Fact-checking political allegations is like herding cats. No local news agencies to date have been able to determine whether Bernalillo County Sheriff Manny Gonzales’ claims that mayor Tim Keller covered up a city employee’s DWI, an affair, and a domestic incident are fact or fiction.
Both sides are sticking to their story.
Keller’s campaign told KOAT 7, “Manny doubled down on his record of outrageous lies last night with a disgusting, false attack on the Mayor’s family and the integrity of police officers. We’re appalled by these tactics but not surprised that Manny is so desperate, with no record to run on, that all he has is internet conspiracy theories. We are pursuing legal options against these defamatory claims.”
Campaign Manager Neri Holguin told The Conservative New Mexican that the day after the October 19 debate, “our campaign attorney sent the Gonzales campaign a cease and desist letter demanding that Gonzales immediately stop making false and defamatory statements regarding Tim Keller, Liz Keller and the Albuquerque Police Department. The letter says that if he refuses to do so, we will have no choice but to pursue all available remedies against Mr. Gonzales, including a claim for defamation.”
Gonzales’ campaign hit back:
“We welcome Keller filing a lawsuit and are ready to start taking depositions under oath tomorrow, starting with the mayor’s. The truth is an absolute defense against slander claims and we look forward to proving the truth through the legal discovery process.
“These serious allegations have been widely circulated, involve potential sexual harassment and other workplace misconduct, and that’s why the Sheriff posed the question. We have spoken to two high-ranking members of the Albuquerque Police Department with direct knowledge of the domestic incident stemming from the sexual harassment scandal and are awaiting public records responses based on that information (which we expect to be intentionally covered up until after election).”— Gonzales Campaign Manager Shannan Calland
On Tuesday, Gonzales stated during the KOB 4 mayoral debate that “There are serious misconduct allegations at city hall under your watch.
“Allegations of your own domestic violence incident being covered up by high-ranking city officials. Another allegation of a high-ranking city official who was driving drunk and was involved driving a city vehicle and involved in a crash. And the third is, also, you having allegations of having an affair with a city subordinate. How can you pub — how can the public trust you to fight crime in Albuquerque when you can’t even fight crime in city hall.”— Bernalillo County Sheriff Manny Gonzales
Keller responded, calling the claims “disgusting,” defamatory, and “pathetic.”
With the election only a week away, neither side is likely to change their story.
As for the claims themselves, we asked Gonzales’ campaign if it had evidence of the allegations made by Gonzales and when the campaign would be releasing that information.
Calland provided two links:
Here is the article on the drunk driving case:
First Report on Domestic Incident
Drunk Driving Alleged On Blog
Gonzales’ claim of a “high-ranking official” crashing a city vehicle while driving drunk is based on a vehicle crash that occurred September 14, 2021. It involved the city’s Chief Operations Officer, Lawrence Rael.
The source provided by the Gonzales campaign, ABQReport.com, makes a pretty straightforward case for how Rael broke city rules by not filing an incident report of the crash in a timely manner.
ABQReport’s Dan Klein states in his post that the information about Rael’s crash was provided by Thomas Grover, who some will remember was the lawyer representing a Gonzales supporter who filed a petition in September to remove Republican Eddy Aragon from the mayoral ballot.
“People get into accidents all the time, so why wouldn’t Rael call APD and have a police report done, as required? Why wouldn’t Rael call APD so that damages and injuries get documented by APD? Why wouldn’t Rael call APD so that they could verify the identity and drivers’ license of the other driver? Why wouldn’t Rael call APD, so they could check the drivers to make sure no one was impaired? Why?”— Dan Klein, ABQReport
Klein cited the city’s policy for handling vehicle crashes, which indeed states that “The City driver should call 911” and “should call their Supervisor,” which appears to be distinct from multiple other places in the policy where city employees “must” take specific action.
The difference between “should” and “must” may be semantic, but one is a recommendation, the other a legal requirement. While city employees “should” call police they “must” report the incident “within 24 hours.” Based on the incident report, Rael didn’t do that. As Klein notes, the report wasn’t filed for 15 days.
So while Rael did violate the rules — the article itself is titled, “Did COO Rael break the rules?” — neither Grover nor Klein allege that Rael was intoxicated.
No local news organization states as a matter of fact that Rael was intoxicated either. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t, but it doesn’t mean he was just because a political campaign alleges it. In a court of law (and, arguably, the court of public opinion), eye witness testimony would outweigh allegations of a conspiracy from the political opponents of the accused’s boss. Rael (and therefore Keller) have eye witness testimony on their side.
The woman, who didn’t want to go on camera, claims that after the crash, the city employee got out of the car, handed her his card and then left.
“He said he worked for the mayor on the 11th floor. No police came or ambulance came. Nobody came,” the crash victim said to Target 7.
We asked her if she thought the city employee was driving under the influence.
She said, “no I didn’t.”— KOAT 7
It is possible that a high-ranking city official was drunk driving a block from his work. At 9:30 in the morning. On a Tuesday. But it’s not bloody likely, and it’s definitely not the bombshell that, say, a 3AM crash on Friday night would be, for example, which is why no mainstream news organization reported the story when it first broke. It’s unsubstantiated.
Another aspect of the ABQReport cites “unidentified sources” who said Rael’s vehicle was “not drivable” after the crash. According to the KOAT7 report, the woman whose vehicle was hit said Rael gave her his card, told her he worked for the mayor, and “left.”
It didn’t say how Rael left, but a reasonable person would assume that if he left on foot or on a skateboard or in an Uber, abandoning his vehicle at the scene because it was not drivable, the woman or KOAT would have noted that.
The fact that Rael failed to call police and filed an incident report two weeks late do appear to be direct or indirect violations of city rules, but these are administrative violations, not criminal acts. To date there is no basis for the conspiracy to cover up the incident.
Affair, Domestic Incident Alleged On Facebook
The citation provided by the Gonzales campaign detailing the alleged affair and domestic incident is equally tenuous. ABQ RAW, on its Facebook page, stated they received information from “anonymous sources within APD” that there was a call made in April 2021 regarding “a domestic incident” at Keller’s home.
The Albuquerque Journal and KOAT 7 filed records requests. They did not report on the allegations because both reports came back negative.
According to KOAT, a records request in May asking for all calls placed to 9-1-1 from Keller’s home was returned “showing no evidence of a domestic violence accusation.”
According to the Journal, “Keller has previously denied the allegations in an interview with Journal reporters. A Journalpublic records request earlier this year seeking police incident reports and dispatch records for Keller’s home address since Jan. 1 yielded only a few calls around Jan. 6 — the date of the U.S. Capitol insurrection — in which there were reported threats to the home. Records show officers kept watch throughout their shift and found the home was secure. There were no other records.”
“The Journal has seen no proof and has been unable to substantiate allegations that the mayor was having an affair or was involved in a domestic violence incident.”
It’s difficult to say what will come of this. Emotions run high in political races. A lot is at stake. If nobody takes 51% of the vote on November 2, 2021, this story will stick around.
If the “high-ranking members of the Albuquerque Police Department with direct knowledge of the domestic incident stemming from the sexual harassment scandal” that Calland alluded to end up coming forward, that will lend the story credibility. If they don’t, and the Gonzales camp’s only official documentation of the alleged incidents are a Facebook post citing anonymous sources and a blog detailing administrative violations, the story, and Gonzales’ reputation, is likely over.