A week before he became chief of the troubled Albuquerque Police Department, Gorden Eden vowed to “take the department well beyond any findings the Department of Justice has” regarding policing.
Two months later, Albuquerque is still waiting. To date, that supposed brand new day seems like the same bad day, played over and over again in a discouraging, deadly loop.
Another chase. Another unnecessary escalation. Another shooting. Another body bag. No lapel camera video. Lots of non answers; not enough real ones.
Monday’s shooting was the department’s third in five weeks and comes just weeks after DOJ issued damning findings on the department’s overuse/misuse of lethal and less-than-lethal force over the last several years.
And it was over a stolen truck that had already been recovered.
Worse yet, there apparently is no lapel-camera video – a key foundation in reforms – to show suspect Mary Hawkes posed a threat to anyone. The public is expected, once again, to take APD’s word for it.
Unfortunately, the DOJ report has found plenty of cases where that word isn’t worth the paper APD’s millions of dollars in civil settlements have been written on. And officer Jeremy Dear, who fired the fatal shot or shots at Hawkes, is not exactly an unimpeachable witness. Until Monday he was best known via the DOJ report for misremembering events in a 2011 controversial fatal police shooting involving a fellow officer.
The sequence of events APD is presenting on the Hawkes shooting smacks of its same excesses used in earlier cases, including:
- Nine gunshot wounds in a 66-year-old Vietnam veteran who had allegedly threatened two kids in a parking lot but displayed no weapons until the first officer on scene called the man over to his cruiser.
- A Sandia Labs mechanical engineer and his lawyer wife ordered out of their home at gunpoint, she in a towel, because a man of a completely different description allegedly used a knife to rob a convenience store of $200.
- An intoxicated and mouthy but unarmed senior citizen being subdued by 47 officers, a team of snipers, attack dogs, bean bag rounds and Tasers.
On Monday at 3 a.m., police spotted Hawkes driving a stolen Ford F-150 pickup truck. She was able to evade them. They found the truck shortly after, and belongings she had left inside helped them get her ID and a recent address.
They had the truck. They had a good idea where she might be found. So did they send an officer later that day to go pick up what by all accounts was a low-rent car thief with substance-abuse issues and nonviolent priors?
Heck no. The testosterone and adrenaline were flowing, so they locked down the trailer park they traced her to, and according to residents cruised its streets with a bullhorn telling residents to stay in their homes and “said they were going to turn the dogs loose.” When Hawkes took off on foot, they ran her down and shot her dead after she allegedly pulled a gun.
That raises a real question of whether the over-reaction is by the suspect – or by police.
So far the best Eden can offer on fatal shooting No. 24 since 2010 is a pending investigation and potential disciplinary action if Dear didn’t turn on his camera.
Meanwhile, the 29-year veteran APD supervisor Eden has hired to set his department right, Deputy Chief Robert Huntsman, seems to be another step behind. He said in a recent interview that it’s “too early” to assess specific problems, and that negotiations with DOJ will have to determine what reforms are needed. He notes that it’s the DOJ that “says (APD systems are) broke” and “need to be fixed.” It’s far from clear whether, despite all his experience, he shares any of those views.
So much for relying on the hard-fought experience of an insider.
Eden and Huntsman were hired prior to the release of the DOJ report to usher in a new day for APD. Based on the Hawkes shooting and reaction, that would be “Groundhog Day.”
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.