Chief among the questions still swirling around Albuquerque Police officer Daniel Webster’s death last October is: why did law enforcement allow his alleged killer, Davon Lymon, to remain free after undercover agents from the federal bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives (ATF) allegedly purchased heroin and firearms from him?
The ATF and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which is now prosecuting Lymon for the alleged sales, have refused to answer questions from New Mexico In Depth for nearly two months. The ATF also has not responded to an inquiry about its decision to not arrest Lymon from U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-Albuquerque.
That question is particularly salient given its potential implications for the way law enforcement conducts ongoing undercover operations, either through the work of federal-local task forces or by federal agencies on their own.
Lymon’s alleged shooting of Webster quickly became a rallying point in a broad public policy debate over the New Mexico criminal justice system.
But high-profile officials who urged stricter laws after the shooting never disclosed the ATF’s dealings with Lymon — that came out later, in a court motion filed by his attorneys — so under-cover operations have been left out of the debate.
Instead, officials from Mayor Richard Berry to Gov. Susana Martinez to state Reps. Nate Gentry and Paul Pacheco focused on what they called weak laws and a soft system as the causes of Lymon’s freedom at the time of Webster’s death. Before and during this year’s legislative session, they pushed for an expansion of the state’s three-strikes law that would allow prosecutors to lock up more repeat offenders for life, adding police officers to the state’s hate crimes statute, allowing judges to deny bail to some criminal defendants, and allowing retired police officers to return to work while still collecting their pensions.
Although much of the legislation failed, lawmakers kept the Webster shooting, along with a few other high-profile cases, at center stage for much of the debate.
But the reality of Lymon’s interactions with the criminal justice system was far more complicated than the political rhetoric before and during the legislative session let on.