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Justice Department officials meet with residents

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After more than a year of plodding away on a massive federal investigation into the Albuquerque Police Department, officials with the Justice Department on Tuesday held a closed-door meeting for residents who they said have given or requested information of them.

One of those attending, ACLU executive director Peter Simonson, said afterward that federal investigators shared participants’ concerns about the most recent spate of police shootings. In fact, Simonson said investigators named the recent shootings as one reason they recently returned to Albuquerque after conducting the investigation from afar.

Several others at the meeting said the Justice Department did not discuss the investigation in depth. But they said it appeared the probe is reaching the end of the fact-finding process, after which a letter with the findings will be released. It’s not clear when that could happen.

After that, negotiations between the city and the federal department will begin.

About 20 people – including several outspoken APD critics and leaders of social justice groups – were at the meeting on the ninth floor of the Bank of Albuquerque office tower Tuesday afternoon.

“This is our last chance to get justice for our loved ones,” said Kenneth Ellis Jr., whose son was fatally shot by police in 2010. “We’ll just have to wait and see if there will be any accountability within the police department.”

The fatal shooting of Kenneth Ellis III resulted in a $10.3 million judgment against the city for wrongful death. The city’s appeal of the ruling is pending in District Court.

A U.S. Attorney’s Office spokeswoman said in a letter to community members that the meeting was called “for the purpose of discussing the status of the investigation and to elicit any additional insights you may wish to share for their review and consideration.”

The meeting is one of several the DOJ is having with city officials, union representatives and residents that are focused on “stakeholder issues” and on getting more information, U.S. Attorney spokeswoman Elizabeth Martinez said.

Simonson said those at the meeting asked a wide variety of questions on many topics, but a large number of them were concerned about the recent spate of officer-involved shootings.

“They were all concerned that we are returning to the same situation that we had a couple years ago,” he said.

Jonelle Ellis, sister of Kenneth Ellis III, said most people at the meeting implored the department to release its findings before the national search for an APD chief comes to an end. She said they are worried Mayor Richard Berry will appoint someone from within the department, leading to what they see as a continuation of a “corrupt culture.”

Ellis said ultimately the investigation should give officers, even the “corrupted ones,” a chance to do better.

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