“I’m going to invoke my Fifth Amendment right.”
Former Albuquerque police officer Jeremy Dear uttered that phrase — and others very much like it — more than 130 times on Tuesday as he was being deposed by an attorney for the family of a 19-year-old young woman Dear fatally shot in April 2014.
Shannon Kennedy, whose law firm represents the family of shooting victim Mary Hawkes in a federal civil rights lawsuit, asked Dear a wide range of questions about his history at APD, the shooting, his behavior in its aftermath and other matters.
This piece originally appeared at NM In Depth and is reprinted at NM Political Report with permission.
He didn’t answer any of them.
Kennedy’s firm has litigated dozens of police shooting cases over the course of decades. She had never seen anything like it.
“We’ve never had a shooting officer assert the Fifth like that,” she told New Mexico In Depth this week.
Dear’s attorney, David Roman, did not respond to requests for comment on why Dear invoked the Fifth Amendment so often.
Kennedy offered two possible explanations.
The first: Dear may believe that a criminal prosecution is imminent, and he does not want to make any potentially incriminating statements, she said. The Fifth Amendment gives people the option of not incriminating themselves in such situations.
The second is that Dear’s choice may be a sign of the times: the number of officers charged with crimes for on-duty shootings around the country has skyrocketed amid the increased availability of video and a national debate about police use of force.
In the past 18 months, the number of officers charged with murder or manslaughter in America has tripled, according to an analysis by the Washington Post, from 47 between 2005 and 2014 to 25 from Jan. 1, 2015 through July 7 of this year.
That number includes former Albuquerque Police Department officers Keith Sandy and Dominique Perez, who will go on trial for murder later this summer in the shooting death of homeless camper James Boyd.
Kennedy said law enforcement agents are investigating the Hawkes shooting, which happened less than two weeks after the U.S. Justice Department issued a harshly critical report of APD that found the department had a pattern of using excessive force, a “culture of aggression” and leaders who ignored it.
She would not say which agencies are investigating.
What Dear told investigators immediately after the shooting has come under scrutiny as the family has conducted its own investigation.
After the shooting, Dear told investigators that Hawkes, whom police suspected of driving a stolen truck, turned to face him during a foot chase, then pointed a gun at him. Dear says he fired several shots.
A forensic ballistics analysis conducted by an expert hired by Hawkes’ family rebuts Dear’s version. No fingerprints or DNA were found on the gun recovered near Hawkes’ body, and Hawkes was turning away from Dear and falling down when he shot her, according to the analysis.
Police Chief Gorden Eden fired Dear six months after the shooting for his repeated failure to turn on his body-worn camera, including at the time of the Hawkes shooting. Dear has since won his job back from the city personnel board. The city is appealing that decision, and Dear is not working or being paid by APD in the meantime.
Kennedy asked Dear a series of questions during Tuesday’s deposition about the discrepancies between his statement and the scientific evidence.
Each time he pleaded the Fifth.
What about inconsistencies in statements he made about a 2011 shooting he witnessed by a fellow officer, she asked.
Dear pleaded the Fifth.
She asked about Dear’s trips to Hooters and a Chinese massage parlor with another officer in the days after the Hawkes shooting.
Again, Dear invoked the Fifth.
Kennedy peppered Dear with questions about the use of confidential informants by APD officers, including Dear.
Whether he or other officers knew Hawkes before the shooting.
Each time, he invoked the Fifth.
Dear even invoked the Fifth Amendment when Kennedy asked whether he knew what it meant.
In all, he invoked the privilege more than 130 times, a transcript of the deposition shows. He did answer 15 questions, including one in which he stated his name, one about his start date at APD, three about whether he would like some water — he declined — and another about whether he was taking the Fifth on the advice of his legal team — he was.
Kennedy said Roman’s advice to Dear was “good lawyering.”
“I also think it’s a reflection of the age we live in,” she said. “It’s encouraging that officers now are being treated a little bit more equally for the taking of a human life … I think we will see more officers pleading the Fifth going forward.”
Still, she said Dear’s decision to take the Fifth is frustrating for the Hawkes family.
“We wanted to confront him with his lies and the forensic evidence,” Kennedy said. “Now, we can’t do that. I felt sad to have to tell the family that we wouldn’t be able to continue our quest for the truth.”