Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

Editorial: Pretrial release gone bad

Pretrial release on house arrest isn’t what it used to be — or even what it’s supposed to be — not if allegations hold true that 18-year-old Immanuel Segura and his brother sold drugs and guns out of a Northeast Albuquerque apartment while Segura was on house arrest.

Albuquerque police say Segura sold hundreds of fentanyl pills to an undercover narcotics officer while awaiting trial on a charge of aggravated battery with a deadly weapon stemming from a December 2021 shooting. After a search warrant of his apartment was served, police say nearly 4,000 more fentanyl pills were found, along with 82 grams of methamphetamine, two shotguns, an AR-15-style rifle, three handguns, thousands of rounds of ammunition, 15 loaded magazines , drug trafficking paraphernalia, more than $2,000 in cash and — wait for it — eight stolen Sandoval County police badges.

Segura and his brother, 21-year-old Santiago Segura-Fresquez, were arrested March 22 on drug trafficking and firearms charges.

Amazingly, state District Judge George P. Eichwald in Sandoval County had released Segura to his brother’s “third-party custody” on Jan. 28. Segura will get another shot at pretrial release Monday before state District Judge Cindy Leos in Bernalillo County.

A public safety assessment known as the “Arnold tool” recommends Segura be released on his own recognition for his latest charges; in fact court officials say the tool will always recommend release. Prosecutors say he’s dangerous and was “directly profiting from harming our community” and have petitioned to hold Segura on pretrial detention.

It’s something the Albuquerque community has been burned on before.

From a distance it would seem Segura complied with conditions of release. He isn’t alleged to have left his apartment. In fact, a pretrial services officer says Segura “maintained acceptable communication.” Eichwald had ordered him not to possess alcohol or controlled substances or firearms. But it sure doesn’t look like home confinement cramped Segura’s lifestyle or that his neighbors near Alameda and Jefferson were safe with all the guns and illegal narcotics next door.

APD Chief Harold Medina says Segura’s case is “exactly why I have been critical of the courts for relying on GPS ankle monitors to keep the public safe from violent suspects.”

The New Mexico District Attorneys Association appears to agree. In a Feb. 17 letter to the governor, the association said New Mexico’s courts lack the resources to monitor defendants’ whereabouts. “At any given time, pretrial services employees cannot say whether a particular defendant is complying with the law,” the letter signed by 5th Judicial District Attorney Diana Luce states. “They can only say where a defendant is located.”

And that’s with the clampdown on GPS monitoring after it was discovered last fall no one was actively keeping track of 2nd Judicial District Pretrial Services Division defendants on evenings, weekends or holidays.

That stunning revelation of incompetence resulted in the Administrative Office of the Courts committing pretrial services staff to oversee the GPS alert system after business hours and on weekends and holidays, while the 2nd Judicial District Court and Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court monitor the system during business hours Mondays through Fridays.

The day after Segura’s latest arrest, Medina blasted District Judge Stanley Whitaker for releasing on an ankle monitor a suspect in two Albuquerque homicides.

Adrian Avila, 18, is accused in an August 2020 case where a teen was killed during a gun robbery and a February 2021 case where a man was killed in front of his home by his brother’s kidnappers. Avila is also implicated in a robbery in which the victim wasn’t killed.

“It is clear that the defendant has no regard for the safety or lives of others,” prosecutors said.

But Avila’s attorney, Ahmad Assed, said prosecutors failed to show no conditions of release could ensure the public’s safety, and Whitaker agreed, placing Avila under a house arrest order that allows him to leave his mother’s home to attend school.

Second Judicial District Attorney Raúl Torrez’s office is appealing Avila’s pretrial release. Good. We hope it makes its way to the state Supreme Court, because reforms and judicial clarity are needed.

Medina is correct, releasing a young man who is alleged to have helped plan and execute a fatal robbery in February, and who allegedly pulled the trigger multiple times in an August homicide, is “ridiculous.”

Assed argued in a motion the prosecution’s evidence against Avila in the August 2020 homicide is circumstantial, but prosecutors point out there were witnesses and physical evidence in both homicides.

Avila’s release shows how badly the system is broken, while Segura’s shows it’s not just an Albuquerque problem.

Physical evidence, witnesses and the seriousness of the alleged crimes should carry great weight in pretrial detention decisions, but too many judges appear to be continuing to use the Arnold tool as a crutch.

Judges were elected to make tough decisions, not to rely on a flawed public safety assessment that focuses too heavily on a defendant’s risk of failing to appear or committing a new crime. Eighteen-year-old men such as Segura and Avila often don’t have criminal convictions or multiple no-shows in court, but the violence they are accused of points to a risk to the community. Case facts should matter as much as, if not more than, a tool developed by a billionaire hedge fund manager skewed to pretrial release.

This editorial first appeared in the . It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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