ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – It’s a report that paints a picture of an out of control department, with a long list of problems that APD and the mayor could not or would not fix.
“We will peel the onion to its core and we will leave no stone unturned,” Thomas Perez with the DOJ civil rights division said when the investigation into APD was officially opened in November 2012.
A little more than sixteen months later, the DOJ made good on that promise and released its 46-page scathing report on APD.
“We found that the Albuquerque Police Department engages in a pattern or practice of violating residents fourth amendment rights by using excessive force during police encounters,” Jocelyn Samuels with DOJ said.
Shootings were a big part of the equation.
The DOJ found a majority of APD’s 20 deadly shootings between 2009 and 2012 unconstitutional, saying cops often shot suspects who posed no threat to officers or anyone else but themselves.
And it’s not just shootings.
The DOJ randomly reviewed 200 use of force cases involving APD and found unreasonable force was used in a third of them.
APD only found problems in less than one-percent of the cases. .
“Improper force incidents were not properly investigated, documented, or addressed with corrective measures,” Samuels said.
The DOJ found APD isn’t policing itself, doesn’t properly train its officers and has an aggressive culture from top to bottom.
In one section the report reads:
This culture is evident in the department’s training, permissive policy on weapons, under-utilization of its crisis intervention team, overuse of swat, and the harsh approaches to ordinary encounters with residents.
Thursday Mayor R.J. Berry acknowledged the report is an eye opener, but says it’s also something the city can use to fix APD.
”As difficult as the findings in the report are, there are some difficult findings in the report and we recognize that.,” Berry said. “The good news is that this is an achievable goal.”
In the report, the Department of Justice specifically points out four shootings where “officers shot and killed civilians who did not pose an immediate threat of death or serious bodily injury to officers or others.”
These shootings go back to 2009 and the DOJ is saying Albuquerque police did not need to shoot and people did not need to die.
The first case is when Officer Justin Montgomery shot and killed Andrew Lopez in February 2009.
Officer Montgomery thought Lopez had been involved in a shooting and was armed, but he wasn’t. Montgomery shot Lopez from behind the cover of a truck, wounded him and then walked up to him and shot him in the hear, killing him.
In March of 2010, Officer Kevin Sanchez shot and killed Mickey Owings in a Walmart parking lot off Coors and Ouray.
Police were investigating a stolen car when Owings backed his car into an unmarked police car. That is when Officer Sanchez went up to the car and shot and killed Owings. He did not have a weapon.
Then in May 2011, Officer Sean Wallace shot and killed Alan Gomez during a SWAT standoff.
Officer Wallace shot and killed him while he stood on his porch unarmed. Wallace has now shot three unarmed men.
The DOJ report says Gomez did not pose a threat to anyone inside the home or any police outside.
Finally, the fourth case is from March 2012 when Officer Martin Smith shot and killed Daniel Tillison.
Tillison was in a stolen SUV. Officer Smith says he walked up to Tillison’s window gun drawn. Tillison reached for something, then backed the SUV into Smith’s police car.
He was holding a cellphone. The DOJ says a reasonable officer would have realized there wasn’t a threat in that situation.
On top of this, the DOJ report looked at more than 200 cases where APD officers used Tasers on suspects and the DOJ says in most of them people were passively restrained and were not a threat.
So where does APD go from here? The DOJ has a plan outlined with 46 recommended changes.
They will work alongside APD to implement changes and will not take over the department as people requested.
Among the changes are new training for officers in the use of excessive force and new policies in regard to using force, lethal and non-lethal.
The DOJ also wants to change how tactical units that are often called in to deal with these tense situations operate.
And, of course, there will be a big focus on better interacting with individuals with mental illness.
The biggest thing will likely be more accountability all around, starting from the top with the chief and his deputy chiefs, and down the chain of command.
It’s also calling for a civilian police oversight commission that will actually have teeth.
The DOJ says at this point they are entering into a voluntary agreement with the city.
“The Department of Justice will monitor any agreement that results in our agreements. We also often retain the services of the independent monitor to provide expert assistance and level of accountability and reassurance to the community that reforms are being implemented,” said Jocelyn Samuels with the DOJ.
Those reforms will likely cost millions of taxpayer dollars to implement, but they could also save millions in the long run.
“The city has been subject to multi-million dollar verdicts for its excessive uses of force and as a result has had a drain on taxpayer resources that we hope these reforms will alleviate,” Samuels said.
James Boyd Shooting
The DOJ says APD’s problems with excessive use of force and poor oversight run long and deep.
The report even raises concerns with current police Chief Gordon Eden and comments he made in the days after last month’s controversial shooting of James Boyd.
Chief Eden later said he spoke too soon about the shooting.
Helmet camera video shows Boyd getting shot to death by APD in the Albuquerque Foothills.
Critics say the video is proof police crossed the line.
The shooting is now the subject of a federal criminal investigation.
In the report, the DOJ states “the recent remarks by the police chief in response to the James Boyd shooting on March 16, 2014, demonstrate that more work is needed to change the culture of APD.”