Civilian police oversight failed in mentally ill man's shooting - Albuquerque Journal

Civilian police oversight failed in mentally ill man’s shooting

On Dec. 9, 2021, the Civilian Police Oversight Agency (CPOA) had four vacant positions on its nine-member board. The remaining five members reviewed the details of an officer-involved shooting in Case No. 20-0044826. The board member presenting the case stated it should be tabled if all members were unable to review the documents. Two of the five board members reported they did not review the documents; one had viewed a video only.

Incomprehensibly, presentation of the case proceeded, and, with only three board members having access to the APD documents, all five members voted unanimously to accept APD’s investigative conclusions.

On June 4, 2020, Michael Mitnik called 911 to get help for his son, Max, who struggled with mental illness and was off his medication. Max wanted to go to the hospital, but not with his parents. Max’s father specifically requested that a Crisis Intervention Team respond. APD dispatched two Enhanced Crisis Intervention Trained (ECIT) officers.

One officer shot Max twice, once to his head. Max Mitnik survived, but not without life-altering traumatic brain injury and permanent disability. See civil filing D-202-CV-2022-0086.

In its review of the case, the CPOA Board opined there were numerous errors with APD’s response. For example, the ECIT officers failed to adequately grasp the nature or seriousness of the call. The officers did not gather and act upon information from family members. They did not control the scene, handcuffing and uncuffing Max, not searching him for weapons, and allowing him to return inside the home unescorted. The officers did not consider suicide a concern despite dispatch references to Max’s prior self-harm behavior. Although Max initially agreed to go to UNMH, the ECIT officers escalated the situation by discouraging his decisions, claiming extensive wait time at UNMH sitting in the police car, handcuffed, and unable to go to the bathroom.

The board members questioned how APD determines the minimum amount of force necessary, and why in this case less-lethal options were not more fully considered or discussed. Despite these questions and their own unease, the board members did not fault the shooting given the circumstances immediately preceding the shooting.

If the ECIT officers had followed the most basic policy and procedures, Max would not have been shot. According to the Force Review Board jeopardy began upon arrival and mistakes made caused this shooting and the fact the officer did not recognize the mistakes is terribly concerning. Despite the grievous failures, reliable sources report the shooter received an eight-hour suspension. Both officers got a letter of reprimand for policy violations and were to receive additional training. The CPOA Board avoided discussing the officers’ disciplinary history and, significantly, the appropriateness of this discipline.

The CPOA is statutorily required to review investigations of officer-involved shootings, make findings for each, and make them available to the public on the CPOA website. No such report has been published.

The board groused that more should be done to avoid these mental health catastrophes but did not consider further inquiry or potential corrective actions. Considering yet another example of the board’s understaffed, incomplete review of this case along with its failure to make and publish the required report of its findings, a reconceptualizing of this problem-ridden and ineffective civilian oversight process is urgent.

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