Taser body cam purchase scandal deepens with release of new audit report

Ray Schultz
Former Police Chief Ray Schultz is at the center of a growing scandal involving APD's purchase of 525 body cameras from Taser International.

ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – A growing scandal surrounding the city of Albuquerque’s no-bid contract with Taser International for body-worn police cameras increased in scope on Tuesday with the release of a report from the city’s internal auditors that excoriated APD officials for intentionally circumventing procurement regulations.

The report, from the city’s Office of Internal Audit, singled out six current and former APD employees — none of whom it named — including former Chief Ray Schultz for accepting trips and meals from Taser while the body camera and stun gun giant was working to secure a $2 million contract with the city.

APD employees even asked for donations from Taser, including $1,500 for the police department’s “ski team,” and some staffers attended a dinner with Taser employees at the upscale Marcello’s Chop House at ABQ Uptown a month after the contract was signed. Taser footed the $1,350 bill.

The internal audit largely matches the findings of state Auditor Tim Keller, whose report, released last week, was toughest on Schultz. Keller went so far as to say the longtime APD leader, who retired officially on Jan. 1, 2014, had committed crimes.

The new audit report recommended that city Chief Administrative Officer Rob Perry make several policy changes.

Perry provided a response in the report: “The CAO agrees with this finding, is disappointed in the process that was utilized to procure the on-body camera/data storage system and pledges support to insure future procurements are in compliance with procurement rules.”

It marks an about-face for Perry.

A year ago, he told KRQE News 13 there was nothing wrong with the process used to secure for Taser its largest domestic contract for police body cameras. “The purchasing process indicates no wrongdoing,” he said in a statement at the time. “This purchase was approved through City Legal, Procurement, and the Technical Review Committees to comply with purchasing rules and regulations.”

The audit report released Tuesday says an assistant city attorney assigned to review the contract didn’t notice the contract omitted several standard clauses. As a result, the five-year contract doesn’t include a requirement that Taser carries insurance, doesn’t include a clause about the vendor’s requirement to follow applicable laws, and doesn’t include a provision to allow the city to terminate the multi-year contract if there’s no funding available.

As a result, taxpayers could be on the hook for the remainder of the contract.

A response from APD, Perry and the city attorney within the report says APD would talk to Taser about adding the provisions, but warned “the success of incorporating these clauses … will depend on Taser’s willingness to amend the contract terms.”

City spokeswoman Rhiannon Schroeder said neither Perry nor Mayor Richard Berry would do an on-camera interview in response to the findings, but sent a statement from Berry’s chief of staff. News 13 asked Gilbert Montano to address what the city plans to do about the remaining four years of the camera deal.

“The Taser contract is currently under review,” Montano said in an emailed statement. “We are working with the City Legal department and the procurement office to see how we will proceed with this vendor.”

As in the past, the city refused to address the implications of the officials’ decision to stop payments to Taser for the past six months. Taser weapons can only be repaired through the manufacturer, but APD let the weapons contract expire in March. The department also continues to use Taser’s evidence.com services for free, even though the city didn’t pay its year-two installment of the contract.

Among other findings in the internal audit report:

  • APD personnel insisted the department tested cameras from other brands, including products made by VieVu, Scorpion, GoPro and Wolfcom, but didn’t provide the purchasing department with any documentation about the testing, according to the report.
  • According to information provided to auditors by Taser’s chief operating officer, Schultz is paid $1,000 per day as a consultant for Taser, plus airfare, meals and hotels. He made presentations for Taser in Philadelphia and the U.K. while still on APD’s payroll. Since then, he’s made a dozen presentations, from Mexico City to Amsterdam, and continues to work as a consultant for the company.
  • The initial contract for 75 body cameras was signed by an APD lieutenant who didn’t have authority to approve the purchase.
  • The report says emails between two APD employees, identified only as “APD’s Fiscal Manager” and “Senior Buyer” in the report, indicate they knew they were trying to get around the rules. “If you read the contract, it is not specific to their Taser products,” said one email excerpt from the two employees that was included in the report. In another email excerpt, one of the employees details a city “loophole” in which products purchased as part of an existing contract can sneak past a city committee that double-checks technology purchases.
  • Several APD employees, including two officers, two evidence technicians, an APD contractor and their guests attended a Taser-sponsored dinner at a “fine dining restaurant” one month after the contract was signed. Documents posted on Taser’s website in response to the growing scandal indicates those employees were treated to a $1,350 dinner at Marcello’s in Uptown.
  • Taser’s lead sales rep visited APD twice a month in the year leading up to the contract’s signing and took two APD officers out to lunch during most visits. Documents posted on Taser’s website include emails from the company in response to questions from the Office of the Inspector General which identify those employees as Lt. Rob Drager and Detective Chris Whigham.
  • When asked about accepting meals from Taser, the report says an employee, who was not named, described the practice as “business as usual.”
  • APD’s employees asked Taser for donations to its ski team. They received $1,000 from Taser’s lead sales executive and another $500 from the company.

Much of the report repeated the findings of Keller’s audit: city employees bypassed the bid process by adding an initial $100,000, 75-camera purchase to an existing no-bid Taser contract, which was intended for Taser weapons. Employees then used the first purchase to justify not putting the full, 525-camera contract out to bid.

It also confirmed Shultz’s contracting work with Taser, which started while he was still technically an employee with APD, was problematic at best. Like Keller’s report, the Internal Audit office declared Schultz “may have violated” an ordinance that prohibits employees from “representing businesses in connection with matters in which they have performed official acts,” a vague clause that does not clearly define “representing.”

 

 

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