Cop’s Battery Charge, Brutality Lawsuits Raise Questions About Police Vetting

Joe Perez

Joe Perez

A man jaywalking across a street in Albuquerque to catch a bus says police Officer Victor Grossetete chased him down and tackled him on the pavement, breaking the pedestrian’s arm.

Another man says Grossetete repeatedly kicked him in the face during an arrest initiated by a second police officer.

Then there was Sean Belcher, 25, who said Grossetete approached him in a casino in Las Vegas, Nev., touched his tattoo and then punched him. The violence was captured on security cameras. “He kept saying he was from ‘fight city,’ New Mexico,” Belcher said.

Grossetete, 28, has been sued four times on allegations of brutality. Three of those suits date to his five years as an Albuquerque police officer. He resigned from the Albuquerque Police Department in May 2012, after a disciplinary case against him was forwarded to the state Law Enforcement Academy, which certifies officers.

The academy director eventually said it was up to Albuquerque’s police executives to mete out any discipline Grossetete deserved. But by that time, Grossetete had quit his job and moved on to another department.

Grossetete’s work record has raised questions about how carefully New Mexico screens and monitors police officers, even at a time when the Albuquerque Police Department, New Mexico’s largest law enforcement agency, is under supervision of an independent monitor and the courts. The U.S. Department of Justice last year found that Albuquerque police had a pattern of using excessive force, including deadly force.

After Grossetete resigned from the Albuquerque Police Department, his career in law enforcement was revived by Española’s then-police chief, Eric Garcia. Garcia became Española’s chief in December 2012, and he hired Grossetete the following month.

Garcia now is Santa Fe’s police chief, but his decision to employ Grossetete in Española continues to draw criticism.

Some of Garcia’s lieutenants in Santa Fe, as part of an 11-page memo they released last week, say Garcia hired Grossetete even after Grossetete failed a psychological exam. The lieutenants also say that Garcia did not authorize an internal affairs investigation and did not notify the Law Enforcement Academy Board of the fight that Grossetete started in Las Vegas.

Garcia would not comment on his hiring of Grossetete.

As for Grossetete, now he is suing the Española Police Department, saying his reputation has been blackened by reports about the confrontation in Las Vegas, and that Española’s new chief is using that case to try to oust him from the police force.

Sheri Raphaelson, Grossetete’s lawyer, said the four lawsuits against Grossetete don’t prove that he has used excessive force in arresting suspects.
One lawsuit from Grossetete’s years in Albuquerque was settled with a payment to the person claiming brutality. The man’s lawyer, though, said he couldn’t remember the amount of the settlement.

The other three lawsuits against Grossetete are pending.

Raphaelson said that, after Grossetete quit the Albuquerque Police Department, the Española Police Department hired him because “they obviously thought he was a good officer.”

Less than three months after getting his job in Española and a fresh start as a police officer, Grossetete headed to Las Vegas for a vacation. On St. Patrick’s Day 2013, Grossetete approached Belcher, who was sitting next to his girlfriend in the Golden Nugget Hotel & Casino. Security cameras showed Grossetete touching Belcher’s left arm. By Belcher’s account, Grossetete said he liked Belcher’s tattoo.

Story by Uriel J. Garcia. Continue reading on The New Mexican…