Saturday, May 28, 2011
Economidy Discipline: Four Days
By Jeff Proctor
Copyright © 2011 Albuquerque Journal
Journal Staff Writer
The Albuquerque police officer who described his job as "human waste disposal" on his Facebook page was suspended for four days and assigned to a lower-profile beat, city officials said this week.
Police Chief Ray Schultz earlier this month described the discipline Detective Byron "Trey" Economidy had received as "significant" but declined to provide specifics, saying it was a "personnel matter."
The Journal subsequently filed a request under the state Inspection of Public Records Act seeking the specific discipline meted out.
Interim City Attorney Robert D. Kidd Jr. replied to the request Thursday in a letter to Journal attorney Jim Dines that said Economidy was given the four-day suspension and a transfer to the Field Services Bureau for violating standard operating procedures "concerning conduct on and off duty."
"In an effort to resolve the concerns raised in your letter of May 16, 2011, and without waiving any claim of exemption from disclosure available under the New Mexico Inspection of Public Records Act, please be advised APD Officer Byron Economidy received a thirty-two hour suspension and was transferred to the Field Services Bureau," Kidd wrote in the letter.
Field Services officers respond to nearly every type of call for police service. Economidy had previously been assigned to the APD Gang Unit.
The city's initial refusal said the information sought fell under protection accorded to "matters of opinion on a personnel file." The Journal argued it was seeking only the official discipline, which was fact and not opinion.
Reporters discovered Economidy's controversial Facebook post days after he fatally shot Jacob Mitschelen during a traffic stop in the Southeast Heights on Feb. 9.
Economidy said he pulled over a car Mitschelen was driving near San Pedro and Kathryn SE about 8 p.m. Feb. 9, but the 29-year-old Mitschelen got out of the vehicle and fled on foot.
Mitschelen stumbled, and a gun fell out of his clothing, Economidy told investigators. Mitschelen picked up the gun and pointed it at Economidy, who fired several shots.
Investigators later discovered that no bullet was in the chamber of the gun Mitschelen was carrying. Police said, however, that he had two full magazines on him.
The autopsy report by the Office of the Medical Investigator said the gunshot wounds were to Mitschelen's left upper back, left midback and left buttock. It said the shots were fired from "indeterminate range." Mitschelen suffered damage to his pelvis, ribs, lungs, stomach and small intestine, according to the autopsy report.
Economidy had not been "qualified" to use the .45-caliber handgun with which he shot Mitschelen, according to police officials. Internal Affairs and criminal investigations into that issue and the shooting are ongoing.
Schultz launched a departmentwide investigation into all officers' activities on social media websites after learning of Economidy's post.
One site the investigation focused on was a Facebook page called "Fans of the Albuquerque Police Department," which Schultz had been aware of before learning about Economidy's post.
That site was rife with posts from current and former officers and family members about people shot by police "getting what they deserve," negative comments about APD brass and other disparaging remarks.
A comment posted by Officer Jerry Hicks on the "Fans" page was among those that caught the chief's eye.
The message was in response to a news story about the death of local civil rights attorney Mary Han, who often sued police officers in civil rights cases.
"Tragic I tell ya, just tragic," the posting says. "hahahaahahhahaah good riddence (sic), a special place in hell waiting for her."
Schultz confirmed earlier this month that Hicks was disciplined for the comment. He did not provide specifics, and the Journal's public records request did not ask for details of Hicks' discipline.
In March, APD officials issued a comprehensive social media policy that says officers can't identify themselves as such on publicly accessible websites "without written permission from the Chief of Police or his designee."
APD has also brought in an Internal Affairs compliance officer, a position that had gone unfilled for about two years. The compliance officer randomly checks officers' social media pages, as well as whether driver's licenses are current, whether there are any unpaid traffic tickets, and whether officers are current on child support and other issues.