About 100 people came to the Cesar Chavez Community Center on Monday evening for a chance to speak directly with U.S. Justice Department attorneys about any police abuses in Albuquerque.
The event was the first of four scheduled community forums, all of which are part of a major federal civil investigation aimed at determining whether Albuquerque Police Department has a pattern or practice of violating people’s civil rights, particularly through the use of force.
“The city and the police department are cooperating,” Luis Saucedo, acting director of the Justice Department’s Special Litigation Unit, told the crowd. “So we’ll be hearing their side of the story, their version. It’s also important for us to hear from you. … If we do determine there has been a pattern or practice violation, and we need to file a lawsuit (against APD), then we need to have evidence.”
The next community forum is Wednesday, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Alamos Community Center, 6900 Gonzales Rd. SW. Anyone with information about police abuses also can email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 855-544-5134.
APD officers have been involved in several questionable, high-profile use-of-force incidents in recent years. And city police have shot at 27 men since 2010, striking 23 of them. Seventeen have died.
Announced in late November, the investigation is in its infancy. Justice Department investigations of police often take a year or more to complete.
Before arriving for their site visit this week, federal officials asked APD officials to turn over hundreds of Internal Affairs files, mostly those related to use-of-force incidents, vehicle pursuits and other types of cases from the past few years.
While they’re here, Justice Department staffers plan to interview APD brass, internal affairs investigators and others. Federal officials also have been reviewing APD policies and procedures.
“We will do as thorough a job as we can,” Saucedo said in response to a question from Paul Heh, a former APD sergeant and current mayoral candidate. “We will be looking (at APD) from the top down.”
The other announced candidate for mayor, former city public safety boss Pete Dinelli, also was in attendance Monday night. So were several family members of men shot by APD officers in recent years, community activists and a Police Oversight commissioner. No officials from APD were there.
“This is such a relief,” said Rachel Hernandez, whose home was destroyed by the APD SWAT team last year during a standoff with her son, Santiago Chavez, who police say fatally shot himself at the end of the incident. “It’s like a light at the end of the tunnel that (federal officials) are here.”
— This article appeared on page C1 of the Albuquerque Journal