Email suggests Albuquerque Police Department cops could delete body cam videos

body cam

ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) — It was an odd request for then-Albuquerque police officer Jeremy Dear to make.

By June 2013, Dear already was on the radar of department brass for a string of use-of-force incidents and not recording them with his body camera. That month, he was issued a Taser Axon Flex camera and told to record all citizen contacts.

Email from Drager re Jeremy Dear Camera setup (1)
Email from Drager re Jeremy Dear Camera setup

Dear asked an APD sergeant for permission to use the camera in “offline mode,” which would allow him to delete selected videos before uploading others to the Taser-owned, cloud-based storage servers APD uses, according to a June 22, 2013 email obtained by KRQE News 13.

The email raises questions about APD’s use of body cameras and whether officers or their supervisors have been able to arbitrarily choose which videos are uploaded as evidence and which — if any — have been cast aside. There has been no public discussion here of a Taser camera function that allows officers to delete videos.

An APD spokeswoman said officers do not have the option of using offline mode “right now.”

Dear’s attorney, Tom Grover, confirmed his client’s request to use offline mode and added that, as of 2013, plenty of officers were doing so. He said Dear had accidentally recorded himself using the restroom and wanted to avoid uploading that video to the server.

At the time Dear asked about offline mode, Rob Drager was the APD sergeant in charge of outfitting officers with recording devices. Drager didn’t think Dear’s request sounded right, so he ran it by then-Deputy Chief Allen Banks in an email. Banks replied that Dear was only to use the camera in “online mode.” Deleting videos from that setting isn’t possible.

Jeremy Dear is no longer an APD officer. Chief Gorden Eden fired him last December for what the department termed “untruthfulness” and “insubordination.” Eight months prior, Dear fatally shot 19-year-old Mary Hawkes during a foot chase along and around East Central Avenue. Dear has said Hawkes, who was suspected of stealing a truck, pointed a gun at him that night.

Dear, who is fighting to get his job back, did not record the shooting with his body camera.

In recent years, there have been numerous other police shootings and use-of-force cases in which Mayor Richard Berry’s administration has said no body camera video exists.

Civil rights attorney Shannon Kennedy, whose firm represents Hawkes’ family, called the email from Drager to Banks “very, very concerning.”

The email “leads us to many, many, many questions as to who was supervising how (Dear) was using his camera,” Kennedy said in an interview last week. “It also leads us to questions of what officers were using offline mode. And what did APD tell its officers about uploading video footage taken during their shifts?”

Drager did not respond to a request for comment. Instead, police spokeswoman Celina Espinoza did. She would not make anyone from APD available for an interview.

Espinoza said in a written statement: “No one in the department is allowed to utilize offline mode, and our officers do not currently even have the option to select that setting.” She would not say if the department ever allowed the use of offline mode, and she did not respond to emails from News 13 asking about that and other matters.

Dear’s attorney said officers were aware of — and used — offline mode in the past. In fact, Grover said, Dear learned of offline mode from his fellow officers after the instance in which he recorded himself urinating. That video was uploaded onto the server.

“He talked to some other officers, and they said: ‘You need to see if you can get it in offline mode, where you can pick and choose what gets uploaded'” to the Taser-owned servers, Grover said. “Especially during that beta-testing time (for Taser cameras in 2012 and 2013) there were a bunch of officers who had access to offline mode. Others didn’t have it. There was no consistent policy.”

Grover, a former officer himself, has been a frequent critic of APD’s body camera policy and has used the criticism as part of his effort to get Dear reinstated. He points to testimony in Dear’s personnel hearing in which the former officer’s supervisors said they never “ordered” Dear to record all citizen contacts.

It’s clear the department is aware of offline mode.

In her emailed statement, spokeswoman Espinoza also wrote: “Offline mode would allow the selection of videos that are downloaded due to lack of data storage capacity or lack of necessity.” She later said by telephone that her written statement was intended to show what offline mode might be used for, should any agency choose to use it.

Espinoza said APD had storage capacity issues in the past. But she could not provide more detail about the extent of the problem or when it occurred.

But a Taser spokesman, Steve Tuttle, had no concerns about storage capacity on Taser’s cloud-based Evidence.com system. In an email, Tuttle touted the security of using its cameras in the online mode, which automatically uploads videos to the evidence storage servers.

“Within Evidence.com all of these functions are closely monitored and maintained by agency administrators,” Tuttle wrote. “Evidence.com provides several layers of protection from data loss … Offline mode essentially makes an Axon camera like a private camera. The user is responsible for ensuring data is backed (up).”

APD has been using the system since before Dear’s request, both in a trial capacity and then under a contract with Taser.

A controversial shooting

There have been questions about Dear’s shooting of Mary Hawkes since the day it happened, on April 21, 2014.

An APD officer saw Hawkes driving a truck in Southeast Albuquerque, and the two exchanged waves. The officer, according to APD, later discovered the truck was stolen. Police found it parked and unoccupied, the searched inside. Officers found a cellphone in the truck and searched it, without a warrant, and discovered Hawkes’ Facebook page.

Officers began to search the area, and Dear eventually found Hawkes. He chased her through a car wash and around the area.

According to Dear’s version of events, Hawkes turned and pointed a handgun at him during the chase. That’s when he shot her three times, the most grievous wound entering at her ear and traveling downward and from one side to the other before exiting her neck.

At a news conference days after the shooting, Police Chief Gorden Eden was unable to answer a host of basic questions about the shooting, including whether other officers witnessed it.

Dear “is claiming that he was threatened by Mary Hawkes and that’s why he killed her,” Kennedy, the civil rights lawyer, said. “And yet his statements are directly contradicted by all of the physical evidence we have discovered … Clearly, the best evidence was either destroyed or, knowingly, Jeremy Dear made sure that there was no video of when he shot and killed Mary Hawkes.”

Video from other officers’ body cameras taken just after the shooting show that at least one and possibly two officers saw the shooting — or at least its immediate aftermath. Those video clips also show an APD K-9 officer dragging Hawkes’ limp body to the curb of a sidewalk. It is not clear in the video whether she is still alive. The K-9 officer appears to place handcuffs on Hawkes.

Hawkes’ family has notified the city that it plans to file a lawsuit.

Broader implications?

A user manual for the Taser Axon camera describes how offline mode is to be set up and used. For a start, the manual says the “procedure must be performed by your agency administrator.”

Grover, Dear’s attorney, said APD administrators, including Drager, were approving offline mode for officers in 2013.

The manual also lays out the steps for deleting videos: the camera is to be plugged into a computer, then video clips pop up onto the screen. The manual mentions ensuring that videos are “uncorrupted” before moving them to the computer.

Kennedy said she does not believe either the public or the legal community were aware of offline mode. She learned about it in the email from Drager to Banks while working with the Hawkes family.

The existence of offline mode, Kennedy said, could have implications in Dear’s shooting of Hawkes and far beyond.

“Now that we know about this offline mode, certainly, in the process of each and every criminal case, attorneys should be able to ask: is there video that was deleted of my suspect?” she said. “If so, that’s a kind of tampering with evidence or destruction of evidence that should lead to the dismissal of the criminal charges.”

Kennedy’s law firm has filed a lawsuit under the New Mexico Inspection of Public Records Act against the city. It seeks additional emails about Dear and his use of the Taser camera.

“This is the only email we received, although we requested emails from his chain of command about his use of the Taser camera and about his chronic and brazen history of misconduct with citizens of the city of Albuquerque,” she said. “Jeremy Dear has more Internal Affairs complaints building up to the time in which he unlawfully killed Mary Hawkes than I’ve seen of any APD officers. So an officer who is seeking to delete portions of a video is seeking to fashion the evidence to support his claims.”

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