An excerpt about the Peter Klunck case from:

 THE TALLY KEEPER (a work in progress)

 by Lois Duncan, mother of Kaitlyn Arquette, and author of WHO KILLED MY DAUGHTER?

Copyright:  Lois Duncan, 1992

 

An Excerpt from Chapter 7

 

……  however, something did soon come out of Albuquerque to give new direction to our thinking.      

            "Does the name Matt Griffin mean anything to you?" the attorney, Michael Bush, asked me.

            "Wasn't he the policeman who was known as the 'Ninja Bandit'?"

            "That's the one," Michael said.  "The press started calling him the Ninja because he dressed all in black and leapt over counters during bank robberies.  His get-away cars were stolen sports cars, usually Camaros.  He's currently serving a life sentence for shooting a witness who caught him hot-wiring a car."

            "I remember that," I said. "He was arrested around the same time our daughter Kait was shot."

            "Exactly one week before that," Michael said.  "That four year old story is back in the news again.  In January, 1989, before he shot the witness, Griffin killed a man named Peter Klunck.  Klunck was a small time drug user who had violated probation, and Griffin and two other police officers chased him down and shot him.  Griffin's bullets were pegged as the ones that killed him.  The official story was that it was self-defense. 

            "Well, it's now come to light that the APD Internal Affairs files contain information that Klunck and Griffin were partners in crime and Klunck was getting ready to squeal on Griffin on the very day Griffin shot him.  There's also a rumor circulating that several of Griffin's fellow officers covered up for him."

            "What does this have to do with us?" I asked him.

`           "The federal prosecutors have demanded to examine the Internal Affairs reports.  APD refuses to release them.  Which suggests that there's stuff in those files that they don't want known."

            "But what's the connection -- "

            "I'm getting to that," Michael said.  "A private investigator in Albuquerque has been investigating an auto repair shop that's suspected of being a chop shop for stolen cars.   A buddy of his at APD has told him that one of the Internal Affairs reports contains information that your daughter’s boyfriend, Dung Nguyen’s, Vietnamese group was stealing getaway cars for Griffin.  That isn't as crazy as it sounds, because one way the Vietnamese fraud rings operate is by stealing cars and then using them to stage hit and run accidents.  In An Quoc Le's wreck in June, 1989, he and his carload of passengers were hit by a stolen Corvette.  Somebody got double value out of that car, because it was used for a robbery before it was used for a car wreck.  These guys are very good at stealing cars.  It's part of their mode of operation."

            "What exactly are you driving at?"

            "If it's true that members of Dung's bunch were working for Griffin, then it's likely they have inside knowledge about the Klunck shooting," Michael said.  "If that includes the fact that police officers planted a gun at the scene to make it look like Klunck was armed, it would put that group in a position to blackmail certain cops."

            "Which could explain why APD has treated Dung so tenderly!"

            "And why they were so resistant to investigating the possibility of Vietnamese involvement, not just in Kait's murder, but in other crimes as well.”

             "Can APD be forced to release the Internal Affairs files?"

             "A U.S. district judge has ruled that they have to, but they continue to refuse to do it," Michael told me.  "My guess is that they plan to hold out until it's too late to prosecute.  The statute of limitations on criminal prosecution runs out on January 27."

            In February, Don and I made a trip to Albuquerque to visit old friends.  While there, we decided to visit the university library to see what we could dig up about Matt Griffin.   If there was even a slight possibility that members of Dung’s group were his accomplices, we wanted to learn as much about the man as we could.

            We started by pulling up newspaper articles from the time of the Klunck shooting and worked our way forward to the present.  According to the Albuquerque Journal, Police Chief Sam Baca told reporters that Peter was shot twice in the chest when in reality he was shot three times in the back. The Journal had also somehow obtained a confidential report that disclosed that the three officers who fired at Peter gave conflicting statements.  Matt Griffin, whose two bullets were defined as the ones that killed Peter, refused to give a statement at the scene.  Officer Robert Valtierra said Peter had a gun in his left hand.  Sgt. Paul Heatley said he clearly saw a gun in Peter's right hand.  Officer Steve Nakamura, who did not fire at Peter, reported that Peter was unarmed.  Nakamura's statement was ridiculed by his supervisors, and because of his continued insistence that he did not see a gun in Peter's hand, Nakamura was ordered to undergo psychological testing.

            The gun that Peter had supposedly been carrying was not found near his body.  In fact, it wasn't found at all until seven hours later, when a 38-caliber derringer turned up 15 feet from the spot where Peter fell.  It tested negative for fingerprints.

            Once a weapon was finally in evidence, Griffin agreed to give a statement.  He said he had fired in self-defense when he observed Peter holding up a .38 caliber semi-automatic handgun.  The grand jury, who weren't aware of the conflicting statements of the police officers, found them not criminally liable, although they did raise questions about the delayed appearance of the derringer.  Peter Klunck's parents had questions about that too, and in January, 1990, they filed a federal wrongful death and civil rights suit against the police chief and several police officers.  The city settled out of court for $325,000, which the Kluncks placed in trust for Peter's son, born twenty days after his death.  The settlement contained no admission that Peter's civil rights were violated.

            The Klunck family refused to give up on the civil rights issue and contacted the F.B.I. in Washington D.C.  In December, 1993, a federal grand jury subpoenaed APD's Internal Affairs files, which APD refused to release.

            An editorial in the January 10, 1994, issue of the Albuquerque Journal gave an update on the case:

 

            "Five years later, Klunck's death is still haunted by troubling questions that cry out to be answered ... Now thanks to investigations by federal prosecutors, a startling possible link between Klunck and the officer who fired the fatal shots -- Matt Griffin -- has been included for the first time in public records on the case.  In documents filed in federal court, the prosecutors say they have developed evidence that Klunck and Griffin were engaged in criminal activity together and that Klunck was in the process of making the officer's criminal activity known to police on the day he was killed ... Could a policeman who had possible criminal links with Klunck have a compelling personal reason to want to silence Klunck -- a personal motive for firing bullets into the man's back?"

 

            Since Michael had told us the statute of limitations would run out on January 27, we pulled up February issues of Albuquerque papers to see if any of the Internal Affairs reports had ever been turned over.  The answer was yes, but as Michael had predicted it was by then too late to allow for criminal prosecution.  An article in the Albuquerque Tribune used the term "cover-up."

            We skimmed the list of sport cars Griffin had used for his bank robberies, all of which were suspected of being stolen.  Was it possible that Michael's APD contact was correct and Griffin had hired Vietnamese to steal some of those cars for him?

            I phoned Peter's mother, Renee Klunck, and asked if she would be willing to talk with me.  She invited me to come right over and the minute we met we bonded into instant sisterhood.

            "When I read your book, Who Killed My Daughter?, I went out of my tree!" Renee told me.  "I sat there   pounding my fists on the kitchen counter as I read the names of the very same police officers who dealt with us, and there they were, feeding you the exact same line of bull!

            "To answer your question, yes, our son had a drug problem, and Griffin was part of it.  A police officer told the F.B.I. that Griffin had Pete pushing speed for him.  Then, in October, 1988, Griffin demanded that Peter steal a car for him, but this time Peter turned him down.  Pete's girlfriend was expecting a baby, and he was getting into rehab and trying to turn his life around."

            "We've been told that some of the Vietnamese group worked for Griffin," I said.  "If that's true, they’re in a position to finger the cops who covered up for him.”

            "Peter definitely had the goods on Griffin," Renee said.  "On the day Lt. Polisar sent the ROP team after him, Pete was scheduled for an appearance in court, and he told me he was going to blow the lid off APD.  He wouldn't tell me any details because he said it was too dangerous, but he seemed to be mending his fences and tying up loose ends.  That morning he called his girlfriend and told her he loved her and if anything happened to him he wanted her to keep the baby."

            "What do you think happened that morning?" I asked her.

            "Well, according to a report in the Internal Affairs file, Officer Nakamura -- the honest cop -- had Peter out of the car with both hands in the air and no gun in either one of them, when they heard a gunshot.  Peter spun around, looked behind him, and took off running.  What I personally believe is that he saw Griffin running toward him and realized he was going to be killed."

            "How can you possibly know what's in the Internal Affairs file?"

            "Somebody stole it," Renee said.

            I stared at her in amazement.

            "Somebody stole the Internal Affairs file?"

            "I prefer to consider it 'borrowing'," Renee said mildly.  "This person was in an attorney's office, sort of poking around when the lawyer was in the john, and right there, staring her in the face, was that secret APD file that was being withheld from the prosecutors.  She read it, of course, and when she came to the part where Officer Nakamura told his supervisor, 'I can't believe it!  They shot him in the back and he didn't even have a gun!'  she just flipped!  Nakamura also stated that Peter followed all instructions and made no threatening gestures of any kind, and two other officers backed him up on that.  This person who was reading the file knew nobody would believe her if she quoted those statements, so she tucked the file under her arm, walked out past the secretary, and got the thing copied.  Then she sneaked the original back before it was missed."

            "My God!" I exclaimed in awe.  "How absolutely wonderful!"

            "She only did what she had to do," Renee said modestly.  "There's so much evidence of a police cover-up you wouldn't believe it.  Even Rheardon's report -- he's the former chief justice who investigated for the police department -- in the very first paragraph he says, 'I believe there is a question about whether Mr. Klunck was armed at the time he was shot and, even if he was, whether it was necessary to shoot him.'  That's pretty clearly worded, don't you think?"

            "It's very clearly worded."

            "So, guess how APD interpreted it to the press?  Chief Baca issued an official statement that the Internal Affairs investigator had concluded that the shooting was justified!   The police can shape situations into anything they want.  An honest cop called the Attorney General's office and told them the derringer was an alibi gun planted there by the cops.  That cop said APD had intended to mask the whole thing but the coroner's office leaked the information that Pete was shot in the back, not the chest, so that put a crimp in their self-defense claim.

            "The grand jury was told out-and-out lies, Lois, and we weren't allowed to present any evidence to the contrary!  We'd had a private investigator on the case from the very beginning, and when he asked for a chance to testify, he was told that wouldn't be allowed because his testimony might 'muddy the waters.'

            "It took the grand jury seven minutes to come to the decision that there wasn't any evidence of wrong-doing.  There was plenty of evidence, but it had been withheld from them!  Can you imagine my fury and frustration?  I thought I'd go crazy!  There I sat with all this material that pointed to premeditated murder and an APD cover-up and nobody wanted to look at it!"

            "So what did you do?" I asked her.

            "I gave it to both local papers all the TV stations.  Everybody wanted to kill me, but I didn't give a damn.  Even if I wound up going to jail, something had to be done.  The system can't be allowed to screw around with the truth like that!  The reports I got hold of don’t mention Vietnamese involvement, but there are plenty of others that are still under wraps.  I have a strong gut feeling there's a connection between our children's cases."

           

            Don and I returned from our trip to Albuquerque to find a letter from my agent saying that NBC had purchased film rights to one of my older books.

            Ironically, the title was Killing Mr. Griffin.