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Editorial: Will Personnel Board give another ‘pass’ to officer?

It would appear former Albuquerque police officer Steve Hindi was fired for a good reason – allegedly trying to intimidate the civilian oversight investigator looking into complaints against him.

But Hindi, who has a long record of citizen complaints lodged against him, thinks he should have his job back and is asking the city’s Personnel Board to reinstate him.

Unfortunately for city residents and police alike, some decisions by the five-member Personnel Board indicate Hindi’s attempt at rehire might not be a long shot.

Chief Gorden Eden fired Hindi for using a confidential law enforcement database to gather personal information about a Civilian Police Oversight Agency investigator who was looking into a citizen complaint against Hindi, according to his termination letter. Using the database inappropriately can lead to criminal charges, although none has been filed against Hindi.

The firing offense wasn’t Hindi’s first complaint. Edward Harness, director of the oversight agency, says Hindi had a long history of civilian complaints. Six years ago, Hindi was one of four officers ordered by then-Chief Ray Schultz to record all encounters with citizens. The reason? Civilian complaints. Hindi also has been named as a defendant in at least four lawsuits against the city.

All this may make Hindi look like the type of officer APD can do without as it seeks to carry out court-enforced reforms, but the Personnel Board – two members appointed by the mayor, two selected by city employees and the fifth selected by the other four – isn’t exactly on board with cleaning up problems at APD. Some examples:

In November, the Personnel Board reinstated APD Officer Jeremy Dear, who Eden fired in 2014 after he fatally shot 19-year-old Mary Hawkes, a suspected car thief. The city is appealing the reinstatement in state District Court. Dear also had been disciplined earlier for using his lapel camera only about half the time.

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APD officer Russell Perea was fired in 2011 after Internal Affairs investigators found inconsistencies in his testimony about time he had spent with former APD officer Levi Chavez, who was acquitted of murder charges in the death of his wife. In 2012 the Personnel Board reinstated Perea, a decision that was upheld in District Court.

Also in 2012, the board reinstated APD officer Mark Wilson, who was fired in March 2011 after he allegedly punched his girlfriend in the face four months earlier.

With decisions like these, APD reform is an uphill battle, especially if the Personnel Board just gives a wink-wink-nudge-nudge pass to public workers who flaunt the rules and break laws.

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.

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