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Five of 17 officers fired at APD were let go due to use of force violations

Copyright © 2014 Albuquerque Journal

Since 2010, 17 Albuquerque police officers have been fired, with five of those officers losing their jobs in connection with a use-of-force incident.

Critics of the department say those numbers are too low given the Department of Justice determination that Albuquerque police have a practice of violating constitutional rights through lethal and nonlethal force.

APD’s disciplinary processes are being overhauled as part of a settlement agreement between the city and the Department of Justice that was unveiled last month.

Kenneth Ellis, whose son was killed by an Albuquerque police officer in 2010.

Kenneth Ellis, whose son was killed by an Albuquerque police officer in 2010.

“There is no accountability and there is no discipline process in place,” said Kenneth Ellis Jr., whose son was shot and killed by an Albuquerque police officer in 2010. “According to the DOJ, (Albuquerque police) have gotten off with violating constitutional rights. … It’s very disappointing that only five officers in five years have been fired” for excessive force.

A review of APD termination letters since 2010 also showed that six officers were fired for policy violations, four for being indicted in criminal cases and two during their probationary period without a stated reason.

Of the five officers fired because of a use-of-force incident, one was in connection to a shooting. And all the officers had other violations cited in their dismissal letters.

Albuquerque Police Chief Gorden Eden and other officials declined to discuss officer terminations. But police pointed out that Eden, who became chief in February of this year, wasn’t the chief when most of the incidents that led to the terminations took place.

Former APD officer Brandon Carr was fired 18 months after he fatally shot Roderick Jones in southwest Albuquerque in November 2009. Jones was shot in the back, and it’s not clear if the fatal shot was fired inside the home Jones was suspected of burglarizing, or when he was running away from officers. Carr has been the only APD officer fired in connection to a shooting since Ray Schultz became the police chief in 2005, according to Journal archives. APD officers have shot more than 75 people since 2004, and 37 people since 2010.

In May, APD changed the way it reviews use-of-force incidents, and supervisors now must sign off on a much more detailed report on all use-of-force cases. That change was included in the settlement agreement between the city and the Department of Justice that was released last month.

Another negotiated reform already underway is the revamping of the city’s civilian police oversight processes. A bipartisan City Council bill in September created a new Civilian Police Oversight Agency that answers to a board that has more powers than the previous commission. The city is accepting applications for the board until the end of November.

Stephanie Lopez, president of the Albuquerque Police Officers’ Association, said the process for disciplining an officer for a policy violation does not require as complex an investigation as that of an officer-involved shooting. That is one reason why the latter accounts for fewer terminations, she said.

She said Carr was the only shooting in recent memory that police determined was unjustified after an internal affairs investigation. A grand jury, however, found the shooting was justified. Carr hasn’t faced any criminal charges.

Lopez said once a shooting has been determined to be justified, it’s unlikely that an officer would face serious discipline, such as a termination.

Since 2010, APD has ranged in size from roughly 1,100 officers to 900 officers.

Eden has said the contract between the police union and the city established a disciplinary process that hurts the department because it doesn’t allow him to discipline officers for prior circumstances. He was quoted in a USA Today article in September as saying the department was “stuck” with officers who “shouldn’t be on the force” because of that contract.

Eden has signed off on the terminations of two officers since he took over as chief in February – Gil Vigil and Michael Parrish. Both were fired for policy violations that didn’t include use of force.

Vigil was fired in April in connection to a police response for suspected child abuse. No incident report was filed, and a 9-year-old child who lived there, Omaree Varela, later died as a result of suspected child abuse. Vigil attorney has said his client planned to appeal the firing.

Parrish was fired in July for numerous policy violations that included lack of familiarity with laws, insubordination, failure to report for duty, not responding promptly to calls and not writing reports. There was nothing in his termination letter that stated he was suspected of using excessive force.

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