Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal
Almost 2½ months after Albuquerque Police Department officers shot a man who they said was taking “about 80 people” hostage in a Chinese restaurant, they have not released any information about the shooting, citing a federal investigation.
Police have not identified the suspect, said what condition he is in, said what charges he is facing or identified the officers who shot him.
In fact, the department has released next to no information about any of the shootings officers were most recently involved in – four over the past 2½ months.
In response to several questions about delays, Gilbert Gallegos, an APD spokesman, said the department has “been slower than we aim to be to keep up with the public release of information related to recent officer-involved shootings.”
He said recent personnel changes in APD’s criminal division contributed to the delay as well as the need to protect the investigations by the multiagency task force.
“We understand the public interest in officer-involved shootings, which is why we strive to produce details sooner,” Gallegos wrote. “That is difficult when other law enforcement agencies are involved, or when we sometimes have 50 to 100 witnesses to interview and hundreds of hours of video to review. In one instance, the offender who survived the shooting was hospitalized until recently, and was not able to be interviewed by investigators.”
He said APD will hold a media briefing and answer questions about the Nov. 4, Nov. 18 and Dec. 13 shootings on Friday.
ACLU: Wrong message
Although APD has been irregular on how they release details, New Mexico State Police – which investigates shootings involving law enforcement at many of the agencies throughout the state – has a more formalized process for disseminating information.
State Police Chief Pete Kassetas said his investigators typically release the names of officers as soon they have been interviewed or after they decline to be interviewed. He said that usually takes three or four days or up to a week or two.
“We essentially have an accused but not charged situation – someone has done something but they haven’t been charged,” Kassetas said. “But we know also that they’re a public employee so we treat it a bit differently then someone else who is involved in a shooting.”
Peter Simonson, the executive director for the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, said that given APD’s history of excessive force and with the Department of Justice reforms underway, withholding information about officers and the people they have shot raises questions about what they are trying to control in the narrative.
“It’s important to remember that APD was shooting and killing someone about every month and actively resisting the public’s efforts (to see what was going on),” Simonson said. “We don’t want to return to those days. It threatens to erode the trust that APD has built with the community over the past year and it sends a message that not much has changed inside the department.”
The previous administration, under Mayor Richard Berry and Police Chief Gorden Eden, was also sporadic about releasing information – but they typically released a suspect’s name in the days following the shooting and released videos and held briefings in the weeks or months after that.
After the first police shooting of the year Mayor Tim Keller and Police Chief Michael Geier said they would be more transparent and release information as soon as possible.
Police Chief Geier held a news conference and a comprehensive briefing and released videos nine days after Daniel Saavedra-Arreola was shot and killed on Jan. 7.
A couple of days after the next shooting – in which officers fatally shot robbery suspect Richard Rivera on June 16 – federal authorities filed a criminal complaint against Rivera’s girlfriend which identified him. APD held a media briefing on the incident the following week.
After that shooting, the practice changed.
When Arthur Lujan was shot during a SWAT situation on July 18 his name was released the next morning since officers had already been looking for him as a suspect in a homicide. Then, it was a more than a month before APD held an official briefing.
And when Lambert Joe was shot and injured on Aug. 19, it was three and a half weeks before APD held a briefing and released his name and the name of the officers involved.
This year, APD officers have shot and killed five people and wounded three.
Gallegos said APD cannot yet release any information about the police shooting at Lin’s Grand Buffet on Oct. 7 because federal authorities are leading the investigation into part of the incident.
“Once charges are made public, the name of the offender can be released,” Gallegos said.
It is unclear what charges the man faces. A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office would not comment on the ongoing investigation.
Gallegos said APD was working toward returning to the practice of providing information in a timely manner.
“Chief Geier has directed all APD staff involved with these investigations to get back on track to meet his goal of providing media briefings in a more reasonable time period so the public can be assured we will be transparent with our investigations,” Gallegos said.