Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
Yet another member has resigned from the Civilian Police Oversight Agency board, criticizing how complaints are investigated and asking for a review of the investigation process.
In a letter of resignation sent last week, Valerie St. John said she believes there is a “lack of procedure and thoroughness in the citizen complaint investigations and case management by the CPOA.”
“The City Council should exercise its authority to contract with an independent consultant to undertake a complete evaluation and analysis of the entire police oversight process and recommend any necessary changes or amendments that would appropriately improve the process,” St. John, a private investigator and member of a previous iteration of the oversight agency, wrote in her letter.
St. John’s resignation comes about a month after another member, Chelsea Van Deventer, left because she took a job in law enforcement as the chief prosecutor for Laguna Pueblo.
In her resignation letter, Van Deventer pointed to what she saw as deficiencies with the agency’s investigation of a high-profile case involving an officer not collecting a child’s bloody underwear as evidence. She urged the board to request an independent audit of the case.
Responding to criticism from both former members, CPOA director Ed Harness said he didn’t believe they had considered the full investigation. He pointed out that the independent monitor reviews cases periodically and has generally found the investigations to be objective.
“It’s a disservice to the investigators at the agency to perpetuate that myth that the investigations aren’t thorough and fair,” Harness said.
The resignations mean the nine-member board – which oversees independent reviews of complaints against the Albuquerque Police Department – is down a total of three positions and, after January’s meeting, it will lose a fourth when long-time member and vice chairwoman Joanne Fine reaches the end of her second term.
Julian Moya, the special projects analyst for the City Council, said he hopes to have a full board again by February’s meeting. He said he and other council staff members are meeting with potential appointees and a number of new applihave come forward in the past couple of weeks.
“This is a high-profile board,” he said “A lot of work goes into it, so we have to do our due diligence when we’re making this appointment and make sure the people are committed to the duties of that position.”
The CPOA was created after a Department of Justice investigation found APD had a practice of using excessive force against citizens. It replaced the Police Oversight Commission in 2014 and is comprised of investigators who review citizen complaints against officers, as well as police shootings and serious use of force cases.
However, for more than a year the agency has only investigated citizen complaints while APD re-vamped its internal procedures surrounding a newly created Force Review Board. The Force Review Board will review serious use of force and police shooting cases before they get to the CPOA.
Harness said Wednesday that 159 serious use of force cases – including 15 police shootings – have not yet been reviewed by the CPOA.
Chantal Galloway, the CPOA board chairwoman, said one challenge the board faces are the expectations on all sides as it acts as a bridge between the police department, and the city and the community. She pointed out that few of the sitting board members have actually reviewed a use of force case at this point.
“We’re waiting to do the job we’re tasked with doing, which is reviewing the use of force cases,” Galloway said. “Right now we’re working our way through citizen complaints, which is not meaningless work, but it doesn’t get us any closer to the end goal.”
Fine, who was at the board’s inaugural meeting in March 2015, said a lot has changed since she was first appointed.
“When we first got named there was no structure. We had to invent it,” Fine said. “Now there’s a structure and we’re fine-tuning. … It’s not easy these first five years, but the next five look pretty promising to me.”