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HomeLocal NewsAlbuquerque sergeant retires as misconduct investigations pile up

Albuquerque sergeant retires as misconduct investigations pile up

APD cop disciplined for ‘inappropriate relationship’ with teenager

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Since his promotion five years ago, an Albuquerque Police Sergeant was the target of nearly two-dozen misconduct investigations. A look through Christopher Romero’s personnel file showed APD said the 45-year-old clocked in but spent time with a teenage girl or his family, instead of responding to calls.

Romero joined the Albuquerque Police Department in January 2004. Lapel camera footage showing him on duty throughout the last 19 years showed his look has changed. And over those nearly two decades, KRQE Investigates also found his disciplinary file kept getting thicker.

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KRQE previously covered Romero when his own department arrested him in 2018 on the charge of false imprisonment. He was accused of not allowing his wife to leave mid-argument by pulling the keys from her car’s ignition.

Lapel camera footage from his arrest showed an officer questioning Romero. “When she was in the vehicle trying to leave, what happened there?” the officer asked. Romero admitted, “So, I tried to stop her. Not gonna lie.”

He was booked but let go the next day. The Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office dismissed the case citing “insufficient evidence.”

Five months after that arrest, APD promoted Romero to sergeant in January 2019.

Since then, a public records request showed the Department’s Internal Affairs investigated his behavior nearly two dozen times. About half of those resulted in discipline, ranging from training to multi-day suspensions.

In one of the most recent, the IA team found Romero clocked in when he was at home with a 16-year-old girl. The investigation started after his co-worker, an APD Lieutenant, submitted a tip she received accusing a then-44-year-old Romero of “having an inappropriate relationship with the teenager.” Sixteen is the legal age of consent and the IA investigation noted they couldn’t prove a sexual relationship but determined Romero “was involved in some type of relationship with a 16-year-old female.”

This Internal Affairs investigation began a year after the relationship is alleged to have started. The report stated the people who eventually reported it did not want to ruin the Sergeant’s career and they believed the relationship did end at one point. But when they saw the teenager’s car parked outside Romero’s home a year later, they went straight to the police.

Photos were taken which, the IA report said, showed Romero’s patrol car at home that morning, too. It turns out, he was supposed to be on duty. The report includes records showing Romero clocked in but did not hold the required briefing or respond to any calls for service and no one saw him at the substation that day. He was given an 8-hour suspension.

An additional 24-hour suspension was tacked on for the relationship. The IA team used four weeks of phone records to prove the two spoke nearly every day, multiple times a day from two minutes to more than two hours at a time. Comparing the call log with Romero’s activity log, the team concluded he was on duty during at least four of those phone calls.

The tipster’s suspicion Romero and the teen’s relationship had either picked back up or never ended the year before was confirmed.

And it appears it is still ongoing. A random check of the Sergeant’s lapel camera earlier this year revealed the teen in the front seat of his patrol car in two different videos. A separate IA investigation explained a lieutenant made the discovery when conducting a required “supervisory inspection.” The videos did not have sound because Romero waited to turn on the camera audio until he got out of his patrol car. The IA investigation stated Romero told investigators he gave the teenager a ride on “numerous occasions.” But the footage does not just show a ride. In both videos, the teenager got out to respond to calls with Romero. He was given a written reprimand.

But the punishment could become more severe because someone brought the IA investigation into Romero’s alleged misconduct with the teenager to the Attorney General’s attention. The Office is now investigating, and its findings will be brought to the state’s Law Enforcement Certification Board. Depending on what the Board finds, Romero could lose his police certification. This same Board is actually already investigating Romero on a separate incident — overtime fraud. 

A citizen complaint alleged Romero clocked in saying he worked overtime when he was spending time with his kids. It was confirmed by a check of the Sergeant’s computer log, which showed no work was done, and in an interview with the supervisor on those visits. The Citizen Police Oversight Agency determined Romero stole three hours of overtime pay on two different days. He was handed a four-week suspension. But it could not be imposed because records in Romero’s file revealed the investigation took longer than the police union’s allotted time frame.

But again, he is not off the hook because the Law Enforcement Certification Board has APD’s report and is investigating Romero’s police certification.

Timecard fraud is typically considered a crime. KRQE asked the Bernalillo County DA’s Office if it received APD’s investigation. A spokesperson for the DA said the Office did not.

APD declined an interview on their former Sergeant’s disciplinary record.  And after numerous attempts, both Romero and his attorney did, too.

Romero ended up taking an early retirement last month. KRQE learned the retirement went into effect one week after APD responded to Romero’s home for a domestic dispute. The report stated the teenage girl called the police and that bruises were noticed on her face, but she refused medical treatment. Romero also refused to come out of his home and speak to his fellow officers. No charges have been filed. An IA investigation was initiated, though, after officers reported the allegations of domestic abuse to a supervisor.

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