An Albuquerque police officer has been fired and charged with a petty misdemeanor after, authorities say, he shoved a handcuffed man headfirst into the wall of a holding cell during a February arrest.
Albuquerque Police Department spokesman Gilbert Gallegos said 41-year-old John Hill was let go after an Internal Affairs investigation into the Feb. 17 arrest of Jackson Howe, 47. APD charged Hill with petty misdemeanor battery in the incident.
Hill has pleaded not guilty to the charge, and the president of the police union said Tuesday that Hill’s termination has been appealed.
Both Mayor Tim Keller and Police Chief Michael Geier referred to the case at a public status conference about the Department of Justice-mandated police reform effort in U.S. District Court on Tuesday.
Geier said the allegation of excessive use of force was taken to the Internal Affairs Force Division by a lateral transfer to the department who witnessed the incident and had concerns.
Both Geier and Keller said the case was an example of officers holding one another accountable and reporting misconduct.
“We take allegations of unnecessary force very seriously, and we will not tolerate police misconduct,” Geier said in a news release. “Our role is to enforce the law and protect the people we are sworn to serve. Police misconduct has the potential to erode the trust we work so hard to build between the community and our officers.”
But Shaun Willoughby, president of the Albuquerque Police Officers Association, questioned the timing of the APD announcement, noting that Hill had been terminated earlier this month.
“The timing of the press release is odd, and a press release for this matter is just as odd,” he said.
APD says Hill was hired in April 2012 and terminated on Aug. 3.
According to criminal complaints filed in Metropolitan Court, Howe — the man Hill is accused of battering — was arrested on Feb. 17 for disorderly conduct, trespassing and attempted battery after he allegedly caused a disturbance at Central United Methodist Church, at University and Central.
Police say Howe was “compliant” with responding officers, but authorities believed he was “mentally unstable” after he told them that people at the church “wanted to kill him.” Witnesses at the church told officers Howe threw coffee at a woman and was acting aggressively toward other members.
According to the court records, Howe was loud and aggressive toward officers at the police station, and Hill told him to “shut up” before he and other officers took Howe to a holding cell.
At some point, police say, officer Hill told the other officers “he was OK and did not need backup” before taking Howe to the holding cell on his own as the other officers walked away.
Once in the holding cell, Hill shoved Howe from behind, causing him to strike the wall, according to the court records. Hill wrote in a report that he did this because Howe was “thrashing his arms” and “leaning back toward me, to avoid entering the cell.”
Police say another officer reported the incident to a supervisor and a criminal investigation was opened. All the officers who were present, except Hill, agreed to an interview, and video surveillance showed Howe did not physically resist Hill at any time.
Gallegos said that the findings of the investigation were forwarded to the 2nd Judicial District Attorney’s Office for review on March 19 and that after the review, APD charged Hill with battery.
Hill’s attorney wrote in a motion that the months between the completion of the investigation in March and the filing of charges last month constituted an unreasonable delay. He has asked the judge to dismiss the complaint over violations of Hill’s right to a speedy trial, according to court documents.
Hill was one of four officers who shot and killed Abdias Ucdiel Flores-Corado, 35, last Christmas Eve at Motel 6, 3400 Prospect NE.
Flores-Corado was pacing back and forth on the second story of the hotel with a .22-caliber rifle that he had just repeatedly fired at guests and employees trying to evict him. Hill and the other officers were northeast of the hotel, and they fired their weapons when they saw Flores-Corado point his rifle at officers parked northwest of the hotel, according to a previous briefing on the shooting.
Journal staff writers Elise Kaplan, Katy Barnitz and Ryan Boetel contributed to this report.