ALBUQUERQUE ― Early on the morning of Aug. 24, 2016, two Albuquerque police officers responded to a 911 call at an apartment complex on the city’s west side. Inside, they found the remains of fourth-grader Victoria Martens wrapped in a smoldering blanket. She had been given alcohol and methamphetamine before she was sexually assaulted, strangled, stabbed and then dismembered. It was her 10th birthday.
Victoria’s mother, Michelle, her mother’s boyfriend and the boyfriend’s cousin were arrested at the scene and charged in the girl’s murder. Only later did it come to light that New Mexico’s Children, Youth and Families Department had forwarded a complaint related to Victoria Martens to the Albuquerque Police Department five months before her death. Victoria had told a family friend that her mother’s boyfriend had tried to kiss her ― a different man than the one charged in the girl’s death ― and the friend called CYFD.
The police received the referral, but did not follow up. When a reporter from the Albuquerque Journal, the city’s morning newspaper, inquired about it, two APD spokespeople said officers had interviewed Victoria and her mother but found no cause for further investigation. In reality, they had ignored the referral entirely.
If they’d actually looked into it, they might have learned that Michelle Martens had previously trawled the internet looking for men to engage in sexual acts with her children. A subsequent civilian oversight board investigation found that the APD officials had lied to the press and to the public about the case ― and once they were caught in their lie, Police Chief Gorden Eden rejected the board’s recommendation that one of his officers be suspended for 80 hours for violating the public’s trust.
The handling of the Martens case fit a broader pattern of troubling behavior among APD command staff. The department has been under a reform agreement with the Department of Justice since 2014, after an investigation following a string of controversial police killings found the department had violated the U.S. Constitution and demonstrated “patterns of excessive force.”
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