War on Drugs

Victim of Warrantless, Wrong-Door Raid: "I'm not the same person"


After finding two bodies in a burned-out SUV earlier this month, the Bernalillo County Sheriff's Office traced the vehicle's owner to the El Pueblo Apartments in Albuquerque, New Mexico. On April 10, the officers gathered at the complex to conduct a raid. At the last minute, they noticed activity in a unit two doors away, and decided to raid that one, too—without a warrant.

According to the Albuquerque Journal, the officers knew they'd need a warrant to search the apartment and seize evidence, but didn't think they'd need one to break down the door and force Bertha Gamboa, 52, and her husband Carlos to the floor at gunpoint. So while one officer requested a search warrant, eight other officers battered down the Gamboas' door, stormed it with shotguns raised, and made the Gamboas lie flat on the floor.

Minutes later, and without explanation, the officers left the Gamboas' residence and cancelled their warrant request.

Two weeks have passed since the raid. No arrests have been made in the burned-out SUV case, the Gamboas are complaining of PTSD, and the cops can't get their stories straight as to why they felt the need to raid an apartment unrelated to their investigation without a warrant:

Bernalillo County Sheriff's spokeswoman Jennifer Vega-Brown said deputies needed to secure the Gamboas' apartment based on information they had received earlier that day. She did not know why deputies thought the Gamboas' home may have been connected to the West Mesa deaths.

Some details about the decision to enter the Gamboas' apartment were contained in an email written by Sheriff's Sgt. Mark Kmatz and sent to the Journal on Tuesday.

Deputies had been told that both the Gamboas' apartment and the second apartment may have contained information relevant to the investigation, Kmatz wrote.

Deputies were in the process of obtaining search warrants for both apartments when officers "observed activity" in the Gamboas' unit and decided to enter, Kmatz wrote.

"And concerned that evidence could be destroyed, they acted to secure the occupants, NOT to search the apartment prior to obtaining a warrant," Kmatz wrote. "However, once they secured the two occupants, they were able to determine by speaking with them, that they were not involved" with the West Mesa deaths.

Deputies then dropped efforts to obtain a search warrant for the Gamboas' apartment, he wrote.

That's according to the news report in the Albuquerque Journal. According to an unsigned editorial that ran in the paper the next week:

Somehow, the Gamboas' address became wrongly implicated in the case, and deputies were attempting to get a search warrant for their home, too. But before that could happen, deputies on the scene decided to break in. They soon realized the Gamboas had nothing to do with the SUV case, dropped the effort to get a search warrant and apologized to the couple.

In short, Bernalillo County Sheriff's deputies had absolutely no discernible reason to break into the Gamboas' home, but break into it they did, and Bertha Gamboa is paying the price. The night of the raid, Gamboa was so shaken that she began vomiting and was admitted to Presbyterian Hospital, where she stayed overnight. "I'm not the same person like I was," she told the Journal. "I'm not in this world."

For more New Mexico drug war insanity, see KOAT7's report on the gear Los Lunas police used to sieze one bag of pot. Note that the SWAT cops insist on wearing balaclavas while they talk to the press! 

For more on people whose lives were upended by wrong-door raids, see the cases of 76-year-old Fred Skinner and Alex Skinner