Are Albuquerque’s Police the Worst in the Country?
The city's authorities have fatally shot 26 people in the past four years and have responded to protests against their brutality by infiltrating and secretly recording them.
Photo via Flickr user Charles Hope
In April, the Department of Justice concluded that the Albuquerque, New Mexico, police department is pretty lousy at not beating up and/or killing people. The APD got some unwelcome nationwide attention when they killed James Boyd, a mentally ill man the cops confronted because he was camping illegally, but 25 other people have been fatally shot by the town's cops since 2010. After the Boyd killing, APD Chief Gorden Eden said officers were justified in their actions, but he has since backpedaled, undoubtedly in response to public outcry and repeated protests—just one of the many times in the past few years the police have looked to be at odds with the city they're supposedly protecting and serving.
The big problem is a complete lack of accountability. District Attorney Kari Brandenburg hasn’t brought charges against any cop in the past 13 years—that includes the two officers who in 2011 fatally shot Christopher Torres in the back in his own yard. (The police claimed Torres, who was mentally ill, had a gun, but he turned out to have been holding a broom.) Torres’s family sued the city and won a $6 million payout after a judge concluded that the officers were “not credible” in their report of the incident, but the two cops have escaped any sort of criminal prosecution.
The most recent public expression of dissatisfaction with the APD came in the form of a rally on Saturday, June 21, where protesters held a mock trial for Eden. As if to underscore their antagonistic relationship with the demonstrators, the department sent an undercover officer—dressed in a tie-dyed shirt, no less!—to film the protest.
“We are peaceful, we were lawful, there was no issue with the people who were marching today, so why were they surveilling us? That doesn’t make sense,” one of the protest’s organizers told the local news. For its part, the APD simply said that the officers were there to “protect” the demonstrators, but refused to answer follow-up questions posed by the local media. I’m not an Albuquerque resident, but here’s a suggestion for the APD: Maybe you could try doing what your own city and the US Department of Justice have suggested and change your policies, or at least try to explain yourselves and start a dialogue? Hopefully nobody else will get shot for very little reason before you learn to control your trigger fingers.
On to the rest of this week’s bad cops:
–Last weekend, the Washington Post highlighted some West Virginia law enforcement officers—both local and federal—who haven't gotten the memo that the cool thing to do is relax about marijuana these days. These cops still think of marijuana as a “gateway drug” that will lead to ruin and desolation. Plus, many officers think that making a lot of easy arrests for weed possession will make it easier for their departments to get money. Marijuana was still illegal as of press time, though no one knows why.
–Also at the Washington Post, Radley Balko highlighted some cases in which people were beaten or even killed by cops who didn’t recognize that they were suffering from diabetic shock or had fallen into a coma. Too many times, cops think that people who are unconscious or acting erratically are fucked up on drugs or booze and wind up Tasering or beating them—often, this is because they aren’t trained to look out for mental illness or epilepsy or any other such condition.
–On June 19, VICE News’ Natasha Lennard reported on the release of a video that shows an El Paso, Texas, police officer fatally shooting a handcuffed man in March 2013. The dead man, 37-year-old Daniel Saenz, had assaulted an off-duty cop and staff at a medical clinic. Saenz had been Tasered five times throughout the day as he reportedly continued to act erratic and violent—then, as seen on the video, Flores fired a single shot. Wrote Lennard:
The bullet went through Saenz’s left shoulder and into his chest, piercing his heart. The authorities called it an accident. They said that the guard knocked Flores as he pointed his drawn weapon, causing it to fire. They said that Saenz could have moved his cuffs to the front of his body and, with his strength, use them as a weapon. They said a taser would not suffice to subdue him.
But the video speaks for itself. The bodybuilder was executed.
–As Motherboard’s Max Charney has written, many police departments are making clandestine use of “Stingrays”—devices that capture cellphone data en masse—but more alarming than the devices themselves is the secrecy surrounding them. On Thursday, in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by the ACLU, emails from 2009 were released that shed further light on the level of deception involved in the use of these devices. The five emails, sent between Florida police departments, refer to deliberate requests by federal authorities to hide the source of information gleaned from Stingrays, saying information should be credited to “confidential informants” instead. It seems kind of bad that cops would lie to judges?
–The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) reportedly raided a woman’s home early in the morning of on June 10 in Homestead, Florida, and she still doesn’t know why. A little after 6 AM, around a dozen agents smashed the door in, threw flashbang grenades, and ransacked Kari Edwards’s house, breaking many things in the process, including the a glass shower door. Edwards, who used to work for DHS, told Police State USA that the raid was supposedly over “electronics” but agents didn’t seem focused on that, nor did they show her a warrant until two hours into the raid. Edwards’s security camera recorded the agents busting in the front door, and more unsettlingly, also recorded one of them finding a camera inside, then turning it to face the wall.
–Trying to out-do the many, many cops who merely shoot dogs, two Baltimore police officers are accused of cutting a dog’s throat after it was already subdued. On June 14, Thomas Schmidt and Jeffrey Bolger responded to a call about a loose dog that had reportedly bitten a woman, leaving a superficial wound on her hand. Schmidt supposedly held the dog down while Bolger killed the dog with a knife. A witness heard Bolger say "I'm going to [expletive] gut this thing," and now he faces multiple charges for animal cruelty and malfeasance in office.
–But #NotAllCops are bad! On Thursday, after a man reported nine ducklings trapped in a storm drain, a Bartlett, Tennessee, officer Todd Halford came to the rescue. As the mother duck stood by making distressed-duck sounds, Halford climbed into the drain and lifted out the ducklings one at a time. All the ducks are safe and happy and everything is fine.