Albuquerque police promoted a commander who was accused in a lawsuit of burning off part a homeless man’s ear with a stun gun, officials announced Thursday.
Albuquerque Police Department Chief Gorden Eden said in a statement he was promoting two Albuquerque commanders to the newly created rank of major in response to a harsh U.S. Justice Department report that was critical of Albuquerque police’s use of excessive force and demanded the agency adopt a number of reforms.
Foothills Area Commander Timothy Gonterman and Criminal Investigations Commander Anthony Montano will now oversee the East and West Side Field Services Divisions respectively, Eden said.
In 2006, a federal jury awarded a former homeless man $300,000 and found that Gonterman and two other officers used “excessive force” in the man’s 2002 arrest.
Gonterman gave the man second- and third-degree burns with his stun gun, the lawsuit said. The man’s lawyer says he lost part of his ear from burns.
In a statement, Gonterman called his actions during the 2002 arrest a mistake and said it took place 12 years ago when the stun gun technology was new and before officers had the training they have now. “It was a mistake, and I have learned from that mistake. I have taken responsibility for it,” Gonterman said. “Since that time, I have become a use of force instructor and a less lethal technology instructor to train officers to use the minimal amount of force necessary to make an arrest. I am also trained in crisis intervention.”
Gonterman said his training and experience has given him great perspective to guide and teach others.
Eden did not mention the lawsuit involving Gonterman. Instead, he said the promotions address deficiencies cited in the Department of Justice’s recent scathing review of the Albuquerque Police Department related to proper supervision of officers.
“With this change we are now intensifying supervision and increasing accountability by splitting the Field Services Division into two sections,” Eden said in a statement. “We have chosen Commanders Gonterman and Montano because they have demonstrated the strong leadership skills necessary for us to move ahead with DOJ reform requirements.”
The Albuquerque Police Department has been under scrutiny over 39 police shootings in the city since 2010, prompting a harsh report earlier last month from the Justice Department that highlighted excessive use of force.
The Foothills area also is where Albuquerque police shot and killed James Boyd, a 38-year-old homeless man who was camping at the base of the mountain. His March 16 shooting, caught on video, sparked a violent protest in the city and prompted the FBI to launch its own investigation into the case.
It was unclear if Gonterman or anyone under his commanded was involved in the shooting.
Eden was hired in February to bring reform to the troubled department, which recently implemented changes such as lapel-mounted cameras on officers to lead to more transparency about police actions.
David Correia, a critic of the police and an American Studies professor at the University of New Mexico, said Gonterman’s new position was “really troubling” and showed that protesters have to put more pressure on the city for reforms.
“I think the promotion of Gonterman and his troubled history is the real evidence of what Albuquerque police is about,” Correia said.