Two Albuquerque police officers accused of holding down and kicking a suspect claim union officials and the department conspired to fast-track their firings as a way to stave off a federal investigation into APD, according to a lawsuit they filed against their union on Monday.
Officers John Doyle and Robert Woolever arrested Nicholas Blume in northeast Albuquerque in February 2011. During the arrest, Woolever held Blume to the ground and Doyle kicked him several times. The incident was captured on surveillance video.
Doyle has said he was trying to kick Blume in the shoulder so that Woolever could place him in handcuffs. The officers have also said it wasn’t clear if Blume was armed because he had reached at his waist during a foot chase, and the officers couldn’t see his hands as they tried to handcuff him.
The two officers were fired about nine months after the incident.
APD’s decision to fire the officers came more quickly than other use-of-force cases that involved the department, said Thomas Grover, an attorney representing Doyle and Woolever.
“It’s the timing of it with the DOJ (Department of Justice) on the horizon,” he said. “It’s (then-APD chief Ray) Schultz saying ‘Look, we’re tough against cops.'”
Doyle and Woolever were taken off active duty in May 2011 when police officials became aware of the kicking. The officers learned they had been fired while watching television news on Nov. 16, 2011, the lawsuit states.
The DOJ started a preliminary investigation in August 2011 and launched a formal one on Nov. 27, 2012. The findings, released last April, found APD had a pattern of violating people’s constitutional rights through its use of force.
Grover said all the officers mentioned in the Justice Department’s subsequent report are still working for APD. Doyle and Woolever, who were not mentioned, are seeking compensation for lost wages, job benefits, promotional, training and employment opportunities and emotional distress.
The lawsuit filed in state District Court names current Albuquerque Police Officers Association president and vice president Stephanie Lopez and Shaun Willoughby, along with former APOA officials Joey Sigala and Ronald Olivas and union attorney Frederick Mowrer. The city and Schultz are not defendants.
The lawsuit alleges union officials withheld protections offered to members and met with police administrators to discuss Doyle and Woolever without the officers’ knowledge.
“You can’t pick and choose who you are going to advocate for,” Grover said of the union.
Neither Schultz nor Mowrer could be reached for comment Monday.
Lopez said Monday evening she hadn’t read the lawsuit and couldn’t comment on specific allegations. She said the APOA provides funds to any officer in the union who is the subject of an administrative or criminal investigation if the officer requests assistance. She said she didn’t know whether Doyle or Woolever requested assistance from the union.
Doyle also has filed a complaint against the city asking it to reverse Schultz’s decision to fire him, Grover said. And Woolever has filed a complaint against the New Mexico Law Enforcement Academy Board.
Blume has filed a federal lawsuit against both men. The incident occurred when the officers were arresting Blume on suspicion of receiving and transferring a stolen vehicle.
“I thought the APOA and their lawyer Fred Mowrer were there to defend us and all the other officers,” Doyle said in a prepared statement. “Finding out, and realizing, they were just using Rob and I to help Schultz keep his job and to keep feathering their own nest with union money was one of the most cowardly, disgusting, and dishonorable acts I’ve seen in my 20-plus years as a street cop.”