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Martinez’s marriage to cop has led to conflict allegations

Susana Martinez (Photo by Heath Haussamen)

The Las Cruces Sun-News says there’s at least a perceived conflict of interest in the way investigations into officer-involved shootings are handled in Doña Ana County because District Attorney Susana Martinez is married to Undersheriff Chuck Franco.

When an officer is involved in a shooting, a multi-agency task force that includes the sheriff’s department investigates. It forwards its findings to the district attorney’s office. After prosecutors there review the case, Martinez decides whether the shooting was justified.

The Sun-News shared its concerns earlier this year after Martinez announced that officers acted appropriately in fatally shooting Las Crucen Antonio Medrano as he charged at them with a butcher knife and baseball bat.

“The practice of police investigating fellow officers will always create some level of skepticism. In this case, that skepticism is heightened by the fact that Martinez, the final arbiter, is married to the undersheriff,” the Sun-News wrote in a March 30 editorial arguing that the city needs a citizens review board or police auditor to review complaints.

Martinez’s husband, Doña Ana County Undersheriff Chuck Franco. (Photo by Heath Haussamen)

“That does not mean that the investigation was flawed or that the findings were improper,” the editorial stated. “We are not impugning the integrity of task force members or DA Martinez. But we do believe the findings would have been better received if not for those conflicts of interest.”

The Sun-News isn’t alone in expressing concerns about the way officer-involved shootings are handled. Some have criticized the fact that Martinez makes the final decision on officer-involved shootings even if they involve sheriff’s deputies who work for Franco.

So now that Martinez, the Republican candidate for governor, is asking voters to give her a chance to clean up Santa Fe, NMPolitics.net asked whether she believes there’s a conflict. It’s a question Martinez, through her campaign manager, refused to answer.

NMPolitics.net asked a number of questions related to how Martinez and Franco have dealt with times when their relationship created a potential conflict between their jobs. Martinez Campaign Manager Ryan Cangiolosi answered many questions, including what Martinez would do if Franco was involved in a shooting.

“She would obviously recuse herself,” Cangiolosi said.

Here are the questions Cangiolosi refused to answer:

  • In general, how has Martinez sought to avoid any conflict in her role as a prosecutor while Franco has been a police officer, and in particular the undersheriff? Have there ever been situations in which one or both saw a potential conflict and took steps to avoid it? Can you provide details?
  • Some in Las Cruces have complained that Martinez makes the ultimate decision on investigations into officer-involved shootings involving employees who work at the sheriff’s department under Franco. Does Martinez view this as a conflict? Why or why not?
  • In the justice system, should there be some level of separation between police officers and prosecutors? Why or why not? To what degree should the separation exist?

As a judge, Franco recused himself from DA cases

A potential conflict of interest between Martinez and Franco was an issue in the late 1990s, when she first became district attorney. Franco was a magistrate judge, and some cases being prosecuted by the district attorney’s office were assigned to him.

Franco was running for re-election in 1996, the same year Martinez first ran for DA. His Democratic opponent and others said there would be a conflict if both were elected. But Franco and Martinez said Franco would recuse himself from all cases involving the DA’s office.

Cangiolosi said that’s exactly what happened.

Records NMPolitics.net examined back up that claim. NMPolitics.net picked a handful of cases at random that were initially assigned to Franco as part of the court’s rotating judge assignment process. In each case, documents exist to show that Franco recused himself.

Martinez: Relationship works because both are in law enforcement

Franco also worked as an investigator for the Las Cruces Police, Doña Ana County Sheriff and the New Mexico State University Police departments before becoming the county’s undersheriff in 2005. Martinez’s office has prosecuted many cases Franco investigated.


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Franco and Martinez have both said that didn’t create a conflict. In fact, in a Spring 2009 article in Las Cruces Magazine, Martinez said her relationship with Franco works because they’re both in law enforcement.

“He can give my perspective to his officers and I can give his perspective to my attorneys,” the magazine quoted Martinez as saying.

When Sheriff Todd Garrison picked Franco to be his undersheriff in 2005, some complained about a conflict. Garrison said none existed.

“Time will show. Give us a chance,” Garrison was quoted by the Sun-News as saying in a Feb. 25, 2005 article. In that same article, the Democratic candidates for sheriff and undersheriff, who ran unsuccessfully against Garrison and Franco in 2006, didn’t call Franco’s relationship with Martinez a conflict.

“That’s up to the public to decide,” sheriff candidate Ralph Misquez was quoted as saying.

“I think they both take measures to avoid even an appearance of conflict, much less a conflict,” Misquez’s running mate, Joel Cano, was quoted as saying. Cano was Franco’s supervisor at LCPD.

In response to NMPolitics.net’s questions, Cangiolosi said there have been instances since Franco became undersheriff “when deputies and other employees of the sheriff’s department have been charged with crimes, and Martinez treats those cases the same as any other.”

“For example, she has prosecuted a deputy for assault, an employee in the sheriff’s office for DWI twice, and the son of a deputy for a sex offense,” Cangiolosi said.

Concerns raised about secrecy of shooting probes

Martinez’s relationship with Franco has twice been raised as a concern when she had to decide whether officer-involved shootings were justified.

In 1999, the sheriff’s department refused to release supplemental police reports related to an investigation into the fatal shooting of an Anthony man by deputies, even though the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government (FOG) said the department couldn’t legally keep them secret.

The sheriff’s department withheld the reports at the advice of Martinez, according to a Sept. 17, 1999 Associated Press article. Martinez was quoted by the news service as saying the reports could be withheld because they involved an ongoing investigation.

Franco was working at the sheriff’s department at the time. Martinez’s response prompted a conflict-of-interest allegation from then-FOG Director Bob Johnson, who said nothing in state law allowed the withholding of the reports.

Martinez rejected the conflict allegation.

“If the decision to shoot was improper, I would say so regardless of where my husband works,” the AP quoted Martinez as saying.

Earlier this year, LCPD refused to release the task force’s report on the shooting of Medrano – a shooting Martinez decided was justified. Martinez defended keeping the report secret, saying releasing it would violate state law.

The city’s withholding of the report, and Martinez’s defense of that action, led to criticism from me and others, including the Sun-News. In an editorial that ran April 8, the Sun-News stated that there is, “at the very least, a perception of conflict of interest, both with the task force and the district attorney, who is married to the undersheriff.”

“Given that perception, we do not believe the public interest is best served by keeping this report from the public,” the editorial stated. “…The public needs to be assured that the investigation – conducted by fellow officers, including two from the Las Cruces Police Department – was thorough and unbiased. Failure to release the report will only lead to more speculation as to what they are ‘trying to hide.’”

The report has still not been released.

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18 comments so far. Scroll down to submit your own comment.

  1. It is not the conflict of interest that bothers me, that ground has been trod for years, it is the comments that Martinez has made regarding how she will pursue corruption that are troublesome. Denish proposes to establish a bi-partisan Ethics Commission with teeth. Martinez wants to use the State Police. So, what are we facing here?

    It goes without saying that Martinez will make her own policitical appointments to office just as every other Gov has done. Those people will be chosen from the cadre that constitute her supporters. The problem her comments pose is in how she will deal with people that may not fall in line. Ethics is a questionable topic. So what are we to anticipate? Instead of an office of the first lady will we see Franco holding the office of first cop?

    While an ethics commission might not be as aggressive in rooting out evil in our state government, it certainly would be more balanced and more careful than a partisan use of the state police. But then Martinez is certainly more comfortable in her role as a DA where she simply needs to build a case and then use the police to pursue it. Is that what we want or need?

  2. I think that Mr. Haussamen should be commended for writing this story. It is simply unbelievable that people can look at one candidate in this race and claim there’s a conflict of interest and turn to another and then say one doesn’t exist.

    If you are going to say that there is a conflict of interest because one candidate who is an elected official has a spouse that is lobbyist then fine, let’s take a look at that.

    But then to turn to the other who is DA and is married to an Undersheriff and claim that everything is ok is ignoring your own logic. How can we presume that both have acted properly? Because they say so? If they have nothing to hide why is her campaign refusing to answer questions?

    Just because no one else in the media hasn’t examined this doesn’t mean there isn’t a problem. It is more emblematic of the lack of real journalism in this entire state.

    Lobbyists that are married to elected officials is one thing, but when two top law enforcement officers are married that’s quite another. These are the people that can detain someone and then prosecute them.

    Lobbyists deal with money. Law Enforcement deals with peoples lives. Which do you think is more deserving of protection?

  3. This has to be one of the funniest stories I have ever read! You have to be kidding me that since she is married to the “under sheriff’ she is somehow covering up bad police action? Instead of throwing out crazy accusations maybe you should offer up some proof because the article doesn’t offer up any proof other than she has done a great job operating within the confines of what the rules are, it isn’t up to the DA to start this board it would be up to the City Council and County Commission to put those boards in place. I have enver seen anything that says Susana Martinez is opposed to working with these boards, have any of you?

    In the end trying to tie Susana to corruption is crazy talk! In the end we have 70+ years of single party controll of this state and look where it has put us, you can not deny it or blame anyone else the democrats have run the show totally for over 70 years and now you have to answer for the problems you are resonsible for.

    Sit there shut up take your medicine becasue if history is any indicator it will not take Republicans very long to screw it up as well. I hope I am wrong and with folks like Susana Martinez, Dianna Duran and a few others I hold out hope that they will do a great job and make real changes to make NM a better place.

  4. Such sillyness. I guess being a Texan and born and raised in El Paso makes her some kind of inhuman demon to fear and loath? Yet carpetbaggers from much further away geographically and culturally, like Richardson and Heinrich, are somehow our heroes in NM? Hypocrisy of the highest order.

  5. OMG Doris…Susana is a TEXAN?? I did not know that!!! That changes everything. WHAT??? What difference does it make? Have you seen the larger companies in Albuquerque recruiting from out of state specifically to bring in talent and knowledge they cannot find here??? Get used to it, Doris. There’s going to be alot of us born and raised elsewhere coming in to pick this state out of ruin.

  6. Susana Martinez is a fraud and a Texan. I’m disgusted by the negative ads from both Denish and Martinez. As a progressive democrat I’ll vote for Denish/Colon. The GOP makes me sick.

  7. @Thinker: I believe BOTH parties pander to the law enforcement community when it comes to ethical and legal oversight. That is why there are not civilian review boards for most police departments or city or county governments. The LAST thing law enforcement wants is “non-cops” looking over their shoulder and BOTH political parties will not confront that.

    As for Chuck and Susana’s marriage, any impropriety would have been blatantly obvious and with the amount of leftist political gadflies out there, they would have brought oit to light by now. I’m sure, Greg Valdez would have cried foul if he could have found anything.

    Law enforcement is NOT the darling of MY political leanings, they are to be respected but when that respect is earned. They’re are enough corrupt Sherriff’s Departments in New Mexico that are featured on the weekly news in New Mexico to prove that there should be more law enforcement oversight, preferably civilian.

    Frankly, Darren “I’ve never met a camera I didn’t like.” White is an embarassment to my party and I would hope that he will have absolutely NO PLACE in a Martinez administration.

  8. And as for

    Hemingway constantly attacks Republicans and never takes or admits to any fault of the Democrats.

    That’s inaccurate–he has also pointed out Democratic wrongs. But obviously, he holds a point of view that is in conflict with the Republicans far more often. Further more, he– admirably and helpfully– backs up his posts with weblinks to substantiation for his statements.

    But even so, in what universe does one have to live to think that there’s some kind of rule that commentors here are not allowed to attack Republicans with facts?

  9. For those of us who have witnessed the decades long “Soap Opera of the Insiders” here in Las Cruces, the Franco-Martinez marriage merely exemplifies the way our small city’s politics suffers from a depressing case of incest. Everybody’s married or related or obligated to everyone else, and they just get recycled up and down the food chain–which is why the state’s second largest city is often just ignored by Santa Fe. We act like small potatoes, government wise.

    I have to laugth when I read the statements of undying and blind support on the part of the Susana supporters here. The very same people wigging out that HCR is “government intrusion into our freedoms” can actually write:

    “I’m sure Chuck and Susana have taken and abided by the steps to avoid any impropriety.

    I do support civilian citizen review boards but, ask anyone in the law enforcement community and they will overwhelmingly tell you they frown upon non-law enforcemnt civilains reviewing things they “wouldn’t understand.”

    I mean, really? We employ the police to protect all of us, yet we don’t have any ability to judge whether they’re doing what we expect them to do? Chuck Franco and Susana Martinez are not to be held to scrutiny because they’re Republicans and we should just trust them? And you’re willing to hand a segment of your government–the police– that much unquestioning trust with your most basic civil rights— because they are a darling of your political party?

    There really IS one born every minute, apparently.

  10. It would seem that what is good for Denish is not good for Susana Martinez. It is perfectly all right for Denish to have her husband working as a lobbyist but for Susana to be married to a man who is under-sheriff is a blatant conflict of interest.
    Chuck Franco has been a good under-sheriff and has brought no dishonor to the sheriff’s department in any way. He has been a devoted husband to Susana and has kept the interests of Dona Ana county apart from his wife in all proprietary ways.
    The same can be said of Susana Martinez. She is a class act and for anyone to hit at her because of her marriage is in poor taste.
    It is just sour apples from the Progressive leftists and nay sayers. If they can’t stand the heat maybe Denish should get out of the kitchen and retire.

  11. Amen, left field. Hemingway constantly attacks Republicans and never takes or admits to any fault of the Democrats. Although, I am a conservative Republican, I can always see what might be detrimental to candidates in my own party. There is nothing out there on Susana Martinez that anyone can get to stick.

    I am totally unconcerned with anything G. Greg Valdez has to say about this matter. He is relying on his sour grapes to fortify his WHINE. Pun intended.

  12. Hemmingway – you should try fantasy football, bird watching, or join a book club. Something to broaden your perspective on life.

  13. Yawn.

    Denish has her husband Herb listed on her disclosures as a lobbyist who secured a 500 million tax break from state while his wife was publicly beating the drum for the deal. That’s a big deal. She should disclose how much her household profitted from the deal.

  14. As a followup G. Greg Valdez took his case against Ms. Martinez to the UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS
    FOR THE TENTH CIRCUIT in 2004.

    http://ca10.washburnlaw.edu/cases/2004/09/03-2187.htm

  15. Someone should interview G. Greg Valdez, now an attorney in Las Cruces and former District Attorney. Ms. Martinez has ripped her former boss apart numerous times. Let’s hear his story and his thoughts about the conflicts. It would make a great story. In addition he has fought against Ms. Martinez in a number of cases.

  16. It be much less of a problem if he were a lobbyist. There are good rules to avoid any conflicts (eyes roll).

  17. Much ado about nothing…these situations would be so obvious for people to call foul that I’m sure Chuck and Susana have taken and abided by the steps to avoid any impropriety.

    I do support civilian citizen review boards but, ask anyone in the law enforcement community and they will overwhelmingly tell you they frown upon non-law enforcemnt civilains reviewing things they “wouldn’t understand.”

  18. Here is an interesting case where former District Attorney Greg Valdez, who fired Susana Martinez, accused her later of using law enforcement agencies for a vendetta against him. So it can be easily be seen that she could have a conflict with Chuck Franco as Undersheriff.

    http://www.lexisone.com/lx1/caselaw/freecaselaw?action=OCLGetCaseDetail&format=FULL&sourceID=gdje&searchTerm=eEhE.cSZa.aadi.YaHE&searchFlag=y&l1loc=FCLOW

    She met Mr. Franco when she was an Instructor at the Las Cruces Police Department Academy in the 1990′s.

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