Independent probe begins amid Albuquerque Police Department video doctoring allegations

(KRQE/File Photo) APD police car lights - day
(KRQE/File Photo) APD police car lights - day

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – The city announced late Tuesday that there will be an independent investigation into allegations that the Albuquerque Police Department deleted or doctored videos.

One city councilor earlier called for an independent investigator to look into allegations that APD deleted or altered videos in high-profile cases. A police officer’s lapel or body camera is a matter of public record. The camera often clears police officers, showing threats they face on the job.

Late Tuesday, after Council Pat Davis’ called for an independent probe, the city issued a statement.

“I can certainly appreciate Councilor Davis’ concerns. I had considered those same issues and had decided that an independent investigation into these allegations is appropriate in this situation.  Earlier this morning, I began taking steps to have that investigation started and have continued that work throughout the day,” said Jessica M. Hernandez, city attorney.

The claim began by APD’s former custodian of records. Reynaldo Chavez says the department made police or surveillance videos disappear, or altered them altogether, in the Mary Hawkes and Jeremy Robertson shooting cases.

Chavez claims APD brass and the mayor’s administration were behind this. The city noted earlier that Chavez was fired and has filed a whistleblower suit, so they have questioned his motives.

Councilor Pat Davis has said an independent investigator would make sure there is no conflict of interest.

“If there’s nothing here, like they say, having an independent voice give credibility to the police department and the city attorney’s office on this is critical. If the police department on their own says we looked at ourselves and we didn’t find a problem, people are always going to have a question about it,” said Davis.

Davis explained these allegations have created fallout in the judicial system.

“It’s not just about these allegations. It’s about the impact it has to every other case that involves a video in our courts, and so every day, we have police officers making arrests and submitting videos into evidence, and smart defense attorneys are already challenging those videos based on these new allegations,” Davis said.

As for the scope of the newly-announced independent investigation, “First, we want to determine whether original video evidence has been properly preserved and maintained. Second, we want to confirm that prosecuting agencies like the District Attorney’s Office and the United States Attorney’s Office have had access to video evidence in its original form as they do their work,” said Hernandez.

The Police Oversight Board plans to call a special meeting next week to consider how to respond to the allegations.

Chief Gorden Eden has said the original video footage is restrained even if someone tries to redact material.

“We do not know the time frame for completing this investigation.  We will cooperate with the independent investigator to complete a thorough investigation as promptly as possible,” Hernandez said.

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