ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The city of Albuquerque has agreed to pay out another high-dollar award – the fourth in as many months over the actions of its police officers.
On Monday, the city agreed to pay $950,000 to the family of Rodrick Jones, who was shot in the back in 2009 by then-APD officer Brandon Carr during what police described as a suspected robbery.
The settlement brings to more than $2.5 million the amount the city has agreed to pay or has been ordered to pay plaintiffs since late February as a result of police officers’ actions.
Jones, a 42-year-old father of seven and former U.S. Air Force officer, was employed as a security guard at Kirtland Air Force Base when Carr shot him outside a northwest Albuquerque home on Nov. 6, 2009.
“APD suggested that, before the shooting, Mr. Jones was committing a burglary of a residence,” attorneys Joe Fine and Brad Goodwin, who represented Jones’ family in a wrongful death lawsuit, wrote in a statement to the Journal. “The lack of his fingerprints at the residence, the absence of stolen property in his possession, his strong law enforcement background and the lack of credibility regarding the officer who shot Rodrick Jones creates strong doubt as to whether there was a burglary. Unfortunately, Rodrick Jones was not given the opportunity to explain his conduct to a judge or jury.”
Carr was fired in October 2010 after APD Internal Affairs and multi-jurisdictional criminal investigators determined that he had lied about the events leading up to the shooting. Carr had told investigators he shot Jones inside the residence, where he was investigating a suspected burglary, after Jones reached for something in his back pocket.
In fact, he had fired the fatal shots while both he and Jones were outside the house. Jones was not armed and was shot in the back.
Carr was the first officer to be fired as the result of an unjustified shooting in recent memory, authorities said, and the first since Ray Schultz became police chief in 2005.
“We commend APD for its investigation and actions following the shooting,” Fine and Goodwin wrote. “We hope that this tragedy helps to provoke change within APD.”
Meanwhile, possible criminal charges against Carr are still languishing in the legal system.
After a staffing change, Deputy District Attorney Gary Cade had requested additional investigation into the shooting and received the results a few months ago.
Also, the recent spike in officer-involved shootings created a bottleneck in the system, Cade said. There have been 19 officer-involved shootings since January 2010. Thirteen of those have been fatal.
Grand jury presentations for officer-involved shootings usually take between four and eight hours, and squeezing those into an already-crowded docket has proven difficult, Cade said.
He said he expects to present the Carr case to a grand jury in August.
The most recent shooting took place on Sunday, when APD officer Damian Lujan shot 33-year-old Orlando Paisano after a domestic violence situation, according to police. Paisano had threatened Lujan and officer James Jung – both veterans of about 18 months on the department – with a machete.
Jung twice fired a Taser at Paisano during the incident, according to police, but Paisano continued to approach with the machete. Paisano was in stable condition at University of New Mexico Hospital on Monday evening.
This year’s payouts from APD began in late February, when the city agreed to pay the estate of Tera Chavez $230,000 to settle its part of a lawsuit that alleges Tera Chavez’s husband, former APD officer Levi Chavez II, shot her in the head in October 2007 and tried to make it look like a suicide.
The lawsuit also claimed that widespread fraternization among officers was condoned and contributed to Tera Chavez’s death. The partial settlement eliminates the negligent hiring and supervision claims against APD.
The partial settlement of the lawsuit left only Levi Chavez, who was indicted in April on a murder charge, as a defendant. The city has shelled out more than $100,000 to defend him in the wrongful death lawsuit.
Next came a withering opinion from state District Judge Theresa Baca, who awarded $4.25 million to the family of an unarmed 19-year-old shot and killed by APD in 2009. She described APD’s training methods as “designed to result in the unreasonable use of deadly force,” found nearly every one of its witnesses “unreasonable” and “not credible,” called officers’ decisions “misjudgments” and their use of deadly force “excessive.”
Attorney Fine, who also represented the family of Andrew Lopez in the case Baca ruled on, had originally planned to seek the full amount of the judgment, even though state law caps payouts to $400,000. Fine said Monday he has agreed to the amount allowed under the cap, plus fees, bringing the total payout in that case to about $417,000.
And last week, the city agreed to pay $950,000 to the door-to-door magazine salesman who spent over a year in custody, and once faced a potential death penalty prosecution, for a December 2007 murder committed by another man.
A false confession by a co-worker who was questioned repeatedly by detectives – with information allegedly supplied by police during a coercive interrogation – helped put them both in jail for 15 months.
Michael J. Lee received the payment after a civil lawsuit that alleged unreasonable seizure and detention.
The Lopez case was brought as a Tort Claims Act in state District Court, where payouts are limited by caps depending on the type of allegations. The Lee and Jones cases were brought in federal court, where there are no caps on payouts.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal
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