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Editorial: APD camera stories seem unplugged from the truth

Finally, the explanation about the lack of lapel cam video comes out more than eight months after Albuquerque Police Department Officer Jeremy Dear shot and killed 19-year-old Mary Hawkes, a suspected auto thief, on April 21, 2014, after a foot chase.

One persistent question is whether Dear turned on his lapel camera or if it malfunctioned. There is no video from his camera of the fatal shooting. APS brass repeatedly have been evasive about why.

But a recording of an interview Dear had with APD investigators two days after the incident – obtained recently by the Journal through an Inspection of Public Records Act request – shows the department knew nearly from the start that there was no video because the camera wasn’t plugged into the battery pack – at least assuming Dear was telling them the truth. Dear also claimed he had experienced problems with his camera becoming unplugged before.

APD policy requires most officers to record every encounter with the public. But inconsistent use of lapel cameras was a significant factor in the U.S. Department of Justice’s conclusion that APD has had a pattern or practice of civil rights violations and use of excessive force.

Give Dear credit, even though he was fired in December for insubordination and untruthfulness in connection with a broader internal affairs investigation that included the Hawkes shooting. In this instance, it appears Dear was more forthcoming with his employers than APD has been with the public.

Here’s what APD has said on various occasions after investigators had questioned Dear:

  • Journal April 24, 2014: “Albuquerque police officials were unable to recover lapel-camera footage … . (Police Chief Gorden) Eden stopped short of calling the lack of footage a malfunction, and said the camera is being sent to the manufacturer, Taser International Inc., for forensic analysis.”
  • Journal April 26, 2014: “Eden repeatedly demurred, refusing to specify whether it was Dear who failed to follow the rules or the camera that failed to work. … Had anyone asked Dear whether he had turned on his camera? Eden would not say.”
  • Journal May 22, 2014: “Albuquerque police on Wednesday confirmed that lapel camera technicians were unable to retrieve video from the officer who shot 19-year-old Mary Hawkes … . Police still would not say whether the lapel camera … malfunctioned or if (Dear) failed to turn it on.”
  • Journal Dec. 2, 2014: “A report from the camera manufacturer said it was undetermined whether the camera malfunctioned or if Dear turned it off. APD officials have said Dear told them he turned on the camera.”

On Feb, 7, the Journal reported the officer’s version of events: “Dear’s lapel camera didn’t malfunction … . Dear noticed it was unplugged immediately after the shooting and he told investigators during his interview two days after the shooting.”

Fellow officer Tanner Tixier, who also responded to the stolen vehicle call, appeared to back up Dear’s claims at the time. “According to (Dear), and this has happened before, I think, when he got out of the vehicle to go on a foot chase, that cord unplugged itself from the battery pack, which completely made his camera inoperable,” Tixier said.

So, why did APD engage in this obfuscation by refusing to reveal Dear’s explanation? How could there really have been the possibility of video being retrieved when all along they knew there could be no video because the camera wasn’t plugged in? And if it’s true that these cameras tend to come unplugged, then why didn’t APD have them fixed or replaced so officers could (1) comply with policy, (2) protect themselves from unfounded accusations and (3) assure the public that their actions were justified?

As APD works on its camera policy, the department not only should make every attempt to see that officers comply with it, but also that their equipment works.

Meanwhile, APD could learn at all levels that being frank with the public is one important way to rebuild the department’s credibility.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.