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City strike force video condemned

Copyright © 2013 Albuquerque Journal

Set to the gruff stylings of English metal band Motörhead’s 1980 song “Ace of Spades,” a 5-year-old video obtained by the Journal shows members of APD’s Criminal Nuisance Abatement Unit engaging in what current and former city officials call “unprofessional and unacceptable conduct” for police officers.

In the video, officers are shown forcing people whose homes have just been condemned to pose with an oversized Ace of Spades playing card. Other frames in the video show an officer shouting at a statue of the Virgin Mary, an officer faking a puff from a marijuana water pipe and one officer standing behind another feigning a sexual act.

Pete Dinelli, who oversaw the unit at the time in the administration of then-Mayor Martin Chávez and who is now running for mayor, said the video and several photographs depicting the same conduct came to his attention in April 2009.

Although images of him are shown briefly in the video, Dinelli said he didn’t know about its existence until one of the members of the unit informed him.

“I then called Chief (Ray) Schultz and said: ‘We have a problem,’ ” Dinelli said in an interview Monday. “I walked over, and I had a meeting with them, and I said: ‘I want them gone’ … He said no.”

Instead, according to Dinelli, Schultz ordered up an Internal Affairs investigation on four police officers and two civilian employees of the unit.

Rob Perry, the city’s current chief administrative officer, said an APD commander and an acting deputy chief recommended discipline of a week for some of those who had engaged in unprofessional behavior shown in the video. Others were recommended for four-day suspensions.

The video includes several hard-charging songs, including the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage,” and snippets of audio from movies such as Samuel L. Jackson’s “great vengeance and furious anger” speech from “Pulp Fiction.”

Perry said he first became aware of the video while serving as city attorney early in the administration of Mayor Richard Berry, who took office in late 2009, after the video was produced.

Instead of the recommended discipline, Schultz meted out suspensions of one and two days, reassigned the officers from the unit and sent all six to sensitivity training, Perry said in an interview last week.

“There may have been an agreement not to appeal the discipline, but I can’t say for sure,” he said, adding that he has never discussed the case with Schultz.

Schultz, who retired earlier this month after eight years as chief of APD and is now working as a paid consultant for the department, did not return telephone calls seeking comment for this story.

Safe city strike force

The Criminal Nuisance Abatement Unit is part of the “Safe City Strike Force,” which is composed of police officers, firefighters, city legal staff and employees from the city’s Planning Department and the Department of Family and Community Services. Its purpose is to enforce city and state “public nuisance” laws by, for example, shutting down crack houses and tearing down dilapidated motels that become magnets for crime.

The strike force was initially created in 2002 under a city ordinance, but it didn’t really get its sea legs until 2006, when a memorandum of understanding was signed by then-city CAO Bruce Perlman and various department heads that designated Dinelli as its director.

At that time, Dinelli was a deputy city attorney.

Later, in 2008, he became the city’s chief public safety officer. He continued to oversee the strike force, but he said the police chief never reported to him and that he had no power to discipline police officers who were part of the Criminal Nuisance Abatement Unit.

A city organizational chart dated May 2009, however, shows the police chief under Dinelli’s chain of command.

Perry points to a 2009 letter Dinelli wrote to a constituent that says Dinelli had “overseen and supervised the Safe City Strike Force since its inception” as proof that the activity shown in the video took place on Dinelli’s watch.

Dinelli is running against Berry, Perry’s boss, in the Oct. 8 mayoral election.

Dinelli, however, points to the memorandum of understanding that created the strike force. It designates the strike force’s director as having the authority to give “assignments and instructions” to members of the strike force.

But APD detectives and inspectors assigned to the strike force, according to the MOU, “shall be under the direct supervision of an Albuquerque Police Department area captain or commander and lieutenant.”

Berry in a statement after viewing the video last week said, “My reaction is one of disappointment and disgust in the conduct of certain members of this specialized unit prior to my time as mayor.”

Perry said the video was produced by members of the strike force, and copies of it were distributed at a Christmas party, likely in 2008. It includes photographs and video footage of officers and civilian employees conducting drug raids, condemning properties and posing for cameras taken between 2007 and late 2008.

He said the video came to his attention while he was the city attorney. In that role, Perry and the city inherited a class-action lawsuit that was filed against the city for enforcement actions taken by the Safe City Strike Force .

The existence of the video, Perry said, was among the contributing factors that led the city to settle the case for $1.7 million after a federal judge granted partial summary judgement in favor of the plaintiffs and set a trial date to determine damages.

“That video would have had the potential to really inflame the jury,” he said. “It demonstrated unprofessional and unacceptable conduct on behalf of police officers.”

Dinelli said that, had he been defending the case, he would have sought to exclude the video from evidence on the grounds that it was irrelevant to the case.