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.
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.
Albuquerque Police Department officials have altered and, in some cases, deleted videos that showed several controversial incidents, including at least two police shootings, the department’s former records supervisor has alleged in a sworn affidavit. Three officers’ body camera videos that captured events surrounding the fatal shooting of 19-year-old suspected car thief Mary Hawkes in April 2014 were either altered or partially deleted, according to former APD employee Reynaldo Chavez’s nine-page affidavit. Also alleged is that surveillance camera video from a salon showing APD officers shooting Jeremy Robertson, a law enforcement informant and suspected probation violator, in June 2014 bore “the tell-tale signs that it has been altered and images that had been captured are now deleted. One of the deleted images captured the officers shooting Jeremy Robertson.”
This piece originally appeared at NM In Depth and is reprinted at NM Political Report with permission. Chavez also said that ‘SD cards’ from cameras were easy to make disappear, and that he witnessed Assistant Chief Robert Huntsman say ‘we can make this disappear’ when discussing a particular police camera with an SD card in it, according the affidavit.
In April, the city of Albuquerque seized Arlene Harjo’s car after police charged her son for driving under the influence of alcohol. Harjo said she lent the car to her son after he asked to use it to go to the gym. Instead, he went to visit his girlfriend in Texas and was pulled over and arrested by police on his way back. To get her car back, the city told Harjo she had to pay $4,000. Plus, city law enforcement would keep a boot on her car for a year and half before she could drive it again.
The Albuquerque City Council killed a proposal Monday night that would have withheld raises and retention bonuses for the police department’s top brass if the city fails to comply with it settlement agreement on police reform. The proposal by Councilor Diane Gibson failed on a 6-3 vote, with opponents saying it could drive off APD’s senior commanders and that it would have been hard to implement. “What will we do if we lose the people who are a year into this process? They are working hard and they are doing a good job,” Councilor Trudy Jones said in opposing the measure. Councilor Ken Sanchez echoed that opinion, saying, “I’d hate to hold the upper command staff hostage.”
City Chief Administrative Officer Rob Perry told councilors that bit would be difficult to actually measure compliance under the proposal.
A group of current and former employees from a well-known Albuquerque brewery and restaurant filed a lawsuit against their employers on Friday alleging violations of the city’s minimum wage ordinance. The employees alleged that the business failed to pay them the legal minimum wage and required employees to submit a portion of their tips to the brewery’s owners. The seven employees, represented by the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty and a private law firm, said the owners of Kelly’s Brew Pub and Restaurant required employees to submit a portion of their tips, sometimes, up to 6 percent, every night to make up for the increased minimum wage. The lawsuit claims that after the City of Albuquerque increased its minimum wage in 2012, Kelly’s owners reflected the pay increase on paychecks but required tipped staff to pay the company at the end of every shift. Tipped employees were required to pay six percent of their tips starting in 2013, which was eventually lowered to two percent, according to the suit.
Top city officials said that the Department of Justice told them that APD could not look at other departments for model policies to reform the troubled department. The only problem with that serious allegation? It’s not true, at least not according to the U.S. Attorney. The Albuquerque Journal reported that U.S. Attorney Damon Martinez wrote in a letter to Albuquerque mayor Richard Berry and City Council President Dan Lewis that he was “perplexed” at the allegations, made by both APD’s Assistant Chief and the Albuquerque City Attorney. In fact, Martinez said he has encouraged city leadership and police to look at other departments over how they implemented reforms.
APD has to make reforms after a damning DOJ report that found a history and pattern of unconstitutional policing, which included fatal shootings by officers and other usages of excessive force.
The City of Albuquerque agreed Wednesday to pay $6.5 million to settle a civil rights lawsuit brought by APD Det. Jacob Grant, who was shot eight times by his own lieutenant during an undercover drug bust in January 2015. This story originally ran at ABQ Free Press. In addition to the money, “the City will cover Jacob’s medial expenses for his lifetime as he continues his recovery,” City Attorney Jessica Hernandez said in a statement Wednesday afternoon. “Although not a specific term of the settlement, Jacob will also receive a medical retirement through PERA [Public Employees Retirement Association].
A proposal to allow retired law enforcement officers across the state to return to their old jobs cleared the House floor Wednesday evening after a three-hour debate. The House passed the bill on a 38-29 vote, with five Democrats joining all Republicans present for the vote. Sponsor Rep. Larry Larrañaga, R-Albuquerque, argued that it would solve staffing problems at police departments across the state. He emphasized that several county sheriffs across the state support the legislation, not just the city of Albuquerque and Albuquerque Police Department. Still, he had Albuquerque City Attorney Jessica Hernandez as his expert witness.