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DOJ to present findings Thursday; City Council meeting on APD’s use of force concludes

The Albuquerque City Council meets to hear comments from community members regarding APD's use of force. (Robert Browman/Journal)
The Albuquerque City Council meets to hear comments from community members regarding APD's use of force. (Robert Browman/Journal)
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Full story from Tuesday’s Journal: Packed house at meeting on APD violence
 

City councilors heard about five hours of testimony altogether, and the meeting just concluded.

Councilor Rey Garduño announced after public testimony concluded that he will introduce legislation asking the Justice Department to appoint an independent monitor to run APD and a City Charter amendment that would make the police chief an elected position.

Councilors listened quietly to the speakers, for the most part. But Councilor Isaac Benton said many of the suggestions from the public, such as firing officers, aren’t within the council’s power, which lies in policymaking.

“Everyone who’s spoken tonight needs to understand what our limitations are,” he said.

I’ll have more in tomorrow’s paper, of course. Below is a version of the article, based on what I had at about 6:30 p.m. And I did some tweeting here.

7 p.m.

Kenneth Ellis II watched this afternoon as hundreds of people poured into the City Council chambers to testify about police misconduct.

Ellis’ own son, Kenneth Ellis III, is among the 23 men shot and killed by Albuquerque since the beginning of 2010. He’s been attending council meetings ever since to testify, often with a handful of other regulars.

But he had plenty of company on Monday. The chambers were filled to capacity before the meeting even started.

“We have an opportunity here to do great things for our community,” Ellis said as he watched people stream in. “Kenneth Ellis IV had to bury his daddy at 4 1/2 years old. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone’s child.”

After weeks of protests — sparked largely by the shooting of a mentally ill homeless man caught camping illegally in the foothills — the council dedicated its regular meeting Monday to public testimony and discussion of the Albuquerque Police Department.

The unprecedented meeting and turnout came as the U.S. Department of Justice wrapped up its 16-month investigation into whether Albuquerque police have a pattern or practice of violating people’s civil rights through the use of excessive force.

The Justice Department said it will announce its findings on Thursday.

The investigation was a frequent topic among speakers who addressed the council on Monday.

“The only solution is a complete takeover of the entire department from square one,” said Ralph Arellanes, state director for the New Mexico League of United Latin American Citizens and a member of a task force that review Albuquerque’s police oversight system.

The shooting that spawned so many protests over the last weeks — of James Boyd, the homeless camper — also sparked plenty of testimony Monday. The Boyd shooting came after he appeared ready to surrender.

The shooting was captured on video released by APD. It has been viewed online more than 1 million times.

Jose B. Martinez, a 47-year-old man who used to be homeless, urged councilors to dedicate more money to social services that help the homeless population and to affordable housing. Martinez is now a student at the University of New Mexico, and he expects to graduate next year.

“I’ve lived (homelessness), and I don’t want anyone else to go through what I went through. It was a living hell,” Martinez said. But “everyone else can help themselves if we help them.”

He said the Police Department is “out of control.”

Monday’s council meeting began with jeers and groans about 5 p.m. as City Council President Ken Sanchez announced that Mayor Richard Berry wasn’t present. Sanchez had invited him, but Berry said he had previously scheduled meetings on APD to attend.

In any case, Albuquerque mayors rarely attend council meetings. The mayor’s top administrator, Rob Perry, and his police chief, Gorden Eden, sat in the audience on Monday to watch.

About 150 people signed up to speak to the council. The chambers hold about 240 people, and nearly 140 others watched from elsewhere.

A room on the ninth floor was filled to its capacity of 86 people by 5:30 p.m. Members of the audience clapped and cheered along with spectators in the main chambers. One man shouted “the fish rots from the head” when a speaker pointed out that the mayor wasn’t there.

More than 50 people sat outside City Hall watching the meeting from two televisions with speakers. Most didn’t seem upset that they were turned away from inside. Many had been at the string of protests over the past few weeks and said the officers in the Boyd shooting should be charged, and the mental health system overhauled.

Among those planning to testify Monday was Kathryn Turnipseed, deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico. The ACLU, in a written statement, said the city needs a court-ordered monitor who can ensure that reforms are carried out within the Albuquerque Police Department.

It’s important, the ACLU said, that the monitor be backed by the power of a federal judge.

The group also called on the City Council to pass a law requiring officers to wear cameras, turn them on during encounters with the public and release them in a timely manner upon request.

“The City Council can play a leadership role in restoring accountability to APD,” Turnipseed in a written statement. “The only reason that we are now having a community-wide discussion about the urgent need to reform APD is that a body-worn camera caught James Boyd’s death on tape and the recording was released to the public.”

 

Text of DOJ press release:

U.S. Department of Justice

JUSTICE DEPARTMENT TO ANNOUNCE RESULTS OF CIVIL INVESTIGATION INTO ALBUQUERQUE POLICE DEPARTMENT’S USE OF FORCE

ALBUQUERQUE – In November 2012, the Department of Justice opened a civil investigation to determine whether the Albuquerque Police Department (ADP) engages in a pattern or practice of use of excessive force, including use of unreasonable deadly force, in violation of the Constitution and federal law. The Department has concluded its investigation, and will announce the results of the investigation at a press conference to be held at 10:00 a.m. MDT, on Thursday, April 10, 2014, at the Albuquerque office of the U.S. Attorney for the District of New Mexico.

Following the announcement, representatives of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office will meet with City officials, APD officials, officials of the Albuquerque Police Officers Association, community advocates and other stakeholders, to discuss the results of the investigation. No further information will be released until the press conference.

 

9:24 a.m.

The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico says the city needs a court-ordered monitor who can ensure that reforms are carried out within the Albuquerque Police Department.

It’s important, the ACLU said, that the monitor be backed by the power of a federal judge.

The group also called on the City Council to pass a law requiring officers to wear cameras, turn them on during encounters with the public and release them in a timely manner upon request.

The ACLU plans to present its recommendations at tonight’s City Council meeting. Here’s the full statement  Deputy Director Kathryn Turnipseed plans to read tonight:

Last week the ACLU issued a statement welcoming Mayor Berry’s call for the Department of Justice to monitor the City’s efforts to reform the Albuquerque Police Department. That the Mayor acknowledged the need for outside help is, indeed, a positive sign. But let’s be clear. The ACLU believes an outside monitor will only succeed if he or she is backed by the authority of a federal judge. We urge the City of Albuquerque and the Department of Justice to enter into a legally binding agreement that mandates targeted reforms and installs an independent monitor to regularly assess APD’s progress in meeting the terms of the agreement.

 The City Council can play a leadership role in restoring accountability to APD. The only reason that we are now having a community-wide discussion about the urgent need to reform APD is that a body-worn camera caught James Boyd’s death on tape and the recording was released to the public.

Body-worn cameras are not the magic bullet to cure APD’s ills, but they are a vital part of the solution. Over a twelve-month period, the introduction of body-worn cameras in the Rialto Police Department in California cut the number of use of force incidents by 50 percent and reduced the number of citizen complaints against the department ten-fold.

 Since 2010, APD has had a policy mandating the use of lapel cameras, but the department has never enforced it. Attend a meeting of the Police Oversight Commission and you will hear the Independent Review Officer report over and over again that officers failed to turn on their lapel cams, or failed to submit recordings, or that devices malfunctioned.

 Keep in mind, that video recordings of officer-civilian encounters protect both the community from civil rights violations and officers from false accusations of wrongdoing.

 The City needs to adopt a zero tolerance approach to officers who fail to properly use body-worn cameras. APD leadership has shown itself incapable of enforcing such a policy. The ACLU urges the City Council to pass legislation making officers’ use of body-worn cameras and the timely release of video footage to the public absolutely mandatory. You can do that in the coming weeks and show the people of Albuquerque that the City Council will not sit on the sidelines while other entities decide the future of our police department and our community.

 Thank you.

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