ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – Gorden Eden walked through the doors at police headquarters Downtown in late February with an ambitious agenda for his first 100 days at the helm of New Mexico’s largest law enforcement agency.
The plan, distributed to the news media when Mayor Richard Berry announced Eden as his pick to lead the troubled APD, included retooling the entrenched and ineffective Internal Affairs Unit at the Albuquerque Police Department, restoring the chain of command and instituting more disciplined training standards at the Police Academy.
Given the climate, it was a long shot.
APD had been making the wrong kinds of headlines for years and, by the time Eden left his post as Gov. Susana Martinez’s cabinet secretary for public safety to take over in Albuquerque, the department was bracing for the results of an 18-month federal investigation into the use of excessive force.
Ambition aside, much of Eden’s agenda has been waylaid by his own missteps, by five fatal police shootings since he took over, by large protests in the streets and in city buildings and by a damning set of findings from the U.S. Department of Justice.
Earlier this week, Eden sat down with KRQE News 13 to discuss his time as chief. He conceded that federal intervention has dominated his term so far, but insisted that he’s making progress in improving APD.
He said it’s been slow going and asked for the public’s patience in fixing a culture that’s been decades in the making.
“There is no quick fix,” Eden said. “This will take time. It took time to get us to where we are today. It’s going to take us time to get where we need to be.”
He gives himself three years to turn things around.
“I know this: I work at the pleasure of the mayor, and we know Mayor Berry has term limited himself out” after December 2017, the chief said. “So what I’ve done is this: I have a three-year plan on what I want to get done. And what I want to do is this: I want to leave this department in a far better place than it’s been. But I need to make sure that we have those people in the key leadership positions in the Albuquerque Police Department, so we never, ever lose traction.”
On the day Eden took over as chief, Mayor Berry’s staff distributed a document titled: Gorden Eden Jr.’s plan for first 100 days.
News 13 asked Eden about most of the items on the list. Here’s a summary of how he responded:
- Eden promised to meet with every APD employee, sworn and civilian. He told News 13 he hasn’t been able to do so yet. “One of the reasons I haven’t been able to is we still have officers who are deployed, officers who are out on medical leave … ” the chief said. He added: “One of the things that staff did for me here is we set up city wide briefings. So I was briefing with morning — early morning, morning, mid-afternoon, late afternoon and evening shifts — and I still continue to go to those shift briefings as often as I can.”
- Input from APD personnel was, according to Eden’s plan, supposed to go into a comprehensive strategic plan for the department. That plan is on hold. “Part of that strategic plan, and it’s on hold right now, because that strategic plan will put those milestones in place with the agreement with the DOJ,” Eden said. “So we may have things that the DOJ wants in one year, two years, three years. So that will all help us shape our strategic plan for the department.”
- Eden emphasized the need to “restructure and redefine the Internal Affairs Unit.” The chief said in our interview that IA moved too slowly at APD because of “staffing” and because the department has been too heavily reliant on paper records. So, the city has signed a contract with a company called IA Pro for an automated system Eden said will speed up the process and help department brass better track officers’ use of force throughout their careers.
- In Eden’s 100-day plan, he promised that the APD Academy “culture will be strengthened with disciplined training standards and a commitment to public service.” His plan also stressed “accountability.” In our interview, Eden sketched some broad strokes about a reinvigorated recruitment effort for APD, a mentor program at the academy and crisis intervention training for every cadet and every existing officer.
The DOJ and APD
When Eden sat down to speak with News 13 in February, he answered with an emphatic “no” when asked whether he believed APD was a troubled department.
The findings from the DOJ, a pattern of unconstitutional policing and a leadership system that too often looked the other way, seemed to directly contradict that assessment.
So we asked Eden this week whether he stood by his earlier remarks.
“I believe (what) the DOJ told us was this: The Albuquerque Police Department has in place systems that have failed the department, and those systems are the ones we’re working on right now,” he said. “Is it a department in trouble? If you read the DOJ findings, there are some very troubling things, and those are the things we are moving to correct. And we’re going to keep moving to correct those things.”
The Justice Department released its 46-page report of findings on April 10. Officials have said that’s just the first phase of a long process that ultimately will result in a either court-enforceable consent decree, signed by the DOJ and the city, or a lawsuit against the city to force sweeping reforms of APD.
However the changes come down, they will fundamentally change the face of APD for the foreseeable future. They also will define Eden’s term as chief.
To reach an agreement, the city and Justice Department lawyers must enter into formal negotiations. The city has hired a former American Civil Liberties Union lawyer as special counsel for those proceedings.
But the negotiations have not yet begun, News 13 has learned.
Eden said he couldn’t speak to that.
“I’m not part of the negotiations,” he said. “That’s between the City Attorney’s Office, our special counsel that’s been hired and the Department of Justice. “So I can’t provide you with any information as to the status of the DOJ.”
Missteps, controversies and regrets
On March 16, APD officers Keith Sandy and Dominique Perez fired multiple shots apiece at James Boyd, killing him. Boyd, according to police, was camping illegally in the Sandia Foothills. Forty-one APD officers responded to deal with the man, who was living with mental illness.
Boyd threatened officers with two small knives early on in the hours-long encounter with police. But at the time he was shot, he appeared to be complying with officers’ orders to surrender or walk down the hillside.
The public knows that because APD released a video captured by Perez’s helmet-mounted camera in the days after the shooting. At a news conference, Eden played the video.
And then the wheels came off.
A reporter asked him whether he believed the shooting was justified. He said yes.
The circumstances of the shooting, combined with Eden’s defense of it, ignited resentment in the community that had been bubbling for years. There have been numerous large protests since the release of the video and calls for Eden’s ouster.
News 13 asked Eden whether he regretted any specific moments during his short time as chief. He pointed immediately to his handling of the Boyd incident.
“That was a statement that never should have been made,” Eden said. “The first thing is I’m not the one that makes that decision. That’s made by somebody separate from this branch of government, and it’s not my position or place to make that determination.”
Both officers are still employed by APD, although neither has returned to active duty. The FBI is investigating the shooting for possible criminal charges.
In the interview, News 13 asked Eden how he arrived at the decision to declare the shooting justified.
“Everybody needs to remember: Yes, there was an original call for service, but that original call for service was a man threatening people, and a person illegally camping,” he said. “And if you remember right, the very first video that was shown at the press conference was two officers from Open Space responding to the call, and which case when they engaged Mr. Boyd.
“Mr. Boyd drew knives on them and started advancing on them. Those videos we showed during that press conference, the information I received from criminal investigators, which I can’t get into because I’ve been asked by investigators at the FBI to not discuss those specific points, so I’m not. But an officer has a right to defend himself and/or to protect others, and that’s where that (determination) came from.”
Not long after the DOJ report came down, Eden was confronted with another controversy when APD officer Jeremy Dear shot 19-year-old Mary Hawkes, killing her.
At a news conference he called days afterward, Eden failed to answer several basic questions from the news media. Many longtime APD observers described the news conference as a disaster.
Since then, Eden has taken a back seat publicly. There have been two more police shootings since. Eden’s deputy chiefs have handled news conferences and interviews.
Eden said that’s by design.
“As a matter of fact, part of what I’m trying to do is help them become better leaders,” he said. “Part of my job is to mentor them, and that’s one of the things I want to do. Because I know this to be fact: At any time, I could leave. At any time.”
In restructuring the leadership at APD, Eden has made two controversial moves.
The first was naming Bob Huntsman as assistant chief. That announcement drew head-scratching from the community because Huntsman spent much of his long career at APD building and in charge of the SWAT team, which was excoriated by the Justice Department for its over-aggressive culture and tactics that often ended in shooting deaths that never should have happened.
Eden defended the hire, saying Huntsman is a longtime, trusted friend.
“I knew Bob was highly regarded and respected by the vast majority of people in the field,” he said. “That was the same relationship I had with him, too. It was a professional relationship. I knew he was a trustworthy individual, a man of his word and highly regarded and highly respected by the men and women of the Albuquerque Police Department. It was important for me to bring someone and it had to be someone I knew, someone I respected and somebody the department respected.”
Eden’s promotion of Tim Gonterman to the newly created rank of major raised similar concerns. That’s because Gonterman in 2003 used his Taser to burn off part of a homeless man’s ear in Nob Hill, an excessive use of force that cost the city $300,000 after a civil rights lawsuit landed in federal court.
The DOJ dedicated several pages in its report to APD’s overuse of Tasers to violate citizens’ constitutional rights.
Eden stood by Gonterman’s promotion, too.
“I didn’t know him that well, but one of the things with Tim is the same thing: He was a man of his word, he was always known to be able to accomplish things and get them done correctly and get them done right,” the chief said. “I became aware of his prior lawsuit … so one of the things I did, was I sat down with him to talk about it. And he said he deeply regretted that incident, and one of the things he told me was he thought then that the training wasn’t as good as it could have been.”