Investigators of NM officer accused of intimidation had trained under him

Was convicted of obstruction of justice in 2010, alleged to have contacted witness suggesting lawsuit and perjury charges

By Jeff Proctor
Albuquerque Journal

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Two of the three Albuquerque police officers assigned to investigate witness intimidation allegations against former cop Brad Ahrensfield trained under him at APD — Ahrensfield says — and he describes the third officer as a personal friend. Federal prosecutors cited the alleged intimidation of an officer scheduled to testify in a DWI case in seeking an arrest warrant for Ahrensfield, who is free pending appeal on a conviction related to allegations that he leaked details of a narcotics and stolen goods investigation. He resigned prior to his December 2010 conviction on an obstruction of justice charge for tipping off a civilian friend whose business was under investigation by an APD and FBI task force.

Ahrensfield was sentenced this past September by U.S. District Judge James Parker to six months and a day in jail and six months of house arrest. He has been free pending appeal. Ahrensfield's latest legal troubles stem from meeting with a police officer and urging him not to testify in a DWI case and later sending him a text message suggesting the officer could be hit with a lawsuit and possibly perjury charges.

Ahrensfield was working as an investigator for a lawyer defending the DWI suspect, but attorney Tom Mescall said he did not know about the texts or authorize them.

The officer, John Bonet, did testify at the revocation hearing on Jan. 31, prompting Ahrensfield to send the officer a text message saying Bonet should expect a civil rights lawsuit and perjury charges. Ahrensfield said he knows Bonet from having trained him at the police academy, and the two also work out together.

The suspect's license was revoked after Bonet's testimony, but the DA's Office dismissed the criminal case citing problems with the case — in essence affirming Ahrensfield's position that there were problems with the traffic stop. "Do I think Brad tried to intimidate the officer? Yes," APD Deputy Chief Paul Feist said in a Journal interview. "I think officer Bonet is a junior officer, and he may not have really known what was going on there. But in any case, the officer said he didn't feel threatened."

Feist said he assigned the APD Repeat Offender Project to investigate whether Ahrensfield had tried to intimidate Bonet.

Two of the ROP team detectives assigned to the case, Lou Heckroth and Kevin Wycoff, received tactical training from Ahrensfield at APD, Ahrensfield said. He said the third, Zach Stephenson, was a personal friend but that the two hadn't spoken since Ahrensfield left the department.

According to the ROP team's report, Bonet said he didn't feel threatened by Ahrensfield. Rather, the officer said he felt Ahrensfield was trying to "give him the heads up" about problems with the case and that if anyone was threatening legal action, it was attorney Mescall.

The ROP team, which did not question Mescall or Ahrensfield, determined Ahrensfield had not tried to intimidate Bonet and did not pursue charges. Feist said that he didn't send the case to a regular APD field investigator because he didn't know which officers were involved in the Gonzales DWI case. He said he wasn't aware of any friendships between Ahrensfield and the ROP team detectives, and is confident in their investigation.

Ahrensfield, who has been working as an investigator for local attorneys, said in an interview that he uncovered discrepancies in the DWI case handled by Bonet and another officer. Ahrensfield said he warned Bonet that he knew the officer's story about how he first encountered Dennis Gonzales, who was later arrested on suspicion of DWI, was bogus and that Bonet would be well served to not show up and "perjure himself" in court and at an administrative driver's license revocation hearing.

Bonet has maintained he saw Gonzales pull into a driveway near the home of man who allegedly had threatened suicide, according to police reports. Bonet, who responded to the suicide call with another officer, has said he contacted Gonzales because he believed he was either the man who had threatened suicide or was otherwise connected to the case. APD records reviewed by the Journal, including footage from Bonet's department-issued lapel-mounted camera, show that he and the other officer had found the man who was threatening suicide and determined he was OK. Bonet didn't encounter Gonzales until later.

Ahrensfield said he tried to convince Bonet to "just take responsibility and tell the truth." While Gonzales' license was revoked, Assistant District Attorney Candace Coulson dismissed the criminal DWI case because of "concerns over reasonable suspicion concerning the investigation," Deputy DA Mark Drebing said. Bonet reported the text message to his sergeant and to the DA's Office. Bonet couldn't be reached for comment.

In a motion filed earlier this month, Assistant U.S. Attorney Tara Neda asked U.S. District Judge James Parker to issue an arrest warrant for Ahrensfield because he "has committed various offenses while on release pending appeal," including "obstruction of justice" based on his contact with Bonet.

Copyright 2012 Albuquerque Journal

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