‘Inadequate and Unfinished’

DA: Shoddy Santa Fe police investigation led to dismissal of charges against teen accused in July 2020 killing

The letter from prosecutors to police lays out 26 bullet points—everything from the use of an unconstitutional photo lineup to detectives’ failure to search for evidence on four cell phones they seized.

The result: a foundering homicide case in the high-profile killing of a Santa Fe teen who police have repeatedly described as a gang member on the Southside last year. The charges against the teen police accused of the shooting have now been dismissed.

Assistant District Attorney Tony Long addressed the letter, dated Tuesday, to several high-ranking Santa Fe Police Department higher-ups, including deputy chiefs Ben Valdez and Paul Joye.

SFR obtained a copy of the scathing, two-page letter through a request to the DA’s Office under the New Mexico Inspection of Public Records Act.

Mario Guizar-Anchondo, now 18, is accused of killing 17-year-old Ivan Perez in July 2020. Guizar-Anchondo was 17 at the time, and he was initially charged as an adult by then-DA Marco Serna.

On Tuesday, the DA’s Office dismissed the case without prejudice, meaning it can be refiled, and referred it back to SFPD.

In an interview, DA Mary Carmack-Altwies tells SFR the police investigation was “inadequate and unfinished.”

She adds that, prior to Long sending the letter this week, her office had been trying to get SFPD to address the shortcomings in the investigation for some time.

Joye tells SFR the agency provided 15 of the 26 items on the DA’s list on Aug. 30, though he could not say which.

Responding to Joye’s comment, Carmack-Altwies tells SFR that on Aug. 30, two of her staff members went to the police department and obtained some of the items listed in the letter, but not those most important to the case. She did not explain why those items were listed on the Tuesday correspondence.

Yet, Carmack-Altwies says, the delivery came too late—just a month before the scheduled trial date and a year after the killing.

The list of issues and missing evidence in the letter includes: endorsed search warrants, voluntary witness statements, chain of custody documentation, crime scene logs and Office of the Medical Investigator photographs and reports, as well as a lack of data download or analysis of four cell phones that were collected.

The department also conducted, according to the letter, a “statutorily and constitutionally impermissible ‘photo line-up’ of the defendant” that didn’t adhere to required legal procedures that must be followed for prosecutors to use the identification of a defendant in court.

Because those procedures weren’t followed, Long writes, the court suppressed the identification of Guizar-Anchondo—a fatal blow to the case.

“As a result of the Court’s suppression of the defendant’s identification, the uncooperative friends of Ivan Perez who witnessed his homicide and the outstanding discovery and follow-up investigation, this case is in no way, shape or form ready for trial next month,” Long wrote.

Guizar-Anchondo was set to go to trial in October. He is no longer in custody.

“It doesn’t mean we won’t charge him again at some point,” Carmack-Altwies says. “It just means that at this point, the investigation isn’t complete and the case cannot go to trial.”

Carmack-Altwies says SFPD remained mum as her prosecutors raised concerns about the quality of the investigation.

She adds that pandemic-driven court delays—which have challenged prosecutors and defense attorneys over the past year and a half—have also slowed down their timeline for prosecution.

Also this week, the trial of 18-year-old Esteven Montoya, who is accused of fatally shooting Santa Fe High basketball star Fedonta “JB” White in August 2020 a few weeks after Perez died, was pushed to May, the Santa Fe New Mexican reports.

Montoya was part of a group called the Southside Goons, of which Perez was also a member. The two were close friends. Police and prosecutors claim the group is a gang, but members say that’s far from the truth, telling SFR last year that they’re friends who grew up along Airport Road and make music together.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with a clarification from DA Mary Carmack-Altwies about documents police provided on Aug. 30.

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