APD Cadet Gets Fired Then Quickly Rehired, Dad is High Ranking APD Official. Nepotism at Play?

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August 22, 2023, 7:30 pm

BY: ABQ RAW staff

POSTED: 08/22/2023 @ 1:00PM

Albuquerque

On July 18th, 2023 the Albuquerque Police Department held a press conference flanked by 100 new hires highlighting the strides they are making when it comes to hiring more officers. During this press conference Chief Harold Medina, Chief Administrative Officer Lawrence Rael, and APD Academy staff highlighted the 100 new hires joining the Albuquerque Police Department ranks. The 100 new hires included at least 60 new cadets, 10 lateral officers from other departments, and 30 police service aides (PSA’s). A brand new police academy was to start three days later and everyone was excited. These 100 officers could add to the current 876 sworn officers and 41 PSAs currently working for APD. It was to be a kick-off to a 26-week academy for the police cadets.

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Vega pictured front row in the light blue button up shirt

In the backdrop behind leadership was cadet Joshua Vega, he was in the front row listening with others to Chief Harold Medina tout the highest pay scale in the state and other incentives offered to APD cadets. Joshua Vega is the son of APD Commander George Vega. Commander George Vega is an integral part of APD’s Homicide unit. The senior Vega was recently rehired last year by Chief Medina after retiring as a Lieutenant in 2020. Commander George Vega was brought back at a higher rank than he retired at to be part of the Homicide unit leadership. He makes close to $142,000 a year.

APD Commander George Vega

Last week, after only two weeks in, the junior Vega was fired from the APD cadet academy. A senior law enforcement official who was not authorized to speak to the media reached out to us because it appears that history at the APD Academy is repeating itself. We were told that young Vega was fired after an internal affairs review determined that he was a habitual liar as a pattern of “untruthfulness” was established when it came to Academy instructors asking him routine and basic questions. One instance we learned about was that he lied to Academy instructors about having his hair cut to the male cadet standards. The new standard was put in place for all male cadets and required them to shave their entire head to a zero fade. Apparently young Vega did not adhere to those standards and when questioned he was untruthful. Cadet Vega simply had a haircut style unsatisfactory to the Academy’s strict requirements.

Young Vega was notified of these potential violations and his case was sent to APD’s Internal Affairs. After an investigation it was determined that he should be fired from APD.

As a result of the firing, Joshua Vega immediately filed an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) complaint with the City of Albuquerque for “Hazing”. While this was going on, five of his Academy instructors were REMOVED from the Academy and were assigned to other units within APD. The implication is that these Basic Academy instructors are being punished for simply doing their jobs. Two of these five have been through this before, more on this in a bit.

On August 21st, during the regular City Council meeting District 1 City Councilor Louie Sanchez asked Mayor Tim Keller’s administration and APD’s senior leadership about the scandal.

There are some issues which are under investigation and there might be some tort claims. So we can’t comment on that, but other than that there are some items that DC (Deputy Chief) Brown can probably address,” said Chief Financial Officer Sanjay Bhakta, who was filling in for Chief Administrative Officer Lawrence Rael.

Deputy Chief Josh Brown was the high ranking official appointed to talk to the City Council for the meeting and he deferred any questions regarding the academy incident. Chief Medina is on vacation and DCOP Smathers is acting Chief of Police while Medina is gone.

“It is not within my bureau,” said Deputy Chief Brown. Chief Brown did not want to be on the record about academy issues since he oversees the Field Services Bureau. Deputy Chief of Police Cori Lowe is in charge of the police academy and she was not at Monday’s meeting.

A look at the City of Albuquerque’s transparency portal show that Cadet Joshua Vega is still on the payroll as a police cadet making $28.85 a hour and his father Commander George Vega makes over $140,000 a year.

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An August 22nd, 2023 transparency portal result of pay of the Vega family. The blurred out pay is an officer unrelated to this story. This is year to date pay as of August 22nd, 2023.

A senior law enforcement official who is not authorized to speak to the media told us that two of the five instructors were previously part of a recently settled lawsuit where they claimed former chief Michael Geier transferred them out of their positions as punishment for filing complaints about then-commander of the Police Academy Angela Byrd. Both APD Academy instructors received a $175,000 settlement.

APOA (The Albuquerque Police Officers’ Association) Union President Shaun Willoughby said.

The APOA is aware of the active investigation at the Albuquerque Police Academy. We have scheduled meetings with our members to gather facts and will be reviewing any and all potential contract violations.. The Police Department has the management right to run the Department. Tho we have concerns regarding the situation, there are a lot of facts we don’t know at this time. One thing is a certainty, the APOA will diligently provide our members with support and representation throughout this investigation”.

Former Police Sergeant and now high profile attorney Tom Grover provided the following statement:

“Having been involved in numerous actions involving APD’s police academy and represented cadets and veteran police instructors, the consequences of removing the Basic academy instructor cadre cannot be overstated. By this unprecedented action, the city has thrown the legitimacy of this cadet class into the air as you cannot simply replace Basic academy instructors with surrogates. Such actions will not satisfy the strict standards the NMLEA requires of its satellite law enforcement academies.”

“The DA’s office implemented a Giglio/Brady policy a few years ago whereby they solicit information from officer witnesses regarding any documented allegations or findings of untruthfulness. If this cadet indeed was found to have been untruthful, he will have to disclose that to the DA’s office and they will disclose it to every defense attorney who asks for such information regarding this individual. Obviously such a finding poses to tarnish that individual’s credibility and he’ll have a hard time fulfilling basic aspects of his job as a police officer.”

We reached out to APD for an official comment and we did not hear back from them at the time of publishing this story.

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