BY MAIRE O’NEILL
Los Alamos Deputy Police Chief Oliver Morris has responded in depth to questions from the Los Alamos Reporter about allegations made in a recent Santa Fe New Mexican column by Milan Simonich about the Department. See https://www.santafenewmexican.com/news/local_news/wide-blue-line-saves-cops-career-after-domestic-case/article_c0492ea6-85f2-11ed-bf46-a709f701b572.html
Simonich’s column alleged that LAPD officers exhibited “extraordinary leniency” towards off-duty Santa Fe Police Department Officer Laura Gluvna during an incident in Los Alamos County in 2020. Morris did not mention the names of the people involved in the incident that prompted the 911 call that led to LAPD officers being dispatched to a Los Alamos home, referring to those involved as “the caller” and “the female officer.”
During the weeks since Simonich’s column was published, some LAPD officers have told the Reporter that the column was misleading. They were not happy with the allegations that there were decisions made at the scene because the person was a Santa Fe police officer and that she was given preferential treatment.
During a chat last week with the Reporter, Morris said when he initially read Simonich’s column he was concerned.
“It prompted me to go back, read the reports, listen to the 911 recordings and watch the body-worn camera footage. I was also able to review the Internal Affairs investigation that was submitted to the Department of Public Safety. That clarified some questions for me,” he said.
He said one of LAPD’s core beliefs is accountability. It reads as follows:
“We acknowledge that while we may have the authority to act we are always accountable for those actions for which we are responsible, and unlike authority, responsibility can never be delegated or shifted to anyone else. All members of the Los Alamos Police Department will be completely accountable to themselves, each other and the community and have the obligation and willingness to be held responsible for one’s actions, behaviors and attitudes. We proudly pledge to fulfill our mission by being accountable to our community, our Department and each other. We value commitment over compliance.”
“That’s just one of our core beliefs and I like that,” Morris said. “Every time we’re being looked at and getting questions from the community on why we made a decision, it’s an appropriate question and we should be able to answer it.”
He said Simonich’s column combines too many elements of what happened on the night of the incident.
“When our officers arrive on scene, their job is to find elements of a crime and there are certain crimes alleged in that column where probable cause did not exist. The first crime would be driving while intoxicated and the facts of the incident are that she arrived in the afternoon and was allowed by the caller to come into the home and sleep it off whereas our officers didn’t arrive on the scene until late in the evening. Just the fact of the hours and that she had been inside the residence would have meant there was not enough probable cause to make a Driving While Intoxicated arrest,” Morris said.
He noted that probably two of the misdemeanors in Los Alamos that he is most concerned about and that LAPD is proactive in are Driving Under the Influence and Domestic Violence.
“I expect officers to take action. As a matter of fact, our Domestic Violence Policy says that we will take a pro-arrest stance if there is probable cause of domestic violence. But really that in itself is not a crime – it’s battery against a household member. She was considered a household member because they had a previous relationship even though they had broken up. So that’s the first crime for which there wasn’t probable cause,” Morris said.
In the second part of the column, Simonich uses the term ‘domestic disturbance’.
“But a domestic disturbance in and of itself is not a crime. I would say our Department responds to anywhere between 60 and 90 domestic disturbances per year and many of them are ‘domestic violence – no charges’. A lot of time it’s arguments but we document it just to show that we’re doing everything we can to make sure that people are safe. So that crime was not substantiated,” Morris said.
“There was kind of a premise of potential false imprisonment but really when you listen to the 911 on tape it’s the dispatcher that asks the caller, ‘Can you leave,’ and he says, ‘No, she’s blocking me,’ but that was in response to the dispatcher’s question. He had no intention of leaving because he had his juvenile around and all he kept saying was that he wanted the female officer to leave. He even offered on the 911 call to allow her to sleep it off for the second time in the room. So that kind of takes away the criminal trespass charge and it’s very clear on the 911 call – the caller states that no battery had taken place and it’s not even verbal is what he’s saying. He just wanted her to leave.” Morris said.
He said if you take away all those crimes away, the only thing left towards the end of the incident is failure to obey an officer, which is a petty misdemeanor.
“It’s really in the purview of the police officer to make that decision. We believe that our officer, having spoken to the caller, even stated he gave no preferential treatment, it was just his call. One of the things the public doesn’t always understand is in an Internal Affairs Investigation, the employee is obligated to give statements and those statements are relevant to whether they keep their job if they comply,” Morris said. “Anything gleaned from an IA cannot be used in a criminal investigation nor should it be because that employee has certain protections under the Fifth Amendment.”
He said he would have made it an issue if the Department failed to make a domestic violence arrest if a battery occurred or a DUI case if they had probable cause.
“Our Department has a history of holding our own officers accountable and outside agency officers accountable when it comes to DUI; we have had those arrests in the past. But I understand that this case did prompt some questions as to whether or not we’re being accountable to what we’re supposed to be doing. But I do applaud the Santa Fe Police Department for taking it very seriously and for taking the actions they did,” he said. “I totally agree with them, but it’s important to understand that the threshold of violations in an IA is not the same as in a court of law. I do think our officers took appropriate action. They fully documented it. There was even some banter back and forth between the female officer from another county and our officer about the need to document it and our officer explicitly said, ‘No. I need to document this. It’s our policy, which is why we document. Even if we did make a mistake, it’s all documented.”
Morris explained that there are certain protections on name releases when somebody isn’t charged so names are redacted from records released on the incident by LAPD.
“As matter of transparency, I’m willing to sit down with those who are concerned and walk them through the 911 tapes and the video,” he said.
Asked if the female officer was known by the case officer, Morris responded that after the fact the case officer believed he could have interacted with her early in firearms training but that he didn’t think they even made the connection on scene.
“It’s apparent that even walking up he didn’t know that she was an officer until after she stated it. She was concerned that she was going to get in trouble and he even said, ‘Well, did you commit a crime?’ At the time, the officer hadn’t even established that she had committed a crime. It wasn’t until the very end of the interaction where she wasn’t complying with the officer to walk to the back of the car and the only reason the officer is doing that is to gain some distance between the reporting party and her for safety,” Morris said. “While that potentially could have occurred for failure to obey charge, the intent was to move the person from the scene, that was all the reporting party wanted,” Morris said.
“I think in the same circumstances with another party I can see us making the same call. Any statements made during the IA by any of our officers were well after the fact and the decision was by the case officer. After reviewing everything, I’m confident that everything was appropriate,” he concluded.