A former Roswell Police Department officer made his opening statement against the city of Roswell Monday, accusing the city of civil conspiracy and violating the New Mexico Whistleblower Protection Act.
The Whistleblower Protection Act’s purpose is designed to protect employees who risk job security for the good of the public by disclosing unlawful and improper actions of public officials.
Plaintiff Neil Binderman began as a Roswell police recruit in 2008, where he later graduated from the Hobbs New Mexico Law Enforcement Agency. In 2012, he applied for and accepted the position of property officer at the RPD, and was promoted to the rank of detective.
In January 2014, Binderman came into contact with equipment in RPD’s long-term storage facility. He accessed case records to find that materials were from a homicide case from 2012.
Previous reports from the Daily Record said the Roswell Police Department secured an arrest warrant November 2012 for Thomas Martinez on charges of second-degree murder.
When police conducted a search throughout Martinez’s residence, they discovered an area with $1,321 worth of marijuana — about 36 plants — growing in a basement underneath lights. A total of 739.9 grams of packaged marijuana was also found.
A separate warrant was obtained for the seizure of the marijuana plants, the marijuana and the equipment used along with it. The SWAT team was advised to be careful with the equipment.
A year later, May 2013, Martinez pleaded no contest to a marijuana charge, and in May 2014, he pleaded no contest to voluntary manslaughter.
These materials were no longer considered drug paraphernalia or evidence after Martinez’s sentence in 2013, the city said.
Binderman contacted Philomeno Gonzalez, a sergeant in the RPD, who was part of the SWAT team during the 2012 Martinez homicide.
Binderman stated he intended to destroy the equipment, such as light fixtures and air conditioning units, which he regarded as “drug paraphernalia.”
According to the U.S. Department of Justice Drug Enforcement Administration, drug paraphernalia is defined as any equipment, product or material of any kind primarily intended or designed for use in manufacturing, producing, etc.
The city’s lawyer said Gonzales was following the instructions from two district attorneys when requesting that Binderman return the equipment to Martinez’s family on numerous occasions.
The equipment was ruled that it could be used for legitimate purposes.
The Martinez family has been expecting to receive the equipment back from police with the intention of selling it.
Binderman repeatedly refused, asked his immediate superior instead, and then proceeded to destroy the lights, air conditioning units and other materials that were originally seized.
Gonzales filed a complaint against Binderman due to his insubordinate actions. Binderman’s position then shifted from detective to patrolman for the night shift.
Binderman was not fond of the night shift, and believes that the change in position was a form of retaliation.
Within fewer than two months after being reassigned as a patrol officer, Binderman resigned from the RPD in August 2014.
Roswell’s Chief of Police Phil Smith offered Binderman an alternative position as a school resource officer, but Binderman refused.
“It destroyed my career,” Binderman said. “I should’ve done nothing, but I didn’t.”
Binderman said in his opening statement Monday that he was well aware of Gonzales’ requests to return the equipment to Martinez’s family. Binderman believes — and made it the crux of his case — that the equipment that he chose to destroy was and still is, drug paraphernalia.
Binderman said since the order was not lawful, it was in fact, not insubordination, also noting that “we don’t take property to people,” recalling his knowledge as a former police officer.
The defense disagreed Monday in court, stating that the equipment was not paraphernalia, and also saying that the equipment could be used for plants other than marijuana, like tomatoes and other vegetables.
Binderman looked perplexed whenever city legal counsel Richard E. Olson stated that the equipment was not paraphernalia.
Binderman had no witnesses, and instead focused on evidence. He supplied multiple documents, two sets of photos and an audio recording. While most of his documentation came from official sources, many of the documents were not deemed admissible due to heresay and lack of relevance, said District Judge Dustin K. Hunter.
The defense described Binderman as “rouge,” saying that “he just decided to do it,” noting that he did not ask his superiors, including the instructions from two assistant district attorneys.
The defense left the court with the final thought that Binderman did not go up the chain of command properly.
Binderman said he was in a job he loved doing, and by doing the right thing, he lost everything.
The case is set to last three days, finishing Wednesday.
Multimedia-Crime reporter Trevier Gonzalez can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 301, or at email@example.com.
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