Portales ex-deputy chief pleads no contest
Former Portales Deputy Police Chief Lonnie Berry pleaded no contest Thursday in district court to three charges of tampering with public records.
A plea agreement he signed Thursday placed him on 18 months of unsupervised probation. The agreement also required him to pay a $500 restitution fee — the amount of the citations he tampered with, to the state of New Mexico and relinquish his police officer certification from the New Mexico Police Academy.
Berry admitted to District Court Judge Drew Tatum he had tampered with the public records related to the charges.
"I'm ready to move forward at this point," Berry told Tatum.
Berry, who spent 26 years with the Portales Police Department, planned to retire at the end of the year.
He resigned from the department after his Dec. 8 arrest.
Defense attorney Randall Harris told the judge this was a sad day.
"(Berry) is one of the finest officers that I ever had the pleasure of working with," said Harris, a former district attorney.
Berry declined comment immediately after the court hearing.
Accusations against him were part of a 19-page affidavit filed in December in district court. The public records that Berry tampered with were that of Mary Romano, 36, of Portales, and her boyfriend who was identified as Danny Lucero.
According to the affidavit:
- During interviews with Dan Blair, an investigator with the district attorney's office, Romano described Berry as having a "grandfather"-like influence over her son.
She said she had also purchased a Chevy Lumina from Berry for $300 and Berry had given her son and neighbor children unclaimed bicycles from the police evidence compound, saying "they could take any bike that did not have an evidence tag."
- Berry admitted he had destroyed three original citations issued Romano on March 28 for driving with a suspended license, expired vehicle registration and no insurance. She was stopped by Officer Tyler Marney.
Romano called Berry on her cell phone during the stop. Berry showed up a few minutes later. "Marney asked Berry if Romano was a family member or friend and Berry advised Marney that Romano was his niece. At that time, Berry told Marney, go ahead and do what you have to do."
- A few months later, Marney observed Romano's vehicle parked in a driveway near his home. When he checked the plate, it once again came up as expired. Marney began investigating, telling his supervisor, Sgt. David Meeks, his suspicion the tickets he wrote had been removed from police records division and never delivered to municipal court.
During his investigation Marney was told by a records clerk at the police department that "Lonnie Berry often tells the clerks to save certain citations and then he (Lonnie Berry) shreds the citations." Marney went to Deputy District Attorney Donna Mowrer, setting off the chain of events leading to the investigation.
- On June 15, Mowrer called Blair, saying the police chief had asked her if Marney had talked to her about the Romano citations. "Chief Gill then told Mowrer the citations were taken because the person that was issued ... was working for the Drug Task Force.
- Also on June 15, Berry asked Blair if Marney had talked to him about the tickets. When Blair said he had talked to Mowrer, Berry said he had turned Romano over to the Metro Drug Task Force and admitted he (Berry) "had pulled the citations that Marney had issued. Berry said he does this often to obtain informants." Berry said he forgot to tell Marney that he (Berry) pulled the tickets.
- The same day, Gill issued a "letter of counseling" to Marney saying the chief had investigated the matter and concurred with Berry's actions to dismiss two traffic citations in exchange for intelligence on felony drug activity. Gill's letter was also critical of Marney for not following chain of command by contacting the district attorney's office.
- In September, another Portales officer, Mikel Aguilar, showed up in the district attorney's office saying he suspected tickets he had written didn't make it to court and had been destroyed by Berry.
Aguilar provided Blair with photo copies of four tickets issued — three to Romano and one to Lucero. The photo copies were made by a clerk who said she saw Berry remove the citations from files.
- On Dec. 1, Portales Officer Adam Lem told Blair and DA Investigator Dan Aguilar that Romano had been stopped by two other officers at two or three in the morning. Lem said Romano called Berry, then told him that Berry wanted Lem to call him.
"Berry told Lem that Romano is trying to get a stolen police radio back. Lem told Berry that there were two warrants for the female (Romano) out of Clovis and they had state police coming to arrest her on (outstanding) ... warrants. Lem also told Berry she had a suspended license, no insurance or registration."
Lem said Berry asked him if he could just issue Romano one citation for a suspended license "and cut her loose on that."
Lem told Berry, "Whatever you want to do, Captain."
Lem said Berry did not specifically say not to arrest Romano, but Lem "took what the captain said as a recommendation" not to arrest Romano.
Two citations were written but one was voided after the conversation with Berry. Romano was allowed to leave. Neither ticket was ever found at the police department or in the courts.