The prior city administration routinely and secretly recorded conference calls and meetings with the independent monitor overseeing a police reform effort, the acting city attorney said in a court filing this week.
The document informed the monitoring team, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the public for the first time that such recordings were made.
Former City Attorney Jessica Hernandez, in a letter to U.S. District Judge Robert Brack in late November, acknowledged she and other city officials recorded at least 12 meetings or conference calls with James Ginger, the independent monitor.
Hernandez said the recordings were to be used internally, not to undermine the monitoring process.
“The current city administration has terminated the practice and will not make any further recordings without the parties knowledge or consent,” acting City Attorney Samantha Hults said in a notice filed in court Tuesday.
Brack is presiding over a yearslong reform effort which was brought on by a U.S. Department of Justice investigation into the Albuquerque Police Department that found a pattern of excessive force.
A monitoring team led by Ginger analyzes Albuquerque’s compliance with the agreement and periodically files reports on the department’s progress.
Bill Slauson, a former executive director in the former police administration, recorded nine conference calls that included himself, the monitor and other city officials, according to the city’s filing,
Hernandez recorded one of the meetings that included her, Ginger and another official. There also was a transcript of a conference call with former Chief Gorden Eden, former Assistant Chief Robert Huntsman and Ginger.
Those were in addition to a meeting between Ginger and city officials that Huntsman recorded with his on-body camera. The recordings were made between March 2016 and February 2017, according to Hernandez’s letter to Brack.
Huntsman’s recording and the transcript were referred to in a motion the city filed in November 2017 that asked Brack to hold a hearing to determine whether Ginger was biased against the police department. Ginger’s reports, especially his most recent, were particularly critical of the department’s highest-ranking officers.
Ginger is prohibited from making public statements about the reform effort without getting permission from the city and the DOJ, according to the rules agreed to in the settlement.
The judge denied the city’s motion from the bench in a strongly worded order that admonished the city for making secret recordings. He ordered that any additional recordings be turned over to him.
Those recordings, obtained by the Journal through an Inspection of Public Records Request, range from routine conversations between Ginger and city officials, where they discuss aspects of the settlement agreement and the weather, to more contentious debates, where Eden and Huntsman complain to Ginger about the language he uses in his reports, city councilors and Journal articles about the reform effort.
One particular Journal story reportedly created a “tidal wave in hell” for the former high-ranking officers, Huntsman told Ginger, according to a transcript of the recording.
That recording, made in September 2016, was of a phone call to discuss concerns that Eden had about the reform effort. During the call, Eden openly fretted about being fired as a result of negative attention surrounding the reform process.
“If city council keeps going down the road we’re headed, um, I, there’s a strong likelihood that we’ll be gone in probably 90 days,” he said.