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Judge signs off on team of outside investigators to help APD

US District Judge James Browning

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Following a federal court hearing Friday afternoon, U.S. District Judge James Browning signed off on a stipulated order from the city of Albuquerque and the Department of Justice proposing the creation of an outside team to assist the Albuquerque Police Department’s internal affairs force division with investigations into all but the most minor uses of force.

Browning said he expects to issue a written opinion on the matter in April in response to the comments he heard in court.

Under the order, the city will hire an administrator who will hire an as yet undecided number of investigators for the External Force Investigation Team. The outside investigators will accompany internal affairs detectives to the scene after an APD officer uses force on a person that causes injury, hospitalization or death. The external investigator will be privy to all evidence, documents and investigative notes and will evaluate the quality of the internal investigator’s work and notify APD and attorneys if there are any deficiencies.

The city hopes to have the administrator in place in early May to start hiring the team. The city will try to return full responsibility to the internal investigators within nine months but that time frame could be extended, if needed.

The city has been working its way through a Court Approved Settlement Agreement since 2014, when the DOJ found APD officers had a pattern and practice of using excessive force and violating citizens rights. Last October, the independent monitor overseeing the agreement warned that APD was on the “brink of a catastrophic failure.”

At Friday’s hearing, Paul Killebrew, an attorney with the DOJ’s civil rights division, said the motion was necessary because after six years the police department is still not holding officers accountable for using force that is out of policy.

“What we have is a city that has failed to comply with that court order over and over and over again,” Killebrew said. “It’s not an option right now to do nothing. If we sit back and wait and use all the tools we’ve been using I don’t know why we would expect things to change on their own.”

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