N.M. officer on leave in DWI coverup

T.J. WILHAM Journal Staff Writer

Copyright 2006 Albuquerque Journal 

An Albuquerque police officer has been placed on leave after investigators determined she played a role in attempting to cover up an alcohol-related crash involving a fellow officer.

Officer Sara Harris left her overtime post in order to give officer Brandon Wilcox, 25, a ride home after he crashed his take-home squad car in the early morning of March 9, said Police Chief Ray Schultz.

Wilcox had been drinking at the same bar Harris was working security for.

Wilcox, who faces DWI charges, resigned from the department Thursday. Had he not resigned, Schultz said Wilcox would have been fired.

According to police, Wilcox made it home after crashing the patrol car but had his 19-year-old brother come to the scene.

When officers responded to the crash in the 5500 block of Comanche, Wilcox's brother, Bryan, was in the driver's seat, according to court records.

At first, he told officers he had stolen his brother's police car as a prank. Later, he admitted he had not been driving, court records state.

Schultz said Harris, a 2{- year member of the department, will face some sort of discipline. She has been placed on paid leave.

"This is embarrassing to me, and it's embarrassing to the department," Schultz said. "We are trying to take this department to the next level and gain the trust of this community and these incidents don't help.

"I said after (Wilcox) was arrested that I was disappointed. Now my disappointment is only compounded, knowing that another employee of this organization was involved."

Schultz said Harris, 23, was on duty and in uniform working security for a Northeast Heights bar when she left her post in her squad car and drove to where Wilcox had crashed. Harris then drove Wilcox home in her squad car. She later returned to her post.

Schultz said investigators are still trying to determine if Harris drove Bryan Wilcox to the crash site.

Officers eventually found Brandon Wilcox passed out inside his home just a few blocks away, court records state.

His blood-alcohol level was 0.20, which is more than twice the legal limit to drive a motor vehicle, police said.

Schultz said it's unlikely criminal charges will be pursued against Harris. Her actions would be a misdemeanor offense, and, in order for charges to be filed, the offense must be witnessed by police.

Investigators became aware of Harris' involvement when another officer came forward with information that she might have taken Wilcox home after the crash.

Wilcox was working Chief's Overtime, a program in which vendors can hire officers through the police department to work overtime. Officers are only allowed to leave their posts if the vendor gives permission.

Schultz said he did not know if that permission was ever granted.

Schultz said he did not know if Harris would get paid for working that night.

"Right now, she has got more important things to worry about," Schultz said. "My concern is that she removed him from the accident scene prior to (the) officer's arrival." 
HARRIS: Chief said she'll face discipline
BRANDON WILCOX: Faces DWI charges in Mar. 9 squadcar crash 
March 17, 2006

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