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APD pulls out of U.S. Marshals task forces

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

Albuquerque police pulled a detective from a U.S. Marshals task force – and has discontinued assigning officers to U.S. Marshal task forces – in the wake of a 2016 officer-involved shooting that brought to light policy differences between Albuquerque police and the federal agency, police said.

And the city has been asked to review its other memorandums of understanding with other federal agencies to see whether police officers working with federal agents are following the policies outlined in a settlement agreement by the city of Albuquerque and the Department of Justice.

Gilbert Gallegos, a police spokesman, said no Albuquerque police officers currently work on the U.S. Marshals task force in Albuquerque. He said there are officers who work on task forces with other federal agencies.

The decision to remove the detective from the task force was made by the prior administration during its review after the detective fired his weapon during a shootout with a suspect in a hotel in east Albuquerque in 2016, he said.

The Force Review Board in Albuquerque in October 2017 found that the officer didn’t violate APD’s use of force policy. But the police department couldn’t review the tactics, supervision and equipment used during the shooting, because the task force has different policies than Albuquerque police, Ed Harness, the executive director of the Civilian Police Oversight Agency, said during a police oversight board meeting Thursday.

For example, Albuquerque police have to wear on-body cameras and record most encounters with the public, but marshals task forces don’t wear the cameras. And Gallegos said the policies for interviewing officers after shootings are also significantly different between the two agencies.

“The two (policies) are not congruent,” Harness said.

Harness said officers at the time were following a memorandum of understanding between Albuquerque police and the U.S. Marshals Service that was signed in 2008. Albuquerque police have made a significant number of policy changes and changes to how the department internally reviews shootings and other use-of-force cases in recent years. Those changes are the result of a Department of Justice investigation into Albuquerque police.

A local deputy marshal referred questions about the task force policies to the agency’s public affairs office, which didn’t respond to questions on Friday.

Harness said an investigator with the department’s Critical Incident Review Team in October 2017 requested that police review memorandums of understanding with other federal agencies that have task forces with Albuquerque police officers.

The status of that review is not clear. Gallegos said there is not an ongoing review of those agreements. But Police Oversight Board members appeared interested in bringing to light how police are guided with policies when they work alongside federal agents.

“There’s a lot to learn here, and I think the community should come along,” said Joanne Fine, a member of the oversight board, during the board’s meeting Thursday.

The CIRT investigator’s request to review agreements with police and federal agencies was also made in the aftermath of the 2016 task force shooting.

The shooting occurred after the task force tracked Mario Montoya, 31, to an apartment in the 300 block of Western Skies SE. He was wanted for a probation violation after cutting off an ankle monitor and fleeing a halfway house days earlier, according to police.

The task force entered the apartment at night using a key taken from Montoya’s girlfriend outside the apartment and got into a shootout with Montoya, leaving the team “pinned” inside the apartment . The Albuquerque police SWAT team was called in to rescue the team, according to a search warrant in the case. Montoya was killed.

“The task force was involved in officer-involved shootings in which tactics and follow-up reviews of the use of force were not in line with APD’s operational policies,” Gallegos said in an email. “As a result, APD is not currently assigning an officer to that task force, but the department continues to assign officers to other federal partners.”

APD works alongside federal agencies such as the FBI and U.S. Marshal’s Service to track down fugitives, focus on drug and firearms cases and other investigations.