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The controversial New Mexico Civil Guard is threatening to sue the city of Albuquerque over the treatment of several members after a chaotic protest that ended in a shooting last year that made national headlines.
A letter obtained by the Journal, written by Civil Guard attorney Paul Kennedy, outlines the group’s intention to file a civil complaint against the city stemming from the June 2020 protest of a Juan de Oñate statue in Old Town.
No member of the group – there to protect the statue – was charged.
The letter lays out Kennedy’s request to settle for $750,000 and the city’s response to negotiate rather than face a lawsuit.
Those negotiations broke down Thursday morning.
Mayor Tim Keller’s office wouldn’t comment on the mediation but said it tried to resolve the dispute without litigation, but was unable to come to an agreement.
“We won’t be bullied by hate groups,” a spokesperson for the Mayor’s Office said.
Bryce Provance, former member of the Civil Guard, said Keller and the Albuquerque Police Department targeted the group prior to the protest and wrongfully arrested them afterward.
He said that even though APD and Keller knew the group wasn’t associated with the shooter, they labeled Civil Guard members as criminals and worse to the public.
Kennedy did not respond to requests for comment.
The New Mexico Civil Guard, which is a group of civilians who trained together practicing military exercises, made headlines and drew the ire of local leaders for its heavily armed presence at the protest. Tensions rose between protesters and group members before counterprotester Steven Baca shot protester Scott Williams after a scuffle.
Williams is also threatening to sue, alleging negligence by the city and APD over their handling of the protest and subsequent investigation.
The Civil Guard’s demand letter alleges that its members were targeted by police prior to the shooting, wrongfully detained for several hours afterward and labeled by Keller and then-Police Chief Michael Geier as possible criminal suspects and a potential “federal hate group” on Twitter.
Soon after the incident, 2nd Judicial District Attorney Raúl Torrez filed a lawsuit against the Civil Guard trying to limit its activities – arguing that civilian militias can only be activated by the state’s governor and the Civli Guard was acting like law enforcement with no legal authority to do so. That case is pending.
“These seven arrests resulted from a series of decisions by the City’s highest policy makers, made for the apparent purpose of penalizing these individuals for political association with the Civil Guard,” Kennedy’s demand letter states, adding that the highest-ranking members of the police department knew the shooter was not a member of the Civil Guard or associated with the group.
The letter states APD then-Deputy Chief Harold Medina, Commander Arturo Sanchez and Sgt. Albert Sandoval knew the group would be at the protest and put officers nearby to wait and “see whether they could catch NMCG doing anything illegal.”
Undercover officers at the protest were keeping APD informed of the events leading up to the shooting, which happened as Civil Guard members appeared to be leaving the area, according to the letter. After the shooting Civil Guard members surrounded Baca and “secured” his gun before APD swooped in and detained “anyone who was armed.”
The letter notes that the members had their weapons seized and were detained on the street – as people threw rocks and water bottles at them – before being moved between police vehicles or interview rooms over several hours.
During that time, the letter states police identified Baca as the shooter – through a detective at the scene, video evidence on social media and Baca’s own statements – but Civil Guard members were still not released.
The men suffered from prolonged handcuffing, according to the letter, and one urinated on himself due to not being able to use a bathroom, and another was diagnosed with post-traumatic osteoarthritis as a result of lengthy cuffing.
“While they were suffering these injuries and indignities, the policy makers responsible for their arrests were misleading the press about their conduct and suggesting that they were criminals,” the letter states.
The letter said these officials never told the public “the so-called ‘vigilantes’ were being detained as witnesses, not suspects.”
“The witnesses could not defend themselves because they were being held in handcuffs, without lawyers, and without any means of communicating with their friends and families, as prisoners of the City,” the letter states.
In a letter to Civil Guard members, Kennedy said the city attorney – upon receiving the demand letter – asked the attorney to not file a civil complaint and “enter into a negotiation process.”
“This is a good sign as it signifies that the city recognizes liability on its part and probably wishes to settle this case rather than to litigate it,” he wrote in the letter. “Whether they will pay enough money to get the case resolved is of course another question.”