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ACLU condemns APD ‘spying’ on protesters

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico wants to know why at least one plainclothes police officer was in the crowd of a peaceful protest against the Albuquerque Police Department’s use of force Saturday.

The ACLU of New Mexico on Tuesday condemned the Police Department for spying on protesters, and the organization filed an Inspection of Public Records Act request for all surveillance data collected during the protest. The officer – who has been involved in a police shooting – had a camera.

APD Deputy Chief Eric Garcia said the officer only took a short video of a protester who was suspected of disorderly conduct and that the officer didn’t take any still photographs at the rally. He said police will soon release the video.

The officer was one of five plainclothes officers who are part of the criminal intelligence unit at the rally, Garcia told KOAT-TV.

Garcia said plainclothes officers have been at previous protests in Albuquerque.

“The people who were attending the protest peacefully were not doing any criminal activity so there was no reason for us to be videotaping or photographing them,” Garcia said. “The only time anyone was videotaped was if criminal activity was conducted.”

The man who was videotaped was not charged with a crime, Garcia said.

Police haven’t collected any surveillance data on anyone at protests who are not suspects in crimes, which is department policy, Garcia said.

A woman called 311 on June 6 and said she was “going to take a cop out” during the rally on Saturday, according to a police report. A man also called 911 on Friday and said he was going to shoot and kill Albuquerque police. Garcia said those threats were not the reason there were undercover officers at the rally.

Backlash from the officer’s presence at the rally continued Tuesday when about a dozen protesters carried signs saying “APD=spy” and “APD you must stop spying on us” from Metro Court to police headquarters Downtown. They demanded a meeting with Chief Gorden Eden and were told by city security to set up an appointment, which they did.

“Unless the APD had evidence that a crime was taking place during Saturday’s protest, they had absolutely no business gathering intelligence on protestors,” ACLU-NM Executive Director Peter Simonson said in a statement. “It not only shows a shocking disregard for free speech rights, but also a numbness to the community’s distrust of the APD and the need to rebuild public confidence in the department. Instead of trying to win back the public’s respect, the APD reminded the community that it broadly views citizens with disdain and distrust.”

Protesters said there was no need for the officers, and they say they had an agreement with APD that officers would only be at the rally to deal with traffic.

“We want answers to some very important questions,” protester Jim Bowes said. “With the atmosphere that’s in Albuquerque right now, people … are afraid of Albuquerque Police to begin with. This has an even further effect. This makes them even more afraid to show their face at what was … a family friendly march.”