and presumably others, with. From procedural errors concerning notice requirements to police officers, to timeline violations by APD, it seems at every turn, the department could not follow basic practices for internal affairs investigations.”

While you might discount Montaño’s attempt to spread the blame, it is broadly consistent with Medina’s description of the conduct that the FBI is investigating. At a February 2 press conference, Medina noted that DWI cases often are dismissed when officers are unavailable to testify. “Systems that struggle, systems that have loopholes, are really open to corruption,” Medina said. “We’re dealing with stuff that we anticipate started decades ago, and we’ve done a lot of things that have got us to this point. But we will continue to dig and look and leave no stone unturned and make sure that we get to the bottom of this.”

Medina says the problems within the DWI may have “started decades ago,” which jibes with Montaño’s description of a “generational” phenomenon. That period overlaps with Medina’s tenure at the APD, where he began working in 1995. He was an APD officer for 20 years before retiring as a commander in 2014. After a few years as police chief of Laguna, New Mexico, he returned to the APD in December 2017 as deputy chief. Three years later, he became interim chief, a position that was made permanent in March 2021.

Medina, who as a sergeant and lieutenant worked for the APD’s “Party Patrol,” evidently was not assigned to the DWI unit. But he strove to prevent underage drinking, “work[ing] closely with community partners such as Mothers Against Drunk Driv[ing],” which gave him an award in 2008. The same group picked Honorio Alba Jr. as its New Mexico “Officer of the Year” in 2023, a few months before Albuquerque’s Civilian Police Oversight Agency received a letter about his “questionable conduct,” which triggered the corruption investigation.

Instead of arresting an intoxicated driver who nearly caused a crash while speeding and subsequently drove onto a curb, Alba reportedly had referred him to a specific local attorney. Alba resigned last month prior to a scheduled interview with the APD’s internal affairs division.

Like Alba, Montaño has been implicated in a fishy arrangement with the same DWI defense attorney, Thomas Clear, whose office the FBI has searched as part of its investigation. Federal agents also have searched the homes of APD officers.

So far no charges have been filed. But in response to the corruption allegations, the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office dropped some 200 DWI cases, saying it could not rely on the testimony of the cops who had made the arrests. KOB, the NBC affiliate in Albuquerque, reports that Alba was the arresting officer in many of those cases. KRQE, the local CBS affiliate, looked at DWI cases filed during the previous six years. It found that Montaño “was named as the officer in at least 36 cases” in which the defendants were represented by Clear, and “nearly 90% of those cases ended in dismissals.”

Three other officers who had been placed on administrative leave—Lt. Justin Hunt, Officer Harvey Johnson, and Officer Nelson Ortiz—resigned prior to Montaño. Looking at “85 DWI cases dating back to 2017” involving Clear and Alba, Montaño, Johnson, or Ortiz, City Desk ABQ found that 14 percent ended with trial convictions or plea deals, which is “much lower than the Metro Court average of 56% convictions in DWI cases over the same years.” The other 86 percent were dismissed, typically because officers did not show up at pretrial interviews or hearings. The “vast majority” of the defendants were arrested by Alba or Montaño.

According to an APD spokesman, two additional officers are under investigation. “There is a much bigger story here,” Grover told City Desk ABQ. “If Officer Montaño is a cinder block in this saga, there’s a whole wall to address. It goes outward and upward.”


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