New Mexico State Police slow to release officer-involved shooting videos

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – It’s been months since 26-year-old Angel Navarro was shot and killed by New Mexico law enforcement. Now months later, his family is still seeking answers and demanding to see police video.

KRQE News 13 learned Navarro’s case isn’t the only New Mexico State Police officer-involved shooting video the department is refusing to release.

May 26, 2016, Angel Navarro lay dead in the southbound lanes of I-25 near Socorro, shot to death by two New Mexico State Police officers and the Socorro County Sheriff.

At the time, officers said they had reports the SUV Navarro was driving had been carjacked at knife-point in Albuquerque. However, State Police still haven’t said if Navarro threatened officers with a weapon before the shooting, or if he even had one.

“It’s our right to know why they killed him,” said Felipe Navarro, Angel Navarro’s older brother.

Navarro’s older brother and his parents live in California. They said they’ve only received the same vague explanation that their local police delivered on their doorstep nearly five months ago.

“All we were told is that he had, there was a confrontation between him and the police and he got killed,” said Monica Navarro, Angel’s mom.

Albuquerque attorneys Erika Anderson and Louren Oliveros are representing the Navarro family.

“This has been an extremely frustrating case so far,” said Anderson.

The Navarro family said it’s frustrating because nearly five months later, they still haven’t seen police video from that day: video that may shed light on what exactly took place in the final moments of Navarro’s life.

The family has now filed two lawsuits against the Department of Public Safety which oversees the New Mexico State Police.

Attorneys claim officers violated civil rights by shooting Navarro. The family is also demanding to see videos, even basic documents, which police have withheld.

“We’ve been trying to get information, police reports, videos, any of that type of stuff and we still don’t have anything,” said Anderson.

State Police have repeatedly denied the family’s public record requests. KRQE News 13 has learned that denial has become common practice.

In the past year-and-a-half, there have been eight different state police shootings, wounding or killing six people. The public has yet to see video from most of them.

“It’s absolutely not legal,” said attorney Louren Oliveros, referring to repeated denials her office has received from State Police in response to public record requests.

However, Chief Kassetas and the Department of Public Safety says its offices follow the law when it comes to how they handle public records.

“I think we follow the law and I think we maintain the integrity of the investigation as the law requires,” said Chief Kassetas.

On the day Navarro was killed, Chief Kassetas said the Socorro County Sheriff spotted a stolen SUV Navarro driving and called in State Police for backup.

Twelve miles later, the SUV came to a stop on the interstate and shots were fired. But officers still haven’t said if Navarro had a gun. Chief Kassetas claims the case is still under investigation.

“The District Attorney doesn’t even have it yet, we’re waiting on some lab results from the state crime lab,” said Chief Kassetas.

Chief Kassetas along with officials with the New Mexico State Police records office said the department’s policy whenever officers pull the trigger is always to withhold video until a district attorney decides if the officers should face charges.

“We have 13 different DAs and they do things 13 different ways,” said Chief Kassetas. “Some of them clear cases pretty quick, Gabrielle, and others take years.”

But that hasn’t kept other police departments, such as the Albuquerque Police Department, from releasing videos of their officer-involved shootings within weeks.

“It’s just mind boggling that it’s taking so long to get any information,” said Felipe Navarro.

“I think at the end of the day, it should be quicker,” said Chief Kassetas, referring to the release of public records. “We should do a better job, a more efficient job. But it’s all about accuracy right? We don’t want to rush it.”

Chief Kassetas admits the delay doesn’t help the officers with potential charges looming over their heads, or the families of those killed and the public, as everyone waits to see if a shooting was justified.

“I do believe that the public should have full access to everything we do, right we’re a public entity, there needs to be oversight,” explained Kassetas. “But it’s all about timing.”

After KRQE News 13 started asking questions about the delay in releasing videos, State Police suddenly released video from an officer-involved shooting case from January.

Video shows Alan Franco-Armenta firing shots before he’s killed by officers in Lincoln County.

The Chief said the video’s release had nothing to do with KRQE’s interview scheduled for the next day.

“I think we’ve been consistent in the way we handle these situations,” said Chief Kassetas.

But there’s one case where state police released video of a shooting well before a District Attorney decided if officers should be charged. Its release three years ago showed the kind of pressure shooting videos can put on police departments.

Video showed former State Police officer Elias Montoya shooting at a minivan full of kids after a traffic stop near Taos spiraled out of control.

“I watched that on the news with everybody else and that was embarrassing,” Chief Kassetas said.

Taos County District Attorney Donald Gallegos didn’t charge Montoya with a crime. However, after the video went public, Montoya lost his job with State Police.

KRQE News 13 asked Chief Kassetas if the video’s release potentially changed the outcome of Montoya’s case.

“You know you’re always gonna have to ask that question and wonder, ‘well did the chief make that decision because he was pressured by the media, the public, or did he make it on his own accord? And I’ve been accused of that you know,” said Chief Kassetas.

“You’re right, when the video’s out there, there’s a lot of pressure, ‘fire him today, fire him this minute,’ but you know what I gave that officer in any of these instances, I give them the rights that they deserve under the peace officer’s bill of rights,” Chief Kassetas added.

But when it comes to releasing video of police shootings, the Navarro family’s attorneys disagree with New Mexico State Police’s interpretation of public records laws, and so does the American Civil Liberties Union.

“Under public records law, it’s very clear that this includes things like dash cam video or belt tapes,” explained Micah McCoy of the ACLU New Mexico chapter.

“When law enforcement agencies go out of their way to find ways to circumvent state public records laws, it should be very concerning to all of us,” McCoy added.

What’s also concerning to the Navarro family is not knowing when they’ll get a glimpse at what happened before officers fired approximately nine rounds into the 26-year-old father of two.

“Whatever the story is, let’s just tell it,” said Felipe Navarro. “It’s what we’re owed at the very least.”

Chief Kassetas said once investigators receive evidence back from the state crime lab, Navarro’s case will be forwarded to a District Attorney for review.

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