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Fired Santa Fe officers give their side of the story

KOB.com New Mexico
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July 09, 2011 AT 12:15 AM
Two officers fired from the Santa Fe Police Department are firing back at City Hall over what they say is a politically motivated termination. On Friday, Sgt. Troy Baker turned in his gun, badge and car to the Santa Fe Police Department after receiving word that the City Manager had approved his termination. Baker and Officer Steve Cosban were fired more than a year after the arrest of a suspect in a Wal-mart parking lot. Both men say they were cleared by an internal investigation last year of any wrongdoing, and tell KOB Eyewitness News 4 it wasn't until a union vote of no confidence that their case received attention. "Right after the vote of no confidence on the city manager and the assistant city attorney in November, all of a sudden this becomes a priority and they yank us off the street," said Baker. Earlier this year the new Chief of Police Ray Rael told KOB that he had reviewed the internal affairs report into the arrest and disagreed with the findings. A deputy chief was then tasked to conduct an additional investigation in which she recommended termination for Baker and Cosban and suspension for two other officers. Cosban and Baker say the deputy chief never interviewed either of them and based her recommendations on what she saw in a dark and grainy video taken by a police dashboard camera and reports submitted by officers. In a memo that was filed in federal court by an attorney for Baker and Cosban, the police chief had based his recommendation to fire the officers based on the finding that they may have "falsified documents" because they were written similarly and indicated a "different sequence of events" than what was captured on camera. The video leaked to KOB earlier this year showed officers questioning Michael Schaefer and then letting him free while investigating a report that someone had tried to force their way into a nearby home. At one point in the video, Schaefer returns for his wallet that was left on the trunk of a car. In the video you see an officer slide the wallet over to Schaefer on the icy truck but it falls off. The officer tells Schaefer he didn't mean for it to fall and to take the wallet and leave. At that point the officer says, "Don't look at me like you want to fight, because you will not win." Schaefer responds by saying, "I do want to fight" and is immediately surrounded by officers who take him to the ground and arrest him. In the memos filed in federal court, police administrators imply that Cosban may have removed something from Schaefer's wallet when he looked through it. "The video clearly shows you searching the wallet, initially with one hand, implying reluctance and knowledge that your actions were inappropriate," wrote the Chief in a memo to Cosban. "You then seemed to remove something from the wallet and place the item in your pocket or waist while looking around furtively. While your actions were suspicious and inappropriate and imply a theft may have occurred, I am reluctant to make that determination without further evidence. It is clear however that a violation of search and seizure policy occurred." Cosban says the accusations are unfounded and outrageous and what the video shows is Cosban adjusting his utility belt. "I didn't even know I did it until I saw the video," said Cosban. "Having people think you stole money or did something else— that hurts that hurts more than anything else."