A misdemeanor criminal complaint was filed in magistrate court last week, alleging that Mountainair Police Chief Robert Chung failed to report an accident.
The complaint stemmed from a January incident in which Chung crashed his SUV into the town’s animal shelter.
Asked for a comment Tuesday, Chung said it was the first he had heard of the complaint, and that he would not comment without speaking to his attorney.
Chung is charged with “failure to give immediate notice of accident,” a misdemeanor, because the only place he reported the accident was to Mountainair Mayor Chester Riley and then, the following day, to his own subordinate in the Mountainair Police Department, according to court documents.
An investigation by New Mexico State Police officer Marcus Lopez last month was initiated because State Police got a complaint from a citizen who alleged that Chung had “possibly attempted to cover up the crash.”
Lopez called dispatchers to find out if State Police or the Torrance County Sheriff’s office responded to Chung’s accident, and concluded that they did not.
In an interview with Thomas Zamora, Lopez reported that Chung’s vehicle was towed to T&C Auto Repair in February by a town of Mountainair backhoe. Zamora said the “vehicle had a lot of front end damage and both frontal airbags were deployed.”
An interview with Richard Torres, Mountainair’s maintenance supervisor, indicates that he was called to put plywood over the damage on the day of the crash. “Mr. Torres told us he didn’t know if the cops ever did a report and the crash must have happened right before he arrived because the Chief’s vehicle was leaking water,” the document says.
Torres told Lopez that he and Riley patched up the shelter building with plywood, and that they were there for about half an hour without seeing any police officers on the scene, the document says.
Lopez and a colleague interviewed town clerk Suzan Brazil, who said damage to the building was approximately $3,900, the court document says.
On July 17, the document says, Lopez and the other officer met with Chung. “Chief Chung did not make a statement and invoked his right to a lawyer,” the court document says. “He told us he would be out of town for personal reasons the following week and when he returned he would call … As of the date of this probable cause statement, Chief Chung never contacted [State Police Officer Marcus Lopez].”
Lopez and his colleague interviewed the mayor. “Mayor Riley stated when he arrived at the town’s animal shelter, he noticed that Chief Chung and his wife were shook up,” the court document says. “Mayor Riley asked why should a law enforcement officer arrived [sic] at the scene, Chief Chung was in his own vehicle.”
The document continues, “When asked if Chief Chung knows the law, Mayor Riley stated he is the law and mentioned that Chief Chung called him, the Mayor about the crash.”
Riley told Lopez that both of Chung’s subordinates were off-duty the day of the crash, according to the documents. “When asked if he thought the crash was important enough to call one of the Mountainair Police Officers out for a few hours to investigate, like the law requires, Mayor Riley stated no, it was a minor accident; there was nothing to it,” it says.
In Lopez’ interview with Riley, the mayor appears to contradict himself, saying first that the building was boarded up Jan. 3, the same day of the crash, then later saying that about three weeks later, “Chief Chung’s vehicle was finally removed from inside the animal shelter,” according to the document.
Lopez and his colleague interviewed Mountainair Police Officer Milton Torrez, who said he was notified of the crash on Sunday, Jan. 4, the document says. Torrez said “he did not take photographs of tire skip marks or any other possible evidence located outside. He also did not draft a diagram of the crash scene or do any measurements. Officer Torrez confirmed when he arrived a the animal shelter, the outside of it was already boarded up,” the document says.
“When asked how he knew where Barbara Chung … was seated during the crash,” Torrez said he had “made contact with Barbara he believes on Sunday, January 4, 2015,” the document says. “Barbara [Chung] stated her eyes were closed with her hands over her face when she heard a loud sound as the vehicle crashed into the animal shelter.”
Torrez told Lopez that no one had called him Jan. 3. “When asked why he marked sober on the crash report for the sobriety of the driver, Chief Chung, when he was not at the scene immediately after the crash, [Torrez] stated that for the three years he has known Chief Chung, he has never seen him drink.” According to the document, Torrez conceded that he “should have checked the sobriety unknown box.”
Asked if Chung told him how to write the crash report, Torrez said no. Torrez speculated that he might not have been called out to investigate on Saturday because it was his day off, the document says. “When asked if there have been times in the past, when he has been called out on his day off for incidents less urgent than the chief crashing his vehicle into a town owned building, Officer Torrez did not answer the question for a little while but then stated if the county … could not respond, he may be called out.”
The probable cause statement goes on to say, “Torrez stated he was not totally comfortable investigating the crash knowing Chief Chung was his boss.”
The state police officers interviewed Barbara Chung, a Mountainair town councilor and Chief Chung’s wife, the document says. “She told us she was sick with the flu at the time and … she was asleep and the next thing she woke up when her face hit the air-bag.”