Gov. wants to grant immunity to police - Albuquerque Journal

Gov. wants to grant immunity to police

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – A years-old debate over use of force by police could resurface in the coming 30-day legislative session, as Gov. Susana Martinez plans to push legislation that would grant legal immunity to New Mexico law enforcement officers for actions in the line of duty.

Gov. Susana Martinez
Gov. Susana Martinez

The Republican governor, a former prosecutor, says the legislation would provide a shield of sorts for law enforcement officers – provided they’re adhering to training – in a state that has one of the nation’s highest violent crime rates.

“I don’t believe that police officers should be under this constant threat of lawsuits that will often cause them to pause,” Martinez recently told the Journal. “If they’re following their training, there should be something that protects them.”

However, critics describe the legislation as misguided and possibly unconstitutional, while citing a recent federal investigation that found Albuquerque police had a pattern of excessive force. That led to a settlement agreement between the city and the U.S. Department of Justice.

Steven Robert Allen
Steven Robert Allen

“Standing up for officers who are using excessive force and violating the Constitution is exactly the wrong way to move,” said Steven Robert Allen, the public policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union in New Mexico. “I don’t know what problem the governor thinks she’s addressing, but she seems to be going in the wrong direction.”

In recent years, numerous lawsuits have been filed against New Mexico law enforcement officers, and some of the suits have led to hefty settlement agreements.

In 2014, a judge awarded more than $6 million to the family of Christopher Torres, a mentally ill 27-year old man who was shot in his own backyard when police officers tried to confront him over a road rage incident.

Stephen Torres, his father, said Tuesday that he would oppose the legislation.

“We all should be a little paranoid about doing the right thing,” he said in an interview. “If a police officer does something wrong, he should be held accountable just like the rest of us.”

However, Martinez, who is entering her final regular session of the Legislature as governor, suggested that legislation granting legal immunity to law enforcement officers would protect not just the officers but taxpayers, too.

“This bill would protect citizens and law enforcement officers from the massive payouts that taxpayers are giving crooks and thieves who are hurt or injured by police officers who are doing their job,” Martinez said.

Without citing a specific case, she said such a law could apply when a police officer chases a suspect who ignores orders to stop and tackles the suspect.

Several recent lawsuits filed against law enforcement officers have in fact stemmed from non-deadly encounters.

For instance, a University of New Mexico student filed a lawsuit last year in which he claimed he was knocked down and injured after walking down a “skirmish line” of police officers who were in riot gear with an extended middle finger. The incident occurred at a protest against right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos, and the lawsuit is still pending.

In another case, a murder suspect filed a 2016 lawsuit alleging Albuquerque police injured his wrist while handcuffing his “brittle arms.”

Meanwhile, the governor said the immunity bill, which had not yet been filed as of Tuesday, would not shield officers who intentionally disregard internal law enforcement policies and training.

Martinez has clashed in past legislative sessions with top-ranking Democratic lawmakers over proposals to increase criminal penalties, and the immunity legislation could face an uphill climb in the 30-day session, in part because short sessions held in even-numbered years are typically focused on budgetary matters.

The session officially begins Tuesday.


Albuquerque Journal and its reporters are committed to telling the stories of our community.

• Do you have a question you want someone to try to answer for you? Do you have a bright spot you want to share?
   We want to hear from you. Please email yourstory@abqjournal.com

Nativo Sponsored Content

taboola desktop

MORE ARTICLES LIKE THIS

1
To fix NM child welfare: listen to the gut, ...
From the newspaper
It's easy to fix a failing ... It's easy to fix a failing child welfare system like the one in New Mexico: just listen to you ...
2
NM must open pathways to graduation
From the newspaper
I was an unmarried teenage mother. ... I was an unmarried teenage mother. Today - hard as it is for me to believe - I'm New ...
3
Editorial: Warming station a way station to a better ...
Editorials
Something divine is going on in ... Something divine is going on in Albuquerque's International District.
4
Public charter schools need equal facilities funding
From the newspaper
With less than a third of ... With less than a third of what traditional campuses get, it's no wonder successful charters have long wait lists
5
Educators in NM rally amid growing teacher shortage
ABQnews Seeker
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has proposed ... Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has proposed pay increases in an effort to attract educators to the state
6
NYC mourns, honors officer killed Friday night
From the newspaper
Rookie was the fourth NYPD officer ... Rookie was the fourth NYPD officer shot in as many days
7
Taxpayers face overloaded IRS as filing season opens
From the newspaper
Expected delays due to stalled legislation ... Expected delays due to stalled legislation and worker shortage
8
Taliban talks spark debate about group's recognition
AP Feeds
Talks reignite the debate over whether ... Talks reignite the debate over whether they legitimize the Taliban government
9
NM tech firms awarded state matching grants
ABQnews Seeker
The NM SBIR grants are designed ... The NM SBIR grants are designed to support local science and technology companies in achieving their commercialization goals, according to a news release from ...