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.
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.
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.
A former Albuquerque Police Department employee filed suit earlier this week claiming the department wrongfully fired him in retaliation for raising concerns that the department broke state law. The whistleblower lawsuit, filed by former records custodian Reynaldo Chavez, alleges APD fired Chavez after he alerted his superiors to violations of New Mexico’s Inspection of Public Records Act. The suit names APD, the City of Albuquerque and a number of top officials as defendants. According to suit, while Chavez fielded records requests for APD, he was instructed to delay the return of certain records and was later fired when he objected. The suit also alleges that APD instructed Chavez “to overproduce materials to requesters,” requiring them “to spend time consuming hours sifting through boxes of irrelevant materials when no such responsive records were produced.”
The lawsuit describes a timeline that goes back six years and includes a number of high profile cases involving APD, local news media and members of the public.
The Albuquerque Police Department lost an open records case where a journalist sought an inventory weapons owned by the department. The journalist was Peter St. Cyr, an independent journalist who wrote an article for ABQ Free Press and sought an inventory of the weapons. APD rejected the request, saying that this would aid terrorists, according to the free paper’s website. St.
Headlines about federal probes, conflict of interests in contracts and excessive force incidents have plagued Albuquerque Police Department for some time. Now, the police department’s public relations folks are pushing back. Last Friday, police Det. Chris Whigham sent an email to officers titled, in all caps, “IT’S HIGH TIME WE SHOW EVERYBODY WHAT APD IS REALLY ALL ABOUT!!!” “Many of us have said that there is way more good that happens in our department than bad,” Whigham wrote.