Copyright © 2012 Albuquerque Journal
Union Critical of APD Inquiry
Three grams of marijuana, two grams of hashish, one glass pipe, one digital scale and a fleeing suspect.
That’s what led Albuquerque police officers on May 31 to:
♦ Kick in the door of an apartment with guns drawn and no warrant,
♦ Taser the man inside four times,
♦ Establish a large perimeter near East Central Avenue complete with police dogs and helicopters as officers searched for the suspect who fled,
♦ And arrest the fleeing suspect after an hourlong pursuit that ended with the man surrendering to police, then getting his face pressed into the ground by an armed officer while another officer jumped onto his back and punched him three times, according to police videos.
The drugs — less than a quarter of an ounce total — and paraphernalia were confiscated by officers at a nearby park after they arrested the man who allegedly was in possession of the contraband, 20-year-old Santana Begay.
A second man who police wanted to interview at the park — Dion Alexander, 20 — ran off, which prompted the neighborhood search.
APD Officer Connor Rice has been charged with misdemeanor counts of battery and aggravated battery and placed on paid leave while criminal and Internal Affairs investigations of the incident continue.
The other officer who used his electronic stun gun, Shad Solis, and officer Ronald Surran, who held Alexander at gunpoint with his boot on Alexander’s face, are on desk duty.
Asked Friday about the level of response during the May 31 incident, Police Chief Ray Schultz reiterated that the entry into the apartment and the use of force were “improper.” But he said the officers, who initially responded to reports of “narcotics activity” in a city park, were investigating a serious problem.
“Specifically that these subjects were selling drugs at a location that is frequented by youth is extremely concerning,” Schultz said. “The Albuquerque Journal is currently running a series on drugs and the impact that it is having on this community. I think this event is another example of the seriousness of the overall problem.”
Begay and Alexander were initially charged with marijuana distribution, but the charges were later amended to possession and then dismissed, according to police and court records.
The Journal earlier this week completed a four-part investigative series on New Mexico’s deadly problem with heroin and other opiates. The state’s fatal overdose rate per capita is twice the national average.
Mayor Richard Berry said in an emailed response to Journal questions about the May incident that “the video shows entirely unacceptable behavior.”
“I believe the incident needs to be investigated by law enforcement, the DA and potentially the US Attorney’s Office,” Berry said. “There is zero tolerance for this type of behavior within the department. When individual incidents such as this happen it reflects poorly on all other officers who are following procedures and keeping our community safe.”
The mayor said the May incident does not, however, “point to a systemic problem within the department.”
Station objects to interview
On Thursday, APD released video from officers’ lapel-mounted cameras of the incident and announced the charges against Rice. The release followed public records requests from several news outlets, including the Journal, and a lawsuit from KRQE News 13. The department announced earlier this week that the videos would be released by Friday, after its investigation was complete.
KRQE’s initial request on July 10 prompted police officials to launch an Internal Affairs investigation into the officers’ use of force, Schultz said, which was initially ruled justified by an APD commander.
Schultz’s handling of the investigation has drawn the ire of the police union and an attorney who is representing KRQE.
The union is upset that Rice has been charged before the criminal investigation was finished.
“We are aware that there were some definitive concerns (raised) with this investigation,” said Shaun Willoughby, vice president of the Albuquerque Police Officers’ Association. “However, the investigation is incomplete: All the officers involved have not been interviewed as of today. … We understand that we make mistakes sometimes. But these men and women deserve to be treated fairly, and their rights should be maintained.”
As part of its investigation, APD detectives sought an interview with KRQE reporter Kim Holland, who had filed the first IPRA request for the video.
Attorney Marty Esquivel wrote Friday in a letter to the City Attorney’s Office that APD’s requests to interview Holland were “retaliatory in nature and grossly inappropriate.”
“When I asked Detective (Kevin) Sanchez about what information he was seeking, it is apparent this was nothing more than a fishing expedition to get to Ms. Holland’s source of information which prompted” her public records request, Esquivel wrote.
Charges of marijuana possession and conspiracy to commit a fourth-degree felony have been dismissed against Begay, who has no prior criminal history, according to court records.
According to police reports, police didn’t seize anything illegal from either the man who was repeatedly tasered, 19-year-old Kenneth Box, or the man who was punched, Alexander.
Box, who also has no previous criminal history, was charged with aiding or harboring a felon. The charges have been dismissed, according to court records, but could be refiled. He was tasered after officers entered his apartment while looking for Alexander.
In the May incident, he was charged with marijuana possession and conspiracy, although police reports don’t say any drugs were taken from him. Police Chief Ray Schultz said he didn’t know whether Alexander had any marijuana.
The charges against Alexander have been dropped with the possibility of being refiled later, court records state.
Alexander has a previous charge of aggravated battery with a deadly weapon in 2010. A status conference is scheduled for Sept. 20 in the older case involving the battery charge.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal