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Video Captures SWAT Frustration

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — An Albuquerque Police Department SWAT officer has been removed from his position as a team leader after comments were captured on video during a standoff on June 20.

The video, shot on a police lapel camera, shows officer Drew Bader and Sgt. Alex Catsis appearing to grow increasingly frustrated as they stand behind an armored vehicle. They bemoan laws and APD policies governing whether they can use force against Santiago Chavez, who was barricaded inside a home on 67th Street SW.

Police Chief Ray Schultz said that while some of the comments were inappropriate, they don’t reflect a problem with culture on the SWAT team. A lawyer for the family disagreed.

“You can clearly see they were just itching to get into that house,” lawyer Kari Morrissey said.

Shultz said Thursday that Bader, who fired eight bullets into the house, will remain on SWAT but will no longer be a team leader. Police also pumped tear gas into the house and say Chavez fired a handgun at officers at least once during the 15-hour standoff before killing himself.

On the video, Bader smiles as he speculates that the situation is escalating following reports over a police radio that Chavez may have fired at least one shot inside the home.

At one point, an officer can be heard using a four-letter pejorative that refers to a part of the female anatomy, then Bader uses a falsetto tone to mock either Chavez or a member of his family who was at the scene.

And another exchange between Bader and Catsis went as follows:

Catsis: “Hey, according to the Journal, this guy’s just got a drug problem. We should leave.”

Bader: “We should take him and put him in the mayor’s house.”

Catsis: “Yeah. No, (Journal reporter) Jeff Proctor’s house.”

Schultz called the conversation “boy talk” but also said some of the comments are “inappropriate.” He said they don’t speak to a cultural problem within APD or the SWAT team.

The chief dismissed the comments about the mayor and the Journal reporter, saying the officers “obviously” know dropping Chavez off at someone’s house is not an option.

Addressing Bader’s comments about what APD policy and state law regarding the use of force should be, Schultz said it’s not up to officers to decide what the law is. He said they appear “frustrated,” possibly because they have been at the scene for an increasing period of time.

Through a spokeswoman, Mayor Richard Berry said he “took no offense” to the comment made about him.

The mayor “urged Chief Schultz to continue pushing forward with reforms and accountability at APD,” spokeswoman Dayna Gardner wrote in an email to the Journal. “He has also directed the chief to look into the situation pertaining to the comments made and report back on his findings and actions taken.”

Morrissey, who is representing Chavez’s family in various matters related to the SWAT standoff, called comments captured on video “despicable.”

“And it is another perfect example of why the citizens of this community can’t trust this police department. The use of pejoratives from public servants is never appropriate …”

Teachable moment

Schultz said the video presents a “teachable moment” for the SWAT team and said officers had better get used to having their actions recorded and scrutinized since he required earlier this year that officers record all contacts with citizens.

He also said he directed an APD commander to review the video with the entire unit, and the commander removed Bader as a team leader.

Police were called to the home on 67th after receiving calls that Chavez had kicked over a trash can, thrown rocks at vehicles and brandished a handgun.

In the video, which came from a lapel-mounted camera worn by Catsis and was released by APD this week, a crisis negotiator can be heard telling Chavez that his safety can be guaranteed if he exits the home with his hands up.

Meanwhile, Sgt. Catsis says at least twice that he feels “threatened,” which is one of the factors determining whether an officer can escalate his or her use of force.

And Bader says a scenario in which a “bad guy” fires a shot in the presence of officers ought to constitute an aggravated assault.

“He could be shooting through the walls and you’d never (expletive) know it,” Bader says, referring to Chavez. “He could be in there right now looking at us, shooting at us, and his intent is to hit us, and we’re just like, oh, no, that’s all right.”

After rolling his eyes, Bader continues: “Oh, no, that’s OK. Give him the benefit of the doubt,” then rolls his eyes again.

Some time after the video cut off, the SWAT team advanced on the house, The day after the incident, APD’s Criminal Nuisance Abatement Unit issued a notice to Chavez’s grandmother, who owns the home on 67th, saying she had to pay for damage done to the home within 30 days or face a lien on the property.

— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal