The Albuquerque police officer involved in one of APD’s most controversial fatal shootings was reinstated to his job Tuesday on a 3-2 vote of the city’s Personnel Board – a decision denounced by the city’s chief administrative officer as “crazy.”
The action overturned Chief Gorden Eden’s decision to fire Jeremy Dear, whose lapel camera was unplugged and did not record his fatal shooting of 19-year old Mary Hawkes after a foot chase in April 2014.
Dear said the young woman, who was suspected of driving a stolen truck at the time, had pointed a gun at him.
Eden said he terminated Dear for repeatedly failing to use his lapel camera despite direct orders to do so, which made Dear insubordinate.
Although the board overturned the firing, it did agree Dear had violated APD policy by not having his camera on and voted for a 90-day suspension.
The city will appeal the board’s decision in District Court, said Rob Perry, the city’s chief administrative officer. He also said the decision will have a damaging effect on the police reform effort underway in Albuquerque, as it undermined a decision made by the chief and upheld by a city hearing officer.
“The chief’s office can do everything they can do to ensure that people that carry a gun and a badge are suited for that type of responsibility. But when we have arguments from the Personnel Board that are sensationally crazy, that’s what we have to do,” Perry said. “I think that is very, very damaging to reform efforts when we have extraneous forces with no accountability interjecting their opinions over and above … the chief’s decision.”
Thomas Grover, Dear’s attorney, had argued that the lapel camera policy and discipline for officers violating it were inconsistently applied. He also claimed there are circumstances in which they should not be used at all.
Grover said the city’s appeal will put an additional cost on taxpayers.
“The exposure that they are going to be faced with is ongoing attorney’s fees and ongoing reinstatement,” Grover said. “They (city officials) have a huge mountain to climb to prevail over that decision.”
Eden fired Dear last December, saying he didn’t comply with an order to record every encounter with citizens. Police said Dear was given that order in June 2013 after several citizens filed complaints against him.
Personnel Board documents said an audit of a sample of Dear’s recordings showed he didn’t record video on about half the calls he was dispatched to.
But Lee Peifer, chairman of the Personnel Board, said the city didn’t show that Dear deliberately ignored the order to record each citizen contact or that Dear didn’t use his camera more or less than other officers on the force.
“The department does not have a standard acceptable compliance or noncompliance with (the lapel camera policy),” he said during the board meeting.
Peifer and board members Marie Julienne and Zane Reeves voted in favor of giving Dear his job back. Board members Christopher Holland and Thomas Manning voted to uphold Eden and the hearing officer’s decision to fire him.
Peifer did say there was evidence Dear violated department policies by not using his lapel camera, and the board voted in favor of giving him a 90-day suspension.
Of the Personnel Board’s five members, two are appointed by the mayor, two are selected by employees and then appointed by the mayor, and the fifth is chosen by those four.
Dear will remain fired as the city appeals the board’s decision, Perry said. If the city loses that appeal, it will owe Dear back pay, he said.
The shooting happened less than two weeks after the U.S. Department of Justice announced that its investigation into Albuquerque police had found a pattern of excessive force.
The Police Department is operating under a settlement agreement that resulted from the DOJ investigation. One aspect of that agreement calls for officers to use lapel cameras, though officials have said they are still considering the details of the lapel camera policy, which is being revamped as part of the settlement.
Shaun Willoughby, vice president of the Albuquerque police union, said a police officer using an on-body camera to record every encounter with everyone is unrealistic and said department officials should take their time when they implement the next camera policy.
“This case is a good example of the importance of having a well-established, well-designed, well-studied policy,” Willoughby said. “It’s important to have our ducks in a row before implementing a policy.”
Grover said Dear’s case has highlighted problems with a policy that requires police officers to record the public all the time.
“It addresses the issue of, ‘Is it lawful to record people all the time? And do we want officers doing that? Would that have a chilling affect on people who want to report crime?’ ” he said.