Portales police deputy chief arrested (updated)

Robin Fornoff

Portales Deputy Police Chief Lonnie Berry is accused of destroying traffic tickets issued to a woman and her boyfriend.

The accusations are part of a 19-page affidavit filed Thursday in District Court after Berry was arrested and charged with three felony counts of tampering with public records.

Berry, a 26-year career Portales officer, was booked into Roosevelt County jail and later released on $2,000 bond, according to District Attorney Matt Chandler. Berry also resigned from the department shortly after his arrest. He was scheduled to retire at the end of the year.

Berry declined comment.

Police Chief Jeff Gill called it a sad end to an otherwise stellar police career.

The investigation by Chandler culminated with the execution a search warrant Nov. 30 at the Portales Police Department. Chandler was tipped by a Portales officer who was later reprimanded for going outside of his chain of command, according to the affidavit.

Chandler’s investigator, Dan Blair, also alleges in court records that Berry falsely claimed the citations against the woman and her boyfriend were dismissed in exchange for the pair agreeing to work as confidential informants for the Region Five Drug Task Force.

The woman is identified as Mary Romano, 36, of Portales, and her boyfriend is identified only as Danny Lucero.

Portales Detective Nate Hyde, spokesman for the Region Five Drug Task Force, said neither Romano nor Lucero were informants.

The maximum penalty is 18 months and or $5,000 on each of the counts against Berry, according to Chandler.

According to the affidavit:

• During interviews with Blair, Romano described Berry as having a “grandfather”-like influence over her son.

She said she had also purchased a Chevy Lumina from Berry for $300 and Berry had given her son and neighbor children unclaimed bicycles from the police evidence compound, saying “they could take any bike that did not have an evidence tag.”

Berry admitted he had destroyed three original citations issued Romano on March 28 for driving on a suspended license, expired vehicle registration and no insurance. She was stopped by Officer Tyler Marney.

Romano called Berry on her cell phone during the stop. Berry showed up a few minutes later. “Marney asked Berry if Romano was a family member or friend and Berry advised Marney that Romano was his niece. At that time, Berry told Marney, go ahead and do what you have to do.”

• A few months later, Marney observed Romano’s vehicle parked in a driveway near his home. When he checked the plate, it once again came up as expired. Marney began investigating, telling his supervisor, Sgt. David Meeks, his suspicion the tickets he wrote had been removed from police records division and never delivered to municipal court.

During his investigation Marney was told by a records clerk at the police department that “Lonnie Berry often tells the clerks to save certain citations and then he (Lonnie Berry) shreds the citations.” Marney then went to Deputy District Attorney Donna Mowrer, setting off the chain of events leading to the investigation.

• On June 15, Mowrer called Blair, saying the police chief had asked her if Marney had talked to her about the Romano citations. “Chief Gill then told Mowrer the citations were taken because the person that was issued…was working for the Drug Task Force. Mowrer said that Chief Gill was upset with Marney because he had ‘jumped his chain of command.’”

• Also on June 15, Berry asked Blair if Marney had talked to him about the tickets. When Blair said he had talked to Mowrer, Berry said he had turned Romano over to the Metro Drug Task Force and admitted he (Berry) “had pulled the citations that Marney had issued. Berry said he does this often to obtain informants.”

Berry said he forgot to tell Marney that he (Berry) pulled the tickets.

• The same day, Gill issued a “letter of counseling” to Marney saying the chief had investigated the matter and concurred with Berry’s actions to dismiss two traffic citations in exchange for intelligence on felony drug activity. Gill’s letter was also critical of Marney for not following chain of command by contacting the district attorney’s office.

Gill warned Marney that “this letter would be his one and only warning…and failure to follow chain of command in the future would cause Marney to face disciplinary action up to and including termination of employment.”

• In September, another Portales officer, Mikel Aguilar, showed up in the district attorney’s office saying he suspected tickets he had written didn’t make it to court and had been destroyed by Berry.

Aguilar provided Blair with photo copies of four tickets issued — three to Romano and one to Lucero. The photo copies were made by a clerk who said she saw Berry remove the citations from files.

• On Dec. 1, Portales Officer Adam Lem told Blair and DA Investigator Dan Aguilar that Romano had been stopped by two other officers at two or three in the morning. Lem said Romano called Berry, then told him that Berry wanted Lem to call him.

“Berry told Lem that Romano is trying to get a stolen police radio back. Lem told Berry that there were two warrants for the female (Romano) out of Clovis and they had state police coming to arrest her on (outstanding)…warrants. Lem also told Berry she had a suspended license, no insurance or registration.”

Lem said Berry asked him if he could just issue Romano one citation for a suspended license “and cut her loose on that.”

Lem told Berry, “Whatever you want to do Captain.”

Lem said Berry did not specifically say not to arrest Romano, but Lem “took what the ‘Captain said as a recommendation’ not to arrest Romano.

Two citations were written but one was voided after the conversation with Berry. Romano was allowed to leave. Neither ticket was ever found at the police department or in the courts.