ATF contrast: Accused cop killer vs. low-level drug offenders

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Davon Lymon

During a lengthy interview with New Mexico In Depth and New Mexico in Focus, former U.S. Attorney and current congressional candidate Damon Martinez repeatedly circled back to what he called his successes as a federal prosecutor in removing the “worst of the worst” from Albuquerque’s streets.

He was talking about a U.S. Attorney’s Office program called the “worst of the worst initiative,” which expanded while Martinez was the district’s top federal prosecutor.

Under the umbrella of that initiative fell a controversial, four-month undercover sting operation conducted largely by the federal bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives (ATF).

Martinez refused to answer numerous questions about the operation, but he had plenty to say about another “worst of the worst” case that involved the ATF.

Davon Lymon’s face led every television broadcast and was splashed all over newspaper front pages in October 2015 after he was arrested on suspicion of killing Albuquerque police officer Daniel Webster during a traffic stop on East Central Avenue.

“He is an individual from the worst of the worst initiative, and he is off the street, and he can no longer hurt someone,” Martinez said.

The Lymon case, however, is more complicated than that.

As NMID reported last year, Lymon sold $6,000 worth of heroin and a gun to undercover ATF agents in 2015, weeks before he allegedly killed Webster in October of that year. Those sales were not part of the ATF’s 2016 sting.

Based on his criminal history, which included a 10-year stretch in state prison for manslaughter, and the amount of drugs involved in the sales to agents, Lymon would have been among the worst of those arrested in last year’s ATF sting operation.

Many of those swept up in the sting sold substantially smaller quantities of drugs — or merely brokered deals — to agents and were arrested within a week or two of those sales, NMID found. And none appears to have a criminal past to match Lymon’s.

But the agents did not arrest Lymon, who was left on the streets.

Martinez would not comment on the disparities between Lymon’s case and the 103 people arrested in last year’s sting. He also would not say why ATF agents didn’t arrest Lymon after the buys.

Lymon has been sentenced to 28 years in federal prison — but not for killing Webster. The state Attorney General’s Office, not the U.S. Attorney’s Office, is prosecuting Lymon on the murder charge.

Federal prosecutors successfully prosecuted Lymon for being a felon in possession of a firearm — the gun he allegedly used to kill Webster — and for selling the heroin and a different gun to undercover ATF agents.

“When we became aware of those, he was charged by indictment,” Martinez said.

This story was produced in collaboration with New Mexico In Focus, an NMID partner. 

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