Lawsuit tossed in Albuquerque lawyer's 2010 death

August 7, 2014 - 8:05 PM

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A federal lawsuit filed by the daughter and sister of a late civil rights attorney against the Albuquerque Police Department and city officials was dismissed Tuesday after a judge ruled investigators did not violate the lawyer's constitutional rights.

U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Carmen Garza tossed out the lawsuit involving the late Mary Han and said the family did not "have a federal due process right to a police investigation" in connection with her death, Albuquerque Journal reports (http://goo.gl/Dw9Je1).

Han, 53, was found dead in the driver's seat of her BMW inside her garage in November 2010. Her body was discovered by her law partner, Paul Kennedy, who called 911.

An autopsy report determined that the death was suicide from carbon monoxide poisoning.

In 2012, Han's family filed suit alleging negligent supervision and investigation by the Albuquerque Police Department.

Family members, in a statement issued Thursday, said they were disappointed the suit was dismissed but hopeful an appellate court would allow the case to go forward so they could find answers to questions surrounding Han's death.

Han was a vocal adversary of the police department, and her family believed officers failed to look at other possible explanations.

At the time of her death, she was involved in litigation against then-Albuquerque police Chief Ray Schultz and pending litigation against then-Deputy Chief Allen Banks, both of whom were among 10 people and two "John Does" listed as defendants in the federal lawsuit.

Kennedy's reporting of Han's death triggered a response from more than two dozen people, including police and fire department investigators as well as top brass from Albuquerque police and high-ranking city officials, all of whom walked through the home soon after her body was found.

"We would like to know why these people were in Ms. Han's home and what they did while they were there," the family said. "We would like to know why they didn't do their jobs and why they rushed to judgment and decided that suicide was the cause of Ms. Han's death. We would like an opportunity to ask these questions because everyone deserves to know the truth and everyone's death is important — never frivolous."

In court documents, Han's family alleged that her death was improperly and incompetently investigated, with much of the evidence that could have unraveled the mystery surrounding her death spoiled.

Garza said in her ruling there is "no fundamental right under the constitution to know the cause of a family member's death."

Albuquerque City Attorney David Tourek said the ruling wasn't a surprise.

"I've said from the beginning the Han lawsuit was frivolous," Tourek said Wednesday.

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Information from: Albuquerque Journal, http://www.abqjournal.com