ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The New Mexico attorney general issued a scathing critique of the Albuquerque Police Department on Friday over its finding that a high-profile civil rights attorney committed suicide, saying the death scene was “terribly mishandled.”
The mysterious death of Mary Han in November 2010 has been the source of controversy in New Mexico ever since Albuquerque police quickly ruled it a suicide. Han was a vocal adversary of the Police Department, and her family believes officers failed to look at other explanations for the feisty lawyer’s death after she was found dead in the driver’s seat of her BMW inside her garage.
In a news release and a letter Friday to the family’s attorney, Attorney General Gary King said his review of the case found the evidence fails to definitively indicate she took her own life. He said the real cause of death may never be determined because of the “puzzling police investigation.”
King said his review found the scene “was terribly mishandled due to inappropriate directions from high-ranking police and civilian administrators with the city of Albuquerque.”
The official cause of death should be changed to undetermined, King said, although he has no authority to order that. Only top officials in the medical examiner’s office can make that decision.
The Albuquerque city attorney’s office said Han’s cause of death was investigated by the state Office of the Medical Investigator and that the FBI reviewed the case and found nothing to support further investigation.
“The attorney general’s involvement and action in this case are highly suspicious,” City Attorney David Tourek said in a statement issued Friday afternoon.
The family’s attorney, Rosario Vega Lynn, said Han’s daughter and sister were thankful King’s office took time to review the case.
“Attorney General King recognized that APD brass and high level city of Albuquerque officials meddled, no real investigation was done and Ms. Han’s death was unfairly and unjustly labeled as a suicide,” she said in an email. “The actions of these individuals were inexcusable and the truth of what happened to Ms. Han will be brought to light. The family will continue to fight until Ms. Han’s good name is cleared.”
King’s findings echo some of the allegations made in a civil suit against the city, Police Department and a number of officials and officers by the family of Han. The civil suit details a series of alleged missteps that followed the discovery of her body, beginning with more than two dozen officers and city officials showing up to “trample” through the house and death scene.
An autopsy found the carbon monoxide level in Han’s blood to be 84.8 percent. But the lawsuit says it is improbable someone could get such a high concentration of carbon monoxide from ambient exposure.