ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — He wanted to know who her son had been, what the world had lost, what she had lost.
And so between the hugs and the tears she told this man about Joel Anthony Mumaw, her 6-year-old with the biggest heart and the biggest smile who died of injuries suffered when the family car was struck by a speeding Albuquerque police car.
She told this man her son had wanted to be a police officer when he grew up.
This man, tears in his own eyes, listened to the grieving Antoinette Suina, and for the first time she felt she was being listened to by someone in authority who could help her, that here was a man who wanted to make things right, and if he couldn’t make things right would try to make it so that this wrong would never be visited upon another grieving mother.
“He had such compassion and integrity, and I knew he would keep his word,” Suina said.
This man was Michael Geier, who was chief of the Albuquerque Police Department until a little over a week ago when he was forced into retirement for reasons that depend on whose side you ascribe to.
Suina knows whose side she is on.
She wants you to know what kind of police chief Geier was, what the city has lost, what she has lost without him in command.
Geier had retired as Rio Rancho police chief two months before April 17, 2017, the evening the SUV Suina drove with Joel Anthony and daughter Ariana in tow was struck by officer Johnathan McDonnell, who was racing to a callout about a machete-wielding man in a grocery store.
A crash investigation found that McDonnell – disciplined for at least five preventable crashes and an unauthorized pursuit – had been driving 80 mph through traffic on Eubank at Indian School NE, lights on.
Both had the green light. Neither could stop in time to prevent the deadly collision.
In November 2017, Geier was named interim police chief of the Albuquerque Police Department, a position made permanent in June 2018. He brought with him a lauded past grounded in community policing, crisis intervention and consensus and a desire not just to fight crime but to find ways to repair the reputation of and restore trust in a department under fire for excessive use of force.
One of the ways he sought to do that was reaching out to Suina and her family.
“He was surprised that hadn’t been handled before,” she said. “And he thought it was unbelievable that the officer who hit us was still on the force.”
In September 2018, McDonnell was fired.
After that first meeting, he stayed in touch with the family. Because of Joel Anthony’s wish to become a police officer, Geier appointed him an honorary one.
For Joel Anthony’s birthday last year, Geier commissioned a memorial stone that now sits at the crash intersection.
The memorial says: “From one who lived a full life in 6 years; let no anger settle in your hearts, without hesitation be loving and life-giving.”
Kind gestures, but what Geier wanted was to help Suina turn a tragedy into something life-giving.
“We wanted to make sure another accident never happens again,” she said. “That was our goal.”
That goal led to the purchase of a police driver training simulator, purchased through a portion of the Suina family’s settlement with the city of Albuquerque, although Suina would not discuss costs. The settlement details are not divulged in court records.
“That’s not the important thing,” she said. “What’s important is that APD has a new tool to help prevent dangerous pursuits because of our collaboration with Chief Geier. None of this would have happened if he had closed the door to doing the right thing.”
The simulator was installed at the police academy early this year, but because of COVID-19 restrictions there was no ceremony, no public announcement. But on July 24 – Joel Anthony’s birthday – the simulator was dedicated to him. The room in which it sits is now the Joel Anthony Mumaw Memorial Training Room.
“Chief Geier has always tried to create positive change,” Suina said.
Apparently, that change was not fast enough for Mayor Tim Keller. As my colleague Elise Kaplan reported, Geier said he was forced into retirement after the mayor’s team blamed him for the city’s continued high homicide rate, personnel issues and slow reform.
Geier countered that Keller and his administration tried to micromanage APD and all but took away his independent powers to run the department.
Suina – and others – say that’s all nasty politics.
“My heart breaks that he is being treated this way,” she said. “This world we live in is so divided. This city is so troubled. For once, we had a chief who was not only strong and unwilling to compromise his ethics but showed humanity. He listened. We need him.”
It’s always been hard to survive a political appointment in policing. I’ve said before that as long as I have been aware of or cared about police business, there have always been efforts to make things better that never seem to get far because of internal and external powers. Geier’s ousting seems to be yet another example of that.
It’s hard, Suina said, to speak publicly about the loss of her son and, now, the loss of her hero. But she said she must speak out because the community needs to know this man she knows.
“He was there for us,” she said. “It’s my turn to be there for him.”
UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Reach Joline at 730-2793, firstname.lastname@example.org, Facebook or @jolinegkg on Twitter.