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Thursday, June 5, 2008
Suit Accuses APD of Racial Profiling
By T.J. Wilham
Copyright © 2008 Albuquerque Journal; Journal Staff Writer
Albuquerque police officers stopped Edward Henry's rental car, forced him to get out at gunpoint and accused the Dallas engineer of coming to the city to steal a car, according to a federal lawsuit he has filed against the city.
To the contrary, Henry, an engineer for ABB Inc., was in town in May 2006 to teach a class for the city-county water authority, but instead he left immediately after the incident.
"I have no intentions of ever stepping foot in New Mexico again if I can avoid it," said the 47-year-old Navy veteran.
His attorney, Dennis W. Montoya of Rio Rancho, said his client was racially profiled when the original officer decided to follow him and run his license plate. He said Henry was targeted because he is black.
But Deputy City Attorney Kathy Levy said last week that APD officers acted appropriately when trying to apprehend someone they believed to be an auto theft suspect.
"Their case is factually inaccurate," Levy said. "The city and the police department have strong policies against racial profiling, and we can assure the community that did not occur in this case."
According to the federal lawsuit, Henry arrived in Albuquerque and rented a car from Hertz. The car had previously been reported stolen, but no one notified APD that it had been recovered.
Prior to the arrest, Henry had gone to his hotel, then drove to a Wal-Mart to get toiletries. Henry noticed an unmarked police car following him as he left the parking lot.
The police officer ran the rental car's license plate, discovered it listed as stolen and pulled over Henry's car, according to the suit.
Montoya said the officer had no probable cause to do that, as Henry had not committed any traffic violations.
Five other officers soon showed up.
Henry waited in his car, but no one approached. So he got out of the vehicle, and when he turned around, he saw six officers pointing guns at him, the lawsuit alleges.
The officers told Henry over a loudspeaker to get back into his car and turn off the engine, then throw the keys on the hood and to put his hands outside the car window. He was then told to open the door from the outside, pull his shirt out from his jeans and to lay facedown on the ground, according to the suit.
Henry was cuffed, searched by the only female officer on the scene and placed into the back of a police car.
When Henry asked why he was stopped, the officers told him to "shut up," according to the suit.
Officers during the encounter were "arrogant, abusive, accusatory, angry and threatening," the suit alleges.
Henry tried several times to tell the officers who he was and why he was in Albuquerque. He directed them to his business cards, a rental agreement and his corporate credit card, according to the suit.
At one point, Henry complained that the handcuffs were hurting him. The suit alleges that officers responded, "Good! They are supposed to hurt."
Eventually, one of the officers called the rental car company and, "after he endured much pain, anxiety, humiliation and fear, Mr. Henry was released," according to the suit.
Henry, the son of a Louisiana Southern Baptist preacher, said in a telephone interview that he had been in Albuquerque two months before the incident to teach the same computer class to city-county water authority employees. He holds the equivalent of a college degree in nuclear engineering from the U.S. Navy, he said.
Representatives from Hertz Corp., which is named in the suit, declined to comment on the lawsuit. Regarding the alleged theft of one of their vehicles, Richard Boone, senior vice president for Hertz, said in an e-mail to the Journal there had been no indication the car had been reported stolen.
The suit also names Police Chief Ray Schultz, Mayor Martin Chávez, Albuquerque police officer Jacob Storey and an unnamed female officer.
About a month before Henry was stopped, a woman contacted police and reported her Hertz rental car had been stolen, according to Albuquerque police records. A report was made, and the car's information was entered into the National Crime Information Center's database.
There is no record of the car being recovered.
According to police records, Storey, the officer who pulled over Henry, said he was on random patrol when he decided to run the license plate of a car in front of him. That was Henry's car.