DOJ threatens to withhold crime-fighting resources over ABQ immigration policies

The Department of Justice says for the city of Albuquerque to qualify for a partnership to combat violent crime, the city will have to comply with efforts federal immigration enforcement for immigrants who are detained. To qualify for the cooperation and funding, the DOJ says Albuquerque, and three other cities, must answer questions on how the city cooperates with federal authorities on immigration

“By protecting criminals from immigration enforcement, cities and states with so-called ‘sanctuary’ policies make all of us less safe,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement. “We saw that just last week, when an illegal alien who had been deported twenty times and was wanted by immigration authorities allegedly sexually assaulted an elderly woman in Portland, a city that refuses to cooperate with immigration enforcement.”

The term “sanctuary-city” does not have a specific definition, but the term is usually used to refer to municipalities that don’t fully cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on enforcing federal immigration laws. The federal program in question is the Public Safety Partnership, announced in June by the DOJ. The City of Albuquerque currently does not use city resources to help federal authorities apprehend or identify undocumented immigrants unless otherwise required by law.

Victims in thousands of potential hate crimes never notify police

More than half of the people who said they were the victim of a hate crime in recent years did not report the incidents to police. When victims did report to the police, their assailants were arrested in just 10 percent of the cases. The incidents reported as hate crimes were almost always violent (90 percent) and often seriously so, with nearly 30 percent involving reports of sexual assault, aggravated assault and/or robbery. Those are some of the striking findings of a special federal Bureau of Justice Statistics report released Thursday, based on national crime victimization surveys conducted for the years 2011 to 2015. The report came as the Department of Justice convened a hate crimes conference in Washington, D.C. Attorney General Jeff Sessions spoke at the start of the conference and repeated his pledge to combat hate crimes aggressively.

NM high court sets precedent on suits for damages after shooting by APD

A unanimous New Mexico Supreme Court opinion this week will allow family members of a man killed by Albuquerque police to seek damages in district court. But, the decision also set a statewide precedent that would allow families to sue for damages even after the time limit for a wrongful death claim expires. All five justices agreed in an opinion filed Monday that the children of Mickey Owings can move forward with a lawsuit against the City of Albuquerque and the Albuquerque Police Department for loss of consortium damages, or damages from losing a spouse or parent. Owings was killed by an officer who was part of the now-disbanded Repeat Offender Project unit of APD in 2010. The city’s legal department issued a statement NM Political Report, similar to one issued to the Albuquerque Journal for a story earlier this week, noting that the Owings case will be heard in a lower court.

Trump administration quietly rolls back civil rights efforts across federal government

For decades, the Department of Justice has used court-enforced agreements to protect civil rights, successfully desegregating school systems, reforming police departments, ensuring access for the disabled and defending the religious. Now, under Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the DOJ appears to be turning away from this storied tool, called consent decrees. Top officials in the DOJ civil rights division have issued verbal instructions through the ranks to seek settlements without consent decrees — which would result in no continuing court oversight. The move is just one part of a move by the Trump administration to limit federal civil rights enforcement. Other departments have scaled back the power of their internal divisions that monitor such abuses.

Senators seek answers on Sessions’ role in Comey firing

U.S. Sens. Martin Heinrich of New Mexico and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts led 11 senators in calling for an investigation into Attorney General Jeff Sessions and whether his role in the firing of former FBI Director James Comey violated his recusal from any investigation into Russian ties with those close to President Donald Trump. The letter, which was also signed by New Mexico U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, was sent to the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Justice Tuesday. In the letter, the senators said Session’s “recusal language itself could not be clearer.”

They also seek answers to three questions: to what extent Sessions was required to recuse himself from the investigation, the scope of his recusal and the timeline of his involvement in Comey’s firing. The letter notes that Sessions met with Trump and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to discuss the removal of Comey on May 8.

AG Sessions’ remarks leave questions about ABQ police reform

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.

Feds: School districts must accommodate transgender students

The U.S. Departments of Justice and Education called on school districts around the country to include transgender students in Title IX policies in a letter sent Friday. The eight page letter outlines how school districts should address issues surrounding transgender students, including in bathroom and athletic facilities. “A school may provide separate facilities on the basis of sex, but must allow transgender students access to such facilities consistent with their gender identity,” the letter read. “A school may not require transgender students to use facilities inconsistent with their gender identity or to use individual-user facilities when other students are not required to do so.”

The letter also said that schools can provide other options for students who prefer to use a separate facility for extra privacy. Representatives from Albuquerque and Rio Rancho Public Schools did not respond to messages from NM Political Report before press time, but a spokeswoman for Las Cruces Public Schools said they have not received the letter from the federal government.

ACLU launches app to record incidents with police

The New Mexico chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union launched an app on Friday that will store bystander cell phone videos of local police incidents. ACLU-NM Executive Director Peter Simonson described the Mobile Justice App’s purpose as empowering citizens “to hold our local law enforcement accountable when they have encounters with the public.” He added that technology is allowing the public to hold police use of excessive force more accountable than ever before, mentioning the widely publicized deaths of Eric Garner, Walter Scott and Anastasio Hernandez Rojas. “It’s not something that’s new when it comes to police practices,” Simonson said. “But it seems to have been getting ever more scrutiny as video technology makes it more possible for the public to see exactly how police interact with the public.”

Most law enforcement agencies in New Mexico don’t require that officers wear video cameras. The Albuquerque Police Department still hasn’t fully implemented guidelines for their body cameras.