ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – An Albuquerque city councilor is calling for local and federal investigations of the dealings between former Police Chief Ray Schultz and Taser International — an arrangement that resulted in millions of dollars worth of business for the stun-gun and body-worn-camera manufacturer and a consulting job with the company for Schultz after his retirement last year.
At issue, Councilor Dan Lewis told KRQE News 13, is “the conduct of the former chief while he was communicating with Taser, while he was signing contracts to the tune of several million dollars for the city.”
Pointing to conflict of interest laws, Lewis said, “I think it’s concerning enough where … we should utilize some of the tools that the city has to investigate whether people have followed our ordinances or not.”
Lewis sent a letter Friday afternoon to acting Inspector General Peter Pacheco with copies to Mayor Richard Berry, city Chief Administrative Officer Rob Perry and the other city councilors asking for a “thorough and detailed” investigation.
“Documents have surfaced that seem to indicate that the former chief was willing to use his influence to assist Taser in its dealings with the city,” Lewis wrote.
The Mayor’s Office and Schultz both refused multiple interview requests.
In an email, the city said that Schultz’s handling of the Taser deal doesn’t violate a portion of city law governing conflicts of interest.
However, following a request for comment from News 13, a city attorney asked Schultz to remove APD logos and photos from a slide show presentation he used to pitch Taser gear at a law enforcement conference in Australia last month. (See the slide show below.)
As for whether the Taser deal violates other city ordinances — including those pointed out by Lewis — the city directed News 13 to Schultz for answers.
The former chief sent an email saying: “I have not violated any City regulations by doing contract work for Taser.”
For more than a week, News 13 has sought comment and clarification for this story from the city. Friday night, an hour before our story aired, Perry, through a spokeswoman, sent a text message claiming to have ordered the Inspector General to investigate Schultz and the Taser deal. The text message came hours after News 13 told the Berry Administration about Lewis’ letter to the IG.
Schultz served eight years at the helm of New Mexico’s largest law enforcement agency before retiring amid pressure to resign and with the department under federal investigation. On his way out the door, he facilitated a no-bid, $2 million deal that made the city of Albuquerque Taser’s largest client for its burgeoning body-camera and Internet-based evidence storage business.
In February, Schultz told News 13 that he began talking with Taser about a consulting gig in October. “After I retired, they asked if I’d be willing to come and share some of our experiences, so I agreed to do that,” the longtime lawman said at the time.
But a string of emails obtained by News 13 through a public records request show Schultz and Taser had been discussing business for the company and a job for Schultz while he was still working for the city.
In one exchange from August, Schultz tells a Taser representative that his last day with the city will be Sept. 6.
“I will, however, still have the ear of the Mayor and CAO on department issues,” Schultz writes. “If there’s anything I can do for you or Taser, especially to talk about my/our experiences, please let me know.”
An hour later, the Taser rep writes back, asking for “insight” from Schultz in advance of a City Council committee hearing on the Taser contract. In the same email the rep adds: “Is consulting something you’d consider?”
“Sure,” Schultz replies, then adds: “As for the (committee) meeting, everything has been greased so it should go without any issues.”
In separate email responses to questions from News 13, both the city and Schultz said the then-chief “used a poor choice of words” in his August email to Taser that spoke of a “greased” contract.
‘Same kind of scrutiny’
Lewis said he wants investigators to focus on several city laws, including the procurement code and ethics laws that govern conflicts of interest, “undue influence” and a cooling-off period that deals with employees going to work for city vendors within a year of their retirement.
The West Side councilor wants the probes to look “on both sides of it, to see not only if the city violated its own ordinance, (but) also if Taser knowingly entering into a no-bid contract, if possibly there might’ve been something that was done improperly there.”
Lewis’ call for investigations of Schultz and Taser comes at a time of mounting turmoil for APD and the city. Questions remain about several deadly officer-involved shootings, and demonstrators have been taking to the streets to demand reforms.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Justice released a damning 46-page report saying APD has a systemic pattern of violating citizens’ civil rights through officers’ use of force and a failed leadership structure that refuses to hold problem officers accountable. Schultz was APD chief for nearly the entire period of time reviewed by Justice Department officials.
The DOJ pointed out a raft of problems that contributed to what federal investigators called a “culture of aggression” within the city police department. Two of them were tied to products made by Taser.
APD officers frequently don’t turn on their body cameras, which they are required to use to record citizen encounters, and punishment for that infraction is inconsistent at best, the DOJ found. And officers frequently use Taser-made stun-guns against people who don’t pose a legitimate threat.
Lewis said APD’s contractual relationship with Taser, which dates back to 2007, “and the use of Taser guns and cameras … is directly related to the policies put in place by Chief Schultz.”
Several individual cases are still under federal criminal investigation. Lewis said accountability shouldn’t be determined by rank.
“I believe that the leaders of APD should be under the same kind of scrutiny that some of our officers are right now — and some of them could be indicted for the actions that they’ve taken — that the leadership including the former chief, Chief Schultz, should be under that same kind of scrutiny,” Lewis said.
Viki Harrison, executive director of the nonpartisan watchdog group Common Cause New Mexico, said the city’s opinion that Schultz hasn’t violated any part of Albuquerque’s conflict of interest policy is wrong.
“The ordinance is clear that this is something he should not be doing for a year after he leaves the City of Albuquerque,” Harrison said.
In a series of short emails, the city indicated to News 13 that, because Schultz isn’t handling the city’s contract with Taser International, he’s operating within the law.
After reviewing Schultz’s email exchange with the Taser representative, Harrison doesn’t see how the city arrived at its conclusion.
She points to the August 2013 email in which Schultz tells the Taser representative that even after he retires in September he will “still have the ear of the Mayor and CAO on department issues.” Harrison said it’s clear the ex-public servant expected to be able to influence the contract process.
In fact, she said, it would be hard to read the emails any other way.
“The materials that you have clearly show that there’s some sort of quid-pro-quo going on,” Harrison said.
A spokeswoman for Mayor Berry declined to say whether city officials believed Schultz had violated other parts of city code governing former employees.
When told the mayor’s office referred News 13 to Schultz to determine whether he’d broken the law, Harrison called the idea “patently ridiculous” and offered an analogy: “I bet all criminals would really like have the police come check with them to see if they were breaking the law… We don’t let people decide whether they’ve broken the law in this city.”
Harrison, too, called for an investigation of the contract and Schultz’s consulting job for Taser.