Criminal Justice

AP: Did police wrongly attribute death of civil rights lawyer to suicide? Case is under scrutiny

The New Mexico Attorney General’s office is reportedly scrutinizing an investigation into the death of an Albuquerque civil rights lawyer known for her suits against the city’s troubled police department.

Mary Han was found dead in her garage in 2010; Albuquerque police labeled the death a suicide. The AG’s office began investigating in January, according to a top official in the AG’s office who spoke to the Associated Press on the condition of anonymity. The official also told the wire service that the AG’s office has asked the Justice Department to include the case in its ongoing civil rights probe into Albuquerque’s high rate of police shootings. Federal officials did not confirm or deny an investigation.

A suit by Han’s relatives alleges shoddy police work and suggests that other explanations for the death were overlooked. Though an autopsy found that the rate of carbon monoxide in Han’s blood was nearly 85 percent, her car was not running when she was found inside, and it had not run out of gas, the AP story says. Han’s relatives also say her car had a device that would shut down the vehicle before it could release deadly amounts of carbon dioxide.

Former Albuquerque police officer Thomas Grover, who had been a close friend of Han’s, was among the police on the scene after the death. He says the department “really dropped the ball” and he believes Han could have been murdered. A private investigator hired by the family, on the other hand, believes Han was working in her vehicle and her death was accidental.

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