Something’s very wrong with Albuquerque-area law enforcement. The Albuquerque Police Department has been described as a “criminal enterprise.” These words didn’t come from an activist group or an enraged op-ed in the local paper, but rather from a departing District Attorney in a letter to the DOJ.The DOJ is at least partially aware of the Albuquerque PD’s criminal activities. Its 2014 investigation concluded APD officers routinely engaged in indiscriminate force deployment. Worse, those above the officers did almost nothing to curb misconduct and brutality. Beyond shooting citizens at an alarming rate, APD officers were found to be tampering with camera footage — an accusation brought by a private employee of the department in an affidavit presented to a judge.
According to last year’s lawsuit against the city, Albuquerque forecasts how many vehicles it will not only seize, but sell at auction. The city’s 2016 budget estimates it will have 1,200 vehicle seizure hearings, release 350 vehicles under agreements with the property owners, immobilize 600 vehicles, and to sell 625 vehicles at auction.In fact, the Albuquerque city council approved a $2.5 million bond to build a bigger parking lot for cars seized under the DWI program. The revenue to pay for the bond will come from the DWI program.
If there’s one thing the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) does well — or at least, frequently –it’s shoot and kill Albuquerque residents. Its officers’ obvious preference for excessive and/or deadly force attracted the notice of the DOJ, which issued a (mostly) scathing review that was tempered somewhat by the DOJ’s appreciation of the inherent risks of the job, as well as all the hard work the city’s officers do when not shooting Albuquerque residents.
On May 3rd of last year, Gail Martin called the APD to help her when her husband, Armand Martin, threatened her and her two children with a gun. This turned into a lengthy standoff which finally ended when APD officers shot Martin as he ran from the house. According to the police, Martin was holding two guns at the time.
The APD released a number of records, including footage captured before and after the shooting, but nothing containing the shooting itself. Local law firm Kennedy Kennedy & Ives, representing Gail Martin for a possible civil rights lawsuit, requested a copy of police recordings containing the actual shooting under New Mexico’s Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA).
Over a month later, the APD responded. Sort of.
The Kennedy Kennedy & Ives Law Practice in the lawsuit said the department in mid-August released six CDs containing records on the May 3 shooting death of Armand Martin, a 50-year-old Air Force veteran, in response to the firm’s records request. But three of the CDs were password protected.
Now, this could have been a simple oversight, but if so, the problem would be solved already. Instead, it looks as though the APD is looking to keep the law firm from viewing the videos it requested.
The firm has tried to get the password from APD records, evidence and violent crimes personnel to no avail, according to the complaint…
Now the APD’s being sued. The firm is seeking not only access to the password-protected videos, but also damages and legal fees. According to the firm, access to these videos is crucial to determining whether or not Gail Martin has a legitimate civil rights case. Without them, the firm is no better positioned to make this call than the general public, which has only seen the lead-in and aftermath of the shooting.
This isn’t the APD’s only legal battle related to its IPRA non-compliance. Late last year, KRQE of Albuquerque sued it for “serial violations” of the law. That’s in addition to the one it filed over a 2012 incident, in which the PD stalled on its response to a journalist’s public records request before releasing the requested footage at a press conference, basically stripping the reporter of her potential “scoop.”
It’s common knowledge that law enforcement agencies are less than helpful when it comes to releasing documentation of alleged wrongdoing. It’s the one part they can’t completely seal off when circling the wagons. This leads to weeks, months… even years of obfuscation. And this often leads to lawsuits, paid for by the same public it doesn’t want to hold it accountable.