This is the second to last post I am writing on police corruption in New Mexico.
At 5:00 pm on November 19, 1997, Gallup, New Mexico resident Paul Adam Fitzjerrell, 25, was closing up for the day at B & F Used Cars, a family owned business he managed. His longtime friend, Gallup Police Officer Mike Brandau suggested they go to a neighborhood bar to shoot pool.
Two hours later, Mike’s brother, K.C. Brandau, also a Gallup police officer, joined them.
At about 10:00 pm, two women drove past B & F and saw three men involved in a heated argument in front of the gates. It appeared to them that Paul was trying to escape from the brothers by scaling the six foot wrought iron fence that surrounded the lot.
The women assumed a robbery was in progress because they knew the brothers were cops, so they did a U-turn and drove past again to check out what was going on. Paul was off the fence, and Mike and K.C. had him gripped by the shoulders and were forcing him to the ground. The witnesses drove by a total of six times, and on their final run, the patrol car was still there but Paul was no longer visible. K.C. was leaning over Mike’s car, and Mike strode angrily toward the two women, waving them away.
Along with Mike and K.C.’s two personal vehicles present, a marked police car was also there.
At 10:25 pm, two cops saw K.C. near the scene, driving in tandem with a patrol car driven by Gallup Police Department Officer Judy Landavazo. At 10:28 pm, Mike made a 911 call to report that Paul had committed suicide. At 10:31 pm, he called K.C. on his cell phone. K.C.’s girlfriend later claimed he had been at home with her for 20 minutes before he received the call, even though K.C. was just seen with Landavazo.
GPD officers arrived at the scene immediately, since six of them were parked close by at Virgie’s Restaurant and Lounge. Ranking officer, Calvin Wiggins placed Mike in his police unit and told him to give a statement. Mike agreed to do it only if he could use his “Garrity“, Unfamiliar with Garrity, Wiggins and Mike went to Mike’s house to pick up a card on Garrity. Then, Mike gave a handwritten statement incorporating the words on the card, and soon a cover-up began.
Mike said he was alone with Paul at the car lot. Police did a blood alcohol test on Paul, later determined to be legally intoxicated, but refused to do one on Mike or K.C. In addition, the Chief of Police told the Me NOT to give Mike a residue test, but Paul’s own hands were bagged for testing. However, the ME was too busy to do a residue test, became confused, and washed Paul’s hands instead, thereby ruining any chance of obtaining forensic evidence to see who fired the gun.
Mike told Paul’s family something entirely different than what he had said at the scene. He told them the shooting was an accident. He was handing Paul his gun to look at, and lo and behold, it accidentally went off.
Paul’s family was in shock when police gave a statement to the media that Paul had committed suicide. They didn’t believe that for a minute. Paul was a happy, confident man, who had never suffered from depression in his life. Not only that, but the shot entered Paul’s right temple. Paul was left-handed and even used a left-handed pump shot gun. Why would he kill himself with his right hand?
That wasn’t the only thing fishy. Paul’s sisters were helping his wife dress him for burial when they noticed bruises like finger marks on his shoulders (it wasn’t until later that they learned about the witnesses’ testimony that Mike and K.C. had gripped Paul’s shoulders to hold him to the ground).
Mike never kept his story straight, switching from Paul committing suicide to the shooting being an accident. Considering that the gun was pressed so hard against Paul’s right temple that it left an imprint around the entrance wound, makes it OBVIOUS this was no suicide or accident.
At the insistence of Paul’s family, the investigation was removed from GPD and transferred to the New Mexico State Police on December 2, 1997. Even though NMSP had asked for criminal charges, Mike was never charged with anything.
But that didn’t sit too well with Paul’s family. They began a massive campaign called “Justice for Paul” and made t-shirts and bumper stickers, even erected a billboard. Every Friday for a year, citizens of Gallup, New Mexico held “Justice for Paul” rallies along the historical Route 66. Their efforts paid off. They collected enough signatures on a petition to convene a Special Grand Jury. In January 1999, a suit was brought forth by the Grand Jury special prosecutor alleging involuntary manslaughter and negligent use of a deadly weapon. Former District Attorney Bob Schwartz from Albuquerque was hired as the special prosecutor.
In March, Mike was indicted; however, Mike was protected by Garrity. Because the GPD had deliberately allowed information from Mike’s Garrity statement to become mixed in with other information had highly contaminated the case. Even though Mike had made identical statements to fellow officers before he claimed Garrity, the judge threw out the indictment on grounds that Mike’s civil rights had been violated.
That night Bob Schwartz stated on television news, “Because they (the Gallup police) didn’t keep the Internal Affairs investigation and the criminal investigation separate, this case is so infected that you can never disinfect it. It may not be possible for this case to ever go forward again because of the actions of the Gallup Police Department.”
Therefore, Mike and K.C. Brandau were never charged and convicted of shooting Paul Fitzjerrell. And that, my friends, is a HUGE injustice all in itself.