Comments from U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions last week that he intends to “pull back on” federal oversight of police departments drew mixed reactions from officers and civil rights advocates in Albuquerque, where a police reform agreement between the city and the Justice Department is nearing the midway point of its third year. Reform proponents told New Mexico In Depth they were troubled by Sessions’ remarks, and they are ready to step in to ensure that APD adheres to constitutional policing if the federal government steps away. The president of the Albuquerque police union, meanwhile, said officers were pleased with the tone of support from the attorney general. The rank and file hope his comments could signal a softening of what they see as the agreement’s more onerous requirements. So far, though, the agreement and its effect on APD personnel have continued unabated since Donald Trump took office on Jan.
After a year of “stonewalling” by federal law enforcement officials, U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham is calling for congressional hearings to get to the bottom of why a man who allegedly shot an Albuquerque police officer to death in 2015 was still on the streets at the time. The fourth-year congresswoman, an Albuquerque-based Democrat who is running for governor of New Mexico, also vowed to sponsor a bill that would require the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and other agencies to make regular reports to Congress on their policies for undercover operations and those operations’ outcomes once they’re closed. This piece originally appeared at New Mexico In Depth and appears on NM Political Report with permission. Lujan Grisham laid out her plans in an interview with New Mexico In Depth after a town hall meeting in Albuquerque on Feb. 25.
For the second time in two months, Albuquerque’s Jewish Community Center was targeted with a bomb threat today. It was one of at least 10 bomb threats to different JCCs across the country. Fred Duran, a spokesman with the Albuquerque Police Department, said the bomb threat to the Albuquerque location “came through the phone.” JCC staff evacuated the building after the threat came, and APD officers found no bomb inside, according to Duran. Everything at the JCC is currently operating “back to normal,” Duran added. Similar bomb threats were directed against JCCs today in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Texas, New York and Alabama, according to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
Albuquerque’s Jewish Community Center is functioning back to normal Tuesday afternoon after a scare from a phoned bomb threat. The threat came in a phone call to the JCC earlier in the day, according to Albuquerque Police Department spokesman Simon Drobik. The JCC responded by quickly evacuating staff. “We then sent over the bomb squad and deemed the area safe,” Drobik said. The bomb scare came on the same day threats were made against at least 17 other JCCs in five other states, according to a report in Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
The Legislature plans to revisit the issue of allowing the rehiring of law enforcement retirees. This development could potentially agitate the current tension existing statewide between the community and law enforcement. In the reintroduction of this bill, the New Mexico public is being betrayed and threatened by the potential reinforcement of these agencies’ perpetuation of a “culture of war”—specifically an “Us vs. Them” (law enforcement vs. community) mentality.
The scope of an ongoing federal criminal investigation into events surrounding the fatal shooting of a 19-year-old woman by an Albuquerque police officer in 2014 stretches beyond what has been previously reported. That’s according to the lead investigator for the city’s independent police watchdog group. Department of Justice officials took the rare step last month of confirming an investigation into allegations made by a whistleblower that APD employees tampered with video from officers’ body cameras and other sources, including video from the early morning hours of April 21, 2014, when then-APD officer Jeremy Dear shot Mary Hawkes. But Ed Harness, executive director of the Civilian Police Oversight Agency (CPOA), said in an interview that federal authorities are “looking into the entire case,” including whether the shooting itself was unlawful. In a series of presentations to Justice Department officials in early November, Harness and one of his investigators turned over information they had gathered during an administrative review of the shooting.
Federal officials on Thursday said they are conducting a criminal investigation of allegations that Albuquerque Police Department employees altered and deleted body camera video. The Department of Justice has received “several requests” seeking a criminal probe, Elizabeth Martinez, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Albuquerque, said in an emailed response to questions from New Mexico In Depth. “The Justice Department will decline to comment further due to its ongoing investigation into this matter,” Martinez wrote in a rare public confirmation of a federal criminal investigation. APD referred a reporter to Mayor Richard Berry’s spokeswoman for comment. She did not immediately respond.
Before he leaves to work every morning, State Auditor Tim Keller says he always talks with his young daughter about the day ahead. For him, Tuesday morning posed a problem. That’s because he wasn’t sure how to explain what he was set to present to the public. “It was little tough this morning,” Keller told a room of reporters. He released a report of proposed solutions to clear the backlog of more than 5,000 sexual assault evidence kits in police departments throughout New Mexico.
Mayor Richard Berry’s administration says it will bring in an independent investigator to review allegations that city police employees tampered with videos from police shooting cases. The announcement Tuesday afternoon comes less than 24 hours after City Attorney Jessica Hernandez told city councilors that her staff and APD already were investigating the claims and that an outside review would not be necessary. Councilor Pat Davis* said at Monday night’s Council meeting — and again in a letter to Hernandez sent Tuesday morning — that he wanted the probe handed off to someone outside city government. Davis wrote that “establishing public trust in the outcome of this investigation is critical” especially given the serious implications of the cases. “And that must be accomplished without delay,” according to the letter.
Kari Brandenburg, the outgoing Bernalillo County district attorney, said Monday a federal “criminal investigation is absolutely warranted” into allegations that Albuquerque Police Department employees have tampered with videos that show police shootings. Brandenburg said Monday in a telephone interview she is sending documentation detailing the allegations to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Albuquerque. This story originally appeared at New Mexico In Depth and is reprinted with permission. A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s office would not say Monday whether the agency planned to open an inquiry based on the district attorney’s referral. But spokeswoman Elizabeth Martinez wrote in an email “the Justice Department takes seriously all referrals from state and local prosecutorial authorities.”
Reynaldo Chavez, the police department’s former records supervisor, swore out an affidavit as part of an ongoing civil right rights lawsuit against APD in which he alleged that department employees had altered or deleted videos showing the events surrounding two controversial shootings by officers in 2014.