Two Albuquerque police officers initially cleared in the beating of a suspect who had been taken to the ground were fired on Wednesday after the case was reviewed a second time on orders of Chief Ray Schultz.
The video of the February incident, which was released to the Journal late Tuesday in response to a public records request and posted on ABQjournal.com, went national. It shows the suspect being kicked more than a dozen times, a number of them in the head, and the two officers belly bumping afterward.
Officers John Doyle and Robert Woolever each had about four years with APD.
The controversy didn’t sit well with the APD supervisor who initially found no wrongdoing.
Former APD Area Commander Murray Conrad, now retired, said officer John Doyle was “completely justified” in kicking the fleeing suspect and that the officer “saved his life by not shooting him.”
He said his only initial concern was the number of times the suspect, Nicholas Blume, was kicked.
“After the investigation, I had no concerns,” Conrad said in a telephone interview with the Journal on Wednesday. “When John Doyle was able to take him into custody without shooting him, that should’ve been your story.”
Woolever tackled Blume and hit him in the head with his nightstick as the two went to the ground. Then Doyle started kicking Blume until, finally, Woolever got him into handcuffs.
Doyle has said he feared Blume was armed and might be trying to reach for a gun.
Blume has a long criminal history, and police found a gun in the truck he had been driving that night. Blume did not have a gun on him during the encounter.
The kicking incident has been turned over to a special prosecutor in Torrance County for possible criminal charges against Doyle, and the FBI is monitoring the criminal case.
Conrad was Doyle’s boss at the time of the incident on Feb. 13. He said Wednesday that he reviewed the surveillance video from the parking garage “hundreds of times” as part of an internal investigation and determined Doyle did nothing wrong.
Conrad said officers had been told earlier that Blume was a suspect in a police officer slaying but did not provide details as to where that happened.
He also disputes Doyle’s own account of the incident, saying the officer “didn’t kick Blume in the head.” He said the kicks were to Blume’s arm and shoulder and that “some of them may have glanced into his head.”
Doyle wrote in his report that he “threw several kicks striking the subject on the side of his head.”
Conrad sent his findings up the chain of command, and said Deputy Police Chief Beth Paiz agreed Doyle’s actions were justified.
It was Schultz, according to Conrad, who bent to “political pressure and pressure from the media,” closed Conrad’s investigation and launched a new one.
Paiz wrote in an email response to Journal questions that she did not clear Doyle’s actions.
“Before I wrote my findings, I did contact the police academy to find out if a ‘distraction kick’ to the shoulder would have been justified in this type of scenario,” Paiz wrote. “I discovered officers are trained in delivering ‘distraction kicks,’ but kicks to the head were never part of the training and were excessive.
“Since that time, the video had been enhanced, and I repeatedly viewed the video. The position of the suspect’s arms are clear. Thirteen kicks to the head was an unjustified use of force.”
Schultz did not respond to emailed questions.
Asked about the kicking incident after his State of the City address, Mayor Richard Berry said he hadn’t “seen the full video,” but that he has been briefed on the incident.
“This is a very, very serious issue,” Berry said. Authorities “are doing a thorough analysis. As a mayor, I expect some answers very soon.”
Conrad wrote in a report titled “Chain of Command Recommendations” that Doyle had been briefed prior to the kicking incident by an APD gang unit sergeant about Blume, who “had killed a police officer the day before” and was “affiliated with the Aryan Brotherhood,” a notorious prison gang.
Doyle was able to determine it was Blume whom he and Woolever were chasing, according to Conrad’s report.
“Officer Doyle was trained in the academy to use whatever means necessary to preserve life. The kicks were necessary and reasonable to assure that the suspect did not have the ability to gain access to a firearm which would escalate this situation to deadly force,” he wrote.
Blume has not been charged in the death of any officer.
Conrad also wrote that the video “clearly shows that when the offender was tackled by officer Woolever the offender did not comply with the officers’ commands to put his hands behind his back” and that Blume’s hands were under his body by his waistband “where a gun is normally concealed.”
Doyle and Woolever, who were riding together on Feb. 13, had pulled Blume over in the 500 block of Chama NE. Blume sped off when Doyle got out of his police vehicle, then crashed into a building in the 900 block of Louisiana NE.
Blume fled on foot, and Woolever tackled him to the ground in the parking garage at the Barcelona Hotel.
“When you control your own destiny, and when you could’ve stopped the whole thing by showing your hands, I have no sympathy for a guy who lies on the ground and lets himself get kicked in the shoulder,” Conrad said.
Blume has been indicted on charges of auto theft, receiving a stolen firearm, being a felon in possession of a firearm and resisting arrest in connection with the incident.
“The chief of police looked at that video and said: ‘Holy shit. This doesn’t look good,’ ” Conrad said.
“The chief had a totally different view of this strictly from watching the video. He immediately wanted a civil rights investigation done. I won’t disagree with anything Ray Schultz does. He’s done a great job for this department … He has a job to do, and with all the political pressure and pressure from the media, this is the way he went.”
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal