Albuquerque city attorney questions monitor’s neutrality in APD reform

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) –The Independent Monitor overseeing the Albuquerque Police DOJ reform effort is supposed to be “neutral,” but the city is now questioning his role.

In a motion filed in Federal Court Tuesday, the City of Albuquerque is asking a judge to look at whether the Independent Monitor Dr. James Ginger has a bias against the city.

The court filing argues that Ginger continues to retaliate against the city and the police department, in part, for comments Albuquerque City Attorney Jessica Hernandez made about Ginger in March 2016.

A secretly recorded lapel camera video captured one of the initial exchanges between Hernandez and Ginger, which the city is using to fuel its argument against Ginger.

Hernandez made multiple comments about Ginger and the monitoring team’s work during a more than 30-minute question and answer session in front of Albuquerque City Council at a March 7, 2016 meeting.

The council meeting came shortly after the release of the independent monitor’s second report (IMR-2) on the Albuquerque Police Department’s progress in the reform effort. In the report, the monitor was, in part, critical of APD’s work rewriting department policy, calling the process “problematic.”

When questioned by councilors about the policy element, Hernandez said, “We sent over 20 policies back in August and received no response positive or negative. Then in December, we resubmitted a group of policies including the 22 or so from August.”

At the same March 7 council meeting, Councilor Brad Winter asked about a comment by the independent monitor made in IMR-2. The monitor accused the city of engaging in a practice of “do little, delay and deflect.”

“He did make a comment about the administration delaying and stonewalling, where did that come from?” asked Councilor Brad Winter during the March 7, 2016 council meeting.

“I don’t know what the basis of those comments is and I do not agree with those,” Hernandez responded.

Almost two weeks after that March 7 council meeting, APD brass, City Attorney Jessica Hernandez and Independent Monitor James Ginger met in private on March 18 to discuss various items.

At one point during the meeting, APD Deputy Chief Bob Huntsman secretly began recording the meeting on his lapel camera. In the court motion, the city claims that during the course of the meeting, Huntsman began recording “based on a concern that the Monitor’s behavior was escalating.”

The topic of disagreements between Ginger and the city attorney came up towards the end of the meeting when the camera was recording.

Shortly after the recording begins, things got heated between Ginger and Hernandez because of a question Hernandez asked.

On the day of the private meeting (March 18), Ginger was scheduled to speak to city councilors about the reform process in a public “city council study session.” Hernandez asked Ginger what he was going to tell councilors in the upcoming discussion, asking if there were “any surprises” city leadership could expect.

That’s where the recording captures an escalating tone in the conversation between Hernandez and Ginger. When asked about “surprises,” Ginger brought up what Hernandez said about the monitoring team’s work in the March 7 council meeting, calling her words a “surprise.”

“Well … you made.. you made specific allegations in your presentation to council, I’m going to address it. You should know that,” said Ginger.

The recording indicates that Hernandez wanted to address the issue with Ginger.

“I’m asking if you’re willing to talk through those…” said Hernandez. In saying, “those,” Hernandez appeared to be referring to concerns Ginger had about what Hernandez discussed in the council meeting.

“And I said no!” Ginger interrupted. “I thought I said no, if I didn’t I’ll say no again.”

The recording continues to capture Ginger’s frustration with what Hernandez said to city councilors.

Hernandez soon responded, “I think that this… dynamic is not helpful to the process.”

Ginger interrupted Hernandez again, saying, “I didn’t think it was helpful, Jessica, when you blamed this entire process, the failure of this process so far on me in city council.”

In its federal court motion, the city argues that in the same conversation, Ginger began calling the reform process a “game.”

“It’s fine, I can play the game, it’s alright,” said Ginger.

APD Deputy Chief Bob Huntsman responded immediately to Ginger’s comment.

“I don’t view this as a game, I view this as my department, my city, my community, it’s not a game to me,” said Huntsman.

Ginger responded, “Chief, you should have that conversation with your attorney before she started this in council.”

The city argues that it waited a year-and-a-half to report the argument to the federal judge, hoping both sides would resolve their issues and start to get along in private.

However, according to court documents, the city changed its mind earlier this month. In the court filing, the city claims that an independent monitoring team member told an APD staff member in October 2017 that the monitor has changed a draft version of Independent Monitoring Report 6 to be more negative.

The city says the APD staffer was told roughly, “It’s clear Dr. Ginger has an axe to grind against certain city officials.”

The city also argues that Ginger went as far as to call APD brass “collateral damage” because of problems between him and the city attorney. Ginger is also accused of calling Department of Justice attorneys by the phrase, “my attorneys.”

KRQE News 13 called Ginger on Tuesday evening, but did not hear back. Ginger has typically refused to speak to the media about the reform process.

The city is asking a federal judge to hold a hearing on their motion as soon as possible.

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