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Officers Get Union Checks After Shootings

A photo and Albuquerque Police Department information about Gary E. Atencio was on a screen during a news conference Thursday identifying Atencio as the man who was shot by police after a high-speed chase.
A photo and Albuquerque Police Department information about Gary E. Atencio was on a screen during a news conference Thursday identifying Atencio as the man who was shot by police after a high-speed chase.
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Twenty Albuquerque police officers involved in shootings in 2010 and 2011 received payments from the police union of either $300 or $500, the Journal has learned.

(Read Friday afternoon’s update: “Mayor, APD Chief Call For Halt To Shooter Payouts”)

A written statement from Albuquerque Police Officers Association President Joey Sigala and Vice President Felipe Garcia said the payments are to cover some expenses for officers who have been involved in “critical incidents” and their families “to find a place to have some privacy and time to decompress outside the Albuquerque area.”

“We do not determine where they go or for how long, we simply give them some means of obtaining this critical time to gather their thoughts and emotions after a stressful incident,” the statement said.

Read the full APOA statement (or look below)

Top city officials said they had been unaware of the practice and didn’t want to comment until they talked to union officials; the father of one man shot by a police officer blasted the practice as “bounty.”

The APOA statement – issued in response to an inquiry from the Journal based on a document showing the payments in 2010 and 2011 – said officers typically received the payments within the first couple of days after the shootings.

Sigala and Garcia declined to be interviewed, and their statement did not say whether union officials offer the payments or whether officers have to ask for them.

Sigala did not respond to a question asking whether officers involved in three shootings this year had, or would, receive the payments.

The statement seemed to indicate the practice has gone on “for years,” but did not say whether it is an official APOA policy or exactly how long it has been done.

Police Chief Ray Schultz said he was unaware of the practice.

In fact, Schultz said through a spokesman he was not aware of such a practice when he was a member of the union, and he did not receive any money from the APOA after he was involved in a shooting after an armed robbery in 1986.

Schultz declined through a spokesman to comment on the practice, saying he wanted to speak with Sigala first.

The city provides counselling for officers involved in shootings and other critical incidents.

Albuquerque Chief Administrative Officer Rob Perry said the union is entitled to do as it wishes with its money and declined further comment until he learned more about the payments.

Family members of the 20 men shot by APD officers in 2010 and 2011 blasted the payouts, calling them an apparent “bounty.”

“It’s unbelievable to find this out,” said Mike Gomez, whose son, Alan, was fatally shot by APD officer Sean Wallace last year. “This just sounds like a reward system, a bounty. If it’s in these cops’ minds that they’re going to get rewarded if they shoot someone, even if they don’t kill them, that’s just not good.”

Wallace was among those who received $500 in 2011. He also received $500 after a non-fatal shooting in 2010.

The statement from Sigala and Garcia said the payments are intended as support for officers.

“We also believe that any claim or assertion that these were somehow cash payments for the officer merely ‘shooting someone’ are absolutely ridiculous and false,” the statement says. “We hold onto the honor and dignity of our profession and would never engage in such callous and hurtful behavior.”

In all, 23 APD officers shot people during 20 incidents last year and the year before. Fifteen of those shootings were fatal.

Internal union financial documents obtained by the Journal show 20 of the officers received union payments. Of those, 16 received $500, two were paid $300, one received $800 and a payment of $1,000 went to one officer.

Albuquerque Police Chief Ray Schultz, left, with deputy chiefs Beth Paiz, center, and Allen Banks, right, at a news conference listen to the 911 call from Gary E. Atencio’s wife, who was being shot at Wednesday before Atencio led police on a chase that ended in his death. (MARLA BROSE/JOURNAL)

Also, $500 in union funds went to an officer who did not fire any shots but was involved in an incident that ended when another officer fatally shot a man.

The documents show more than $10,000 went to officers involved in shootings.

The statement from Sigala and Garcia said the union only makes “partial payments of up to $500 to help cover the costs” of out-of-town stays.

“In many cases, it has been less,” the statement says. “There were no disbursements over $500, and any costs … which are over $500 are for other union-related matters.”

The 20 officer-involved shootings in 2010 and 2011 have drawn an angry response, with critics flooding City Council meetings, holding protests and demanding Schultz’s resignation and more accountability from APD.

Critics have pointed out that the majority of those shot were Hispanic men in their 20s and 30s.

All the shootings that have worked through the review process have been ruled justified through APD’s internal affairs process and by grand jury review after presentation by the District Attorney’s Office.

The U.S. Department of Justice is considering whether to conduct a full-scale investigation to determine whether APD has a pattern or practice of violating civil rights.

Financial review

The documents obtained by the Journal were prepared by union Treasurer Matt Fisher earlier this month after members demanded to see a breakdown of how APOA money was being spent.

The demands came after Fred Mowrer, the union’s lawyer, sent an email to board members saying $259,000 had been spent on salaries and “union work” during the past two years – at a time when the APOA was supposed to be pinching pennies in anticipation of a court battle against the Berry administration over police contracts.

The union sued Mayor Richard Berry in 2010, contending he illegally backed out of an agreement signed by the previous administration to raise APD pay. The city won the first round, but the union appealed to the state Court of Appeals, which hasn’t yet ruled.

APOA members voted last week to hire an outside firm to audit the union’s finances for the past two years and to require more financial accountability going forward. Members will also consider next month whether the president’s and vice president’s union salaries should be cut.

The moves followed revelations at a March 15 APOA meeting from Sigala that he and Vice President Felipe Garcia have paid themselves more in salary from union dues than they previously acknowledged publicly, and that Sigala’s wife was paid about $6,000 for working on “special projects” and filling in as a temporary administrative secretary.

— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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