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Tuesday, July 11, 2006
Bar Owner Injured During Arrest; Man Claims APD Officers Beat Him
By T.J. Wilham
Copyright © 2006 Albuquerque Journal; Journal Staff Writer
The president of the Downtown Business Coalition claims he was beaten over the weekend by city police officers just outside his tavern while trying to settle a parking dispute.
APD officials say John Montoya, owner of the District Bar and Grill, fought and pushed an officer who was trying to tow cars illegally parked in an alley. Montoya was arrested and charged with battery on a peace officer.
In his jail photo, Montoya has a black eye and a cut on his face. APD says Montoya, 37, was injured while resisting arrest after he pushed one of the officers.
Two others, including Montoya's fiancée, were arrested for interfering with a police investigation while trying to take pictures with a camera phone.
Police say that Camille Taylor and Jennifer Gignac got too close to the officer and interfered with him.
"Them taking pictures is not a problem. In fact, we encourage people to go wherever they want to go to take video and pictures," said Albuquerque police spokeswoman Trish Hoffman. "In this case, they were getting too close. You can't be on top of a police officer or in their space while they are doing an investigation."
Friday's incident wasn't the first time Montoya has been at odds with the police.
According to Metro Court records, he has been arrested one other time for battery on police outside his tavern. He says in that incident he was also attacked by officers and treated unjustly.
Earlier this year, another bar owner and two others were arrested after videotaping state agents. They were upset because agents had been asking patrons to step outside and take breath-alcohol tests.
Montoya said he plans to meet with Albuquerque Police Chief Ray Schultz and Mayor Martin Chávez about the incident and others in which he says business owners Downtown are being harassed by police at night.
Friday's incident started about 10:20 p.m. while APD officers were trying to tow vehicles illegally parked in the alley that intersects Fourth Street between Central and Copper.
The alley runs next to Montoya's bar. Several band members who were performing at Montoya's and another tavern had their vehicles parked in the alley.
Montoya said the bands were trying to unload their equipment when APD blocked the alley and started to tow their vehicles.
Hoffman said APD will launch an internal affairs investigation of Friday's incident if Montoya files a complaint with the department.
"If he wants to file a complaint, we will do an investigation," she said. "Right now, it doesn't appear that anything was done wrong."
The issue of towing cars has been a running dispute Downtown. APD has said bands can use the alley as a loading zone but not to park.
According to a Metropolitan Court criminal complaint written by an officer concerning Friday's incident, Montoya approached the officer, "got into my face," shouted a profanity, grabbed his shoulder and yanked him forward.
The officer then ordered Montoya to turn around. Montoya started to leave, and the officer and a police public service aide tackled him to the ground, according to the complaint.
Hoffman said Montoya showed signs of intoxication.
Montoya contends he was not the aggressor. He acknowledged that he touched the officer's shoulder in an attempt to calm him down.
"My body now feels like I have taken hits all over the place," Montoya said Monday. "My head got pulled up and slammed. I know that's how my black eye happened."
Two people who witnessed the incident told the Journal they felt police officers went "too far" when apprehending Montoya.
Gignac, who also goes by the name Jennifer Gamble, said that while Montoya was on the ground, one officer grabbed his hair and slammed his head into the concrete twice. She and Taylor, Montoya's fiancée, were trying to take pictures with a camera phone when they were ordered to get back and eventually arrested for refusing to obey an officer, disorderly conduct and interfering with a police investigation.
Taylor and Gignac said they passed the phone to a friend before they were arrested.
Another witness, Todd Lovato, said he saw an officer grab Montoya while he was walking away and then tackle him with two other officers.
"My perception was that all of this could have been avoided," said Lovato, a Journal reporter who plays bass guitar for a band that was performing in a bar next to Montoya's. He said it appeared to him that the officers may "have jumped the gun and it was unnecessary."
The Downtown Business Coalition was formed last year as an advocacy group for business owners. The group was formed in part because owners were concerned about civil rights issues, policing and city services.
The coalition, which is made up of about 30 Downtown business owners, also hosts joint fundraisers.