Report outlines complaints, retaliation at APD academy - Albuquerque Journal

Report outlines complaints, retaliation at APD academy

Cadets of the 35th Albuquerque Police Academy class in 2002 run laps as part of their early morning training. The cadet class of 2020 was embroiled in numerous complaints of harassment and discrimination. (Albuquerque Journal file photo)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

It’s not the crime, it’s the coverup.

Or, in the case of the Albuquerque Police Department Academy, it’s not the 32-plus allegations of harassment and discrimination, it’s the retaliation against those who made the complaints.

A wide ranging external investigation into more than two-dozen complaints from cadets and former employees at the police academy found that while almost all the allegations could not be confirmed or that the conduct did occur but resulted in discipline, the actions former Cmdr. Angela Byrd took to address them were retaliatory and against standard operating procedures.

Angela Byrd

APD announced Byrd had been fired as a result of the investigation on Oct. 30. The Journal received the 166-page report on the findings of the investigation last week. Although the report is marked as “confidential attorney client privileged communication” an APD spokesman said the city waived its privilege “in order to provide clear, transparent and factual information to the public on an investigation addressing the integrity of APD’s leaders.” Last names are redacted.

Spokesman Gilbert Gallegos said the department is conducting an internal search to replace her before opening up the position to outside applicants.

The city asked law firm German Burnette and Associates to investigate the matter since then chief Michael Geier was one of the witnesses, creating a conflict for an internal affairs investigation.

“In order to provide a neutral investigation, the City hired an external investigator who did not report to the police chief,” Gallegos wrote in an email. “Additionally, an external investigator was selected with experience and extensive knowledge in litigating and investigating these type of serious allegations.”

The firm was paid $214,498.

“It is unfortunate that taxpayers had to pay the costs of an outside investigation, but former Chief Geier’s involvement as a witness left us no choice,” City Attorney Esteban Aguilar said. “We could not allow his conflict of interest to influence the outcome of any investigation.”

Dozens of complaints

The investigator, Elizabeth German, writes that she was initially hired on May 22 to investigate Cmdr. Byrd, however a week and a half later she learned that Geier had collected a number of complaints made against the basic training staff. That’s when the investigation was expanded to encompass complaints against Byrd and against others at the academy.

The investigation encompasses: allegations a cadet made during her exit interview about the academy not supporting women, complaints by a cadet who said she was bullied for being Chinese and allegations she was called “Cadet COVID,” an anonymous email that said the academy permitted or ignored inappropriate comments from staff and cadets, and complaints about racist comments made by various staff members.

None of those complaints were sustained, meaning after interviewing other cadets and staff, the investigator couldn’t corroborate that the harassment, bullying or discrimination occurred. In one case, a cadet made a comment to another cadet about her sexual orientation and he was disciplined for it.

However, German was able to sustain allegations that Byrd retaliated against an officer whose girlfriend wrote to the governor to report that those at the academy were not wearing personal protective equipment during the pandemic, retaliated against an officer who pushed back on her plan to do firearms training with a cadet, threatened the cadets because of the anonymous email, made inappropriate gestures and sexual comments and smoked on the property.

She also sustained an allegation that Geier had transferred a sergeant and an officer to another position as retaliation.

Overall, German said, the information she gathered helped her form opinions on why so many complaints had been filed and “how a variety of seemingly separate events combined to create an unpleasant, possibly hostile, working environment at the Academy.” She clarified that by hostile she did not mean against any race or sex.

“Based on what I learned during this investigation, I think the culture at the Academy during the spring of 2020, and possibly from soon after Commander Byrd took over, was a culture of fear and mistrust,” German wrote.

Byrd’s attorney did not respond to requests for comment.

Mike Geier

Geier, who was told to retire in the beginning of September, said he made the decision to move the sergeant and officer because a number of complaints had been made against them and he thought it better to remove them from their positions until an investigation was completed.

“These two people — the sergeant and the officer — were involved in at least three of those complaints so do I leave them at the academy?” Geier said in a phone interview Tuesday. “Do I leave them there to continue violating people’s rights, discriminating against women, making racial statements? Do I let them continue doing that or do I pull them out until we do an investigation and find out what’s going on? If I leave them there and they continue I’m at fault.”

Anonymous email

Although there had been complaints circulating for some time, the situation seemed to reach a boiling point on May 14 when an anonymous email was sent — reportedly from the cadet class — alleging one of the instructors made racist and misogynistic comments and the staff permitted or ignored it and other instances of discrimination and harassment.

The instructor worked in APD’s scientific evidence division and taught classes on blood alcohol and how to use a breath test and was apparently known for being “rude and abrasive.” However, in their evaluations, cadets reported he had made “racially and gender-based comments.”

The instructor was immediately banned from the academy and an internal affairs investigation was opened. His boss at the scientific evidence division apologized to the class, according to the report.

APD spokesman Gallegos said the internal investigation was completed and “some allegations of misconduct were sustained and appropriate disciplinary action was taken.” He is still with APD.

German found that the allegations that APD ignored inappropriate behavior were not sustained.

But she found Byrd’s response to the anonymous email was inappropriate. She said the complaints stated that Byrd spoke to the whole class, demanded to know who wrote the email — and called them a “liar and a coward” — and threatened to prevent the cadets from graduating if the author wasn’t identified. Byrd’s comments were recorded and provided to German.

“All of the Cadets and the members of the Basic Training Unit staff I spoke to confirm these allegations,” German wrote in her report. “They also said that Commander Byrd told the class that ‘what happens at the Academy stays at the Academy,’ implying that submitting a complaint directly to HR violated the chain of command, and that people should not discuss anything that happened at the Academy outside of the academy.”

The report states that Byrd did not deny making those statements but characterized them differently.

“Commander Byrd stated she was defending the department and wanted cadets to know the allegations were not true,” German wrote. “She reminded them that she had told them that Mr. (redacted) would be dealt with and denied berating the cadets for sending the anonymous email to Human Resources.”

Possible lawsuit

At least one of the allegations German investigated may be the subject of a lawsuit.

A cadet, identified in the report as “Nan Z” but in legal filings as “Nan Zhang,” has filed a tort claims notice to the city. She is getting records related to the case and is waiting for a discrimination investigation by the state’s Human Rights Bureau to be completed, according to her attorney Thomas Grover.

Zhang, who is 40 years old and moved to the United States from China in 2006, reported she was discriminated against and harassed while at the academy. She resigned on March 2 and filed a complaint a month later.

According to the report, many at the academy said she was very smart but “there seemed to be a language barrier that made it difficult to understand what she said, and made it difficult for her to understand what was said to her.” The report did not find that she was discriminated against.

Geier said he had heard that instructors at the academy were referring to her as “Cadet COVID,” however this allegation was not mentioned in her complaint or tort claims notice. German interviewed many cadets and other staff and although Byrd said she heard one of the officers say that, no one else did.

“Based on the inconsistent accounts of when, and under what circumstances, Officer A allegedly referred to Cadet Z as ‘Cadet Covid,’ the lack of corroboration by anyone who heard Officer A make the statements as reported by Commander Byrd, and the fact that Commander Byrd did not take any action in response to the alleged comments, the allegation that Basic Instructors referred to Cadet Z as ‘Cadet Covid’ is unsustained,” German wrote in the report.

Grover, Zhang’s lawyer, said he thinks the report confirms just what the city wants it to confirm.

“I’m extremely disappointed in the city,” Grover said. “They had an opportunity to embrace the diversification that they want and constantly talk about in the media and in reality they have zero interest in complying with such ideals and goals. They had a great opportunity with this particular woman and they clearly let her down.”

When asked if APD had made any changes due to the volume of complaints that were filed, spokesman Gallegos said the department is working to ensure that all employees, including those at the academy, receive appropriate training.

“We are working with Office of Equity and Inclusion to develop a stronger cultural diversity course for the whole department,” Gallegos said. “At the Academy, we have already sent the message that employees and cadets should not be afraid to submit complaints, and they will not face retaliation for doing so.”

APD Academy Investigation Report by Albuquerque Journal on Scribd

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