City settles suit over feeding homeless

ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – The city has just settled the latest in a string of lawsuits filed after Albuquerque Police arrested or cited people who were giving food to the homeless downtown.

All the charges were thrown out and the people sued.

Those suits have now cost the city nearly $100,000.

Benjamin Abbott recorded video in September of 2010 as Albuquerque Police officers questioned him and a friend downtown.

They had been passing out food to the homeless at the Fourth Street Mall with a group that does it every Sunday.

But this time, officers said they needed a permit and cited them for criminal trespassing.

“We are not doing this because this is our hobby, okay. Understand that,” an officer told Abbott. “There’s people above us who want this corrected.”

“You obviously see that you’ve got the mayor’s and everybody’s attention,” another officer said.

In the summer of 2010, an APD sergeant emailed other officers, saying the city wants them to cite and arrest people frequenting the area and feeding the homeless.

It said Mayor R.J. Berry’s public safety director at the time, Darren White, is “allowing us to take off the gloves.”

City Attorney David Tourek said in a statement, “The officers were acting in good faith to ensure that the food code was being enforced.”

“While the repression can be effective and it’s certainly scary and it certainly does have a chilling effect, the community can come together. We can rally. We can oppose it. We can not accept to have our rights violated,” Abbott said.

A judge dismissed Abbott’s criminal charge.

Abbott sued the city in civil court, settling for $13,000.

That is on top of $85,000 the city already agreed to pay out to two other men. They were not only criminally charged after feeding the homeless but actually arrested.

The city said it settled the cases because there were questions about whether the officers had jurisdiction to enforce the food code.

In Abbott’s video, an officer mentions the mayor, but Mayor Berry has never said how much he knew, if anything, about the supposed directive.

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