Law enforcement agents bought thousands of dollars worth of heroin and a .22 caliber revolver from Davon Lymon in the fall, just weeks before authorities say he fatally shot APD officer Daniel Webster, according to court records obtained by New Mexico In Depth.
But agents from the federal Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), who supervised the operation, do not appear to have arrested the previously convicted killer with a violent history despite Lymon’s alleged narcotics sales and illegal possession of a firearm. That left him free, authorities say, and on a path that eventually led to Webster’s death.
The operation that targeted Lymon, never made public before Friday, when Lymon’s attorneys filed a motion in federal court in Albuquerque, muddies the narrative state and city officials have woven together in recent months: of lax sentencing laws and a broken justice system that put Lymon back on the streets, where he allegedly took Webster’s life.
Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry, his police chief, Gorden Eden, Gov. Susana Martinez and others have used the killing and its prelude — often in emotional public speeches and news conferences — as a lever to lobby for mandatory minimum sentences for repeat offenders and other tough-on-crime measures.
Martinez made Lymon a poster boy for “boomerang thugs,” who are cycled endlessly from jails to prisons to the streets by judges and a “weak” system with no teeth, in her State of the State speech last week.
None of the proposals pushed by Martinez and Berry has addressed the way police conduct undercover narcotics operations — whom to arrest or when to arrest them.
Neither Gov. Martinez nor Mayor Berry has responded to detailed requests for comment for this story.
An earlier version of NMID’s story on the undercover operation that targeted Lymon said Albuquerque police detectives had made the alleged drug and gun purchases. That information was based on the initial version of a court motion Lymon’s attorneys had filed in federal court.
A few hours after NMID’s story published, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Albuquerque issued a statement about the case. It read, in part, “The investigation leading to the indictment filed in the heroin case was conducted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The Albuquerque Police Department did not have a role in developing the investigative strategy or supervising the investigation of the heroin case.”
The U.S. Attorney’s Office offered no further comment.
The ATF has a task force that operates in Albuquerque and includes officers from local law enforcement agencies.
A spokesman for the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office (BCSO) said Friday afternoon that his department does not have deputies assigned to the ATF task force. No one from BCSO was involved in the Lymon investigation, the spokesman said.
Albuquerque police officials did not respond to requests for comment Friday. Neither did a spokesman for the ATF.
On Friday, Lymon’s attorneys included references to the alleged undercover purchases in an amended, nine-page motion filed in federal court.
The amended motion says:
Undercover ATF agents bought heroin from Lymon on Sept. 11 and again on Oct. 2. On the second occasion, Lymon also sold a gun to agents.
An indictment filed Dec. 3 against Lymon stems from those three purchases. In addition to charging Lymon with two counts of narcotics distribution and one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm, the indictment seeks to forfeit $6,500 from Lymon. The money represents “the amount of money derived from or involved in the offenses.”
At the time of the undercover purchases, Lymon was just a few years removed from a 10-year stretch in state prison for fatally shooting the grandson of the Blake’s Lotaburger founder in the back in 2001. In that case, the district attorney in Bernalillo County had a conflict of interest and farmed the case out to the Doña Ana County DA’s Office.
The governor was DA in Doña Ana County at the time. It was her office, as reported this week by the New Mexican, that offered Lymon a plea deal from first-degree murder to voluntary manslaughter.
Lymon took the deal.
Months after his release, Lymon was charged with armed robbery in Española. Those charges were dropped.
Lymon also faced the possibility of new charges for beating a man outside a Downtown Albuquerque strip club in December 2014. That incident was captured on video and posted on a popular Facebook page.
It is unclear from the court records whether ATF had checked Lymon’s criminal history before or after the alleged drug and gun purchases in September and October. If they did, they saw a man with a violent felony history who had shown a propensity for violence since his release from prison.
However, Lymon appears to have walked away from those purchases a free man.
Less than three weeks after the second alleged drug buy, just before 8 p.m. on Oct. 21, Webster lay in a pool of his own blood in a Walgreen’s parking lot near Central Avenue and Eubank Boulevard. He had been shot in the neck and jaw during a traffic stop and died days later.
Four hours after the shooting, Lymon was in custody — arrested on suspicion of shooting the 47-year-old former Army man and eight-year APD veteran.
Authorities quickly charged Lymon in federal court on a charge of being a felon in possession of a firearm. Those cases are rarely tried in state court. Besides, the federal system offers prosecutors stiffer penalties for gun charges involving felons.
Moreover, federal judges have far more leeway than state judges to hold defendants without bond before trial. Lymon has been a federal detainee, held at the Sandoval County Detention Center, since he was charged in federal court days after Webster’s shooting.
He has not yet been charged with killing Webster. That case is likely to proceed in state court.
A federal grand jury did not hand up an indictment against Lymon on the trafficking and gun charges stemming from ATF’s alleged undercover purchases until Dec. 3.
In the motion filed Friday, Lymon’s attorneys are seeking to exclude in both cases against him evidence that the gun found near the scene of Webster’s shooting had been used in that shooting; evidence that Lymon is under state investigation for Webster’s killing; and any other evidence that claims to connect Lymon to Webster’s death.
This is a developing story. NMID will update the story throughout the day.