PAUL ADAM FITZJERRELL
My brother, Paul Adam Fitzjerrell, 25, was shot to death in Gallup, NM, on November 19, 1997. The death report says “shot self with firearm.” The case against Paul’s suspected killer, Gallup Police Officer Mike Brandau, was infected by the Gallup Police Department.
At 5 p.m. on the day of his death, Paul was closing up shop at B&F Used Cars, a family owned business that Paul managed, when off-duty GPF Officer Mike Brandau, a friend of about five years, suggested that they go to a neighborhood bar to shoot pool. At 7 p.m., Mike’s brother, K.C. Brandau, also a Gallup police officer, got off duty and joined them there.
At about 10 p.m., two women drove past the B&F car lot and saw the three men involved in a heated argument in front of the gates. Paul appeared to be trying to escape from the brothers by scaling the 6 foot wrought iron fence that surrounded the lot. (If Paul was in danger, it made sense for him to try to do that, as there was a gun in a safe inside the office.) Besides their two personal vehicles, a marked police car was also present.
The witnesses knew that the Brandau brothers were cops and, assuming a robbery was in progress, did a U-turn and drove past again to check out the action. By now Paul was off the fence, and Mike and K.C. had him gripped by the shoulders and were forcing him to the ground. In all, the witnesses drove back and forth six times. On their final run, the patrol car was still there; Paul was no longer visible; K.C. was leaning over Mike’s car; and Mike strode angrily toward the witnesses, waving them away.
At 10:25 p.m., two police officers saw K.C. near the scene of the shooting in his personal vehicle, driving in tandem with a patrol car driven by GPD Officer Judy Landavazo. Three minutes later, at 10:28 p.m., Mike made a 911 call to report that Paul had committed suicide, a story he was later to change twice. At 10:31 he called K.C. on his cell phone. Despite the fact that he had just been seen with Officer Landavazo, K.C.’s girlfriend claimed he had been at home with her for 20 minutes before he received Mike’s call.
GPD officers arrived at the scene immediately, since six of them were parked close by at Virgie’s Restaurant and Lounge. The ranking officer, Calvin Wiggins, placed Mike in his police unit and told him to give a statement. Mike agreed to do so only if he could use his “Garrity.” Wiggins wasn’t familiar with Garrity, so they went by Mike’s house to pick up a card on Garrity. Then Mike gave a handwritten statement incorporating the words on the card. Wiggins also conducted the Internal Affairs investigation.
The cover-up started at the crime scene with Mike Brandau’s statement that he and Paul were alone at the B&F car lot. A blood alcohol test was done on Paul, (he was legally intoxicated), but police didn’t do blood alcohol tests on Mike or K.C., and the Chief of Police told them not to give Mike a residue test. Paul’s own hands were bagged for testing, but the medical examiner was too busy to do a residue test and then got confused and washed Paul’s hands instead. So no forensic evidence was ever obtained to show whether Paul, Mike, or K.C. had fired a gun.
Mike told our family that the shooting was an accident. He said he was handing Paul his gun to “look at” and it accidentally went off. At the time we were numb with grief and bought into his story. After all, we told ourselves, friends don’t kill friends. Then the police gave a statement to the media that the shooting was a suicide. We couldn’t believe what we were hearing! Paul was an up-beat, self-confident, happy natured guy, who had never suffered a spell of depression in his life. Besides, the shot entered his right temple, and Paul shot left-handed and even used a left handed pump shot gun. And there were other things that didn’t make sense, like when my sister and I were helping Paul’s wife dress him for burial and discovered bruises like finger marks on his shoulders. It wasn’t until later that we learned about the witnesses’ testimony that Mike and K.C. had gripped Paul’s shoulders to hold him to the ground.
Mike kept switching back and forth between his stories, and neither held water. The shooting couldn’t have been an accident, because the gun was pressed so hard against Paul’s right temple that it left an imprint around the entrance wound. Nor could it have been a suicide, for a variety of reasons.
On Dec. 2, 1997, at the insistence of our family, the investigation was removed from the hands of the GPD and transferred to the New Mexico State Police. NMSP said they were asking for criminal charges, but Mike was never charged with anything. (Gallup D.A. Forrest Buffington later explained to us that prosecuting the case would have taken his whole year’s budget.)
Our family couldn’t allow the case to die that easily. We had “Justice for Paul” T-shirts made, 1000 bumper stickers saying “Justice for Paul,” and erected a billboard, and every Friday for an entire year citizens of Gallup held “Justice for Paul” rallies along Rt. 66. As a result of those efforts, we collected enough signatures on a petition to convene a Special Grand Jury. In January, 1999, a suit was brought forth by the Grand Jury special prosecutor alleging involuntary manslaughter and negligent use of a deadly weapon. Former District Attorney Bob Schwartz from Albuquerque was hired as the special prosecutor. In March, Mike Brandau was indicted, and it seemed as if we were finally going to get justice.
Then Mike’s defense attorney dropped the bombshell: Mike was protected by Garrity.
We’d never heard of Garrity. Even when Mike and K.C. were going through the Internal Affairs investigation, Garrity had never been mentioned. But now we were told that Garrity was a special, protective right awarded to police officers to prevent self-incriminating statements from being used against them in court. The fact that the GPD had deliberately allowed information from Mike’s Garrity statement to become mixed in with other information had contaminated our case beyond repair. Even though Mike had made identical statements to fellow officers before he claimed Garrity, the judge threw out the indictment on the grounds that Mike’s civil rights had been violated.
When Mike was asked at the pre-trial how he knew about Garrity, he proudly announced that he was a member of the Fraternal Order of Police, who counsel all their members to insist on Garrity whenever they are accused of crimes. “By doing so you will ensure that your statements and reports cannot be used as evidence against you in any proceedings before any agency bound by the rules of evidence,” says the FOP guide sheet. “Our advice is that we all use the procedure all of the time.”
We felt as if the world had been kicked out from under us. Our case had gone all the way through Gallup Police, State Police, Grand Jury, and special prosecutor Bob Schwartz, without anybody noticing that Mike was protected by Garrity? Over 1700 pages of Grand Jury testimony had been allowed to be given before somebody said, “Stop this farce”?
That night Bob Schwartz stated on television news: “Because they (the Gallup police) didn’t keep the Internal Affairs investigation and the criminal investigation separate, this case is so infected that you can never disinfect it. It may not be possible for this case to ever go forward again because of the actions of the Gallup Police Department.”
I read on the Internet that if it can be proven that an officer lied when giving a Garrity statement, (as Mike Brandau lied when he stated K.C. wasn’t with him), then he could be prosecuted, but Schwartz couldn’t find any reference cases to support that, so he dropped off the case.
Paul was our beloved son, husband and brother. We can't bear to let him die on a lie! I plan to devote the rest of my life to getting the Garrity law repealed. Dirty cops cannot be allowed to get away with murder because of their clever use of a Garrity statement.
Judith Fitzjerrell (Paul's sister)
Franklyn Fitzjerrell (Paul's father)