On January 30, Channel 7 in one of its Target 7 investigation reports, revealed that the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) unknowingly hired Amir Chapel, a three-time felon a who was convicted of forgery, misuse of a credit card and robbery in the early to mid-2000s, one crime each committed in the states of Texas, California and Illinois respectively.
Chapel was hired at an annual salary of $72,000 as APD’s Policy and Compliance Manger for the federal Court Approved Settlement Agreement. The position is a civilian mid management position and as such he is not a sworn police officer. He worked at APD’s downtown main headquarters. His job duties were to review and make sure APD’s policies were up to date and followed the city’s settlement agreement with the Department of Justice.
HOW IT HAPPENED
Target 7 submitted an open records request for Chapel’s employment records, and from the records obtained, it was able to piece together what happened. Chapel also resigned on the very day the employment records were released by the city.
It was in May, 2019 that Chapel was first hired. According to his city work application, he gave a wrong birth date and Social Security number. APD memos obtained revealed that during the hiring process in April 2019, Chapel checked a box on a city form indicating he had never been convicted of a felony. On the form he said he was born in 1981, but his driver’s license says he was born in 1980. A memo from investigators says Chapel didn’t use his own Social Security number on a document used for a background check. According to emails, with the information Chapel provided, he passed a background check and was classified as being eligible for hire. On his resume, he lists high-ranking APD officers as references. When Target 7 asked the city for a list of people interviewed for the job, it was told a list did not exist.
After Chapel was hired, the APD received a tip about his criminal record. When Chapel’s supervisor found out he was a convicted felon, the APD supervisor on October 7 emailed all APD commanders and deputy chiefs saying Chapel was “not available” to do his job due to “unforeseen circumstances”. Surprisingly, APD emails show Chapel returned to work on October 14, seven days after the previous email that said he was not available and after APD learned of his felony convictions and the discrepancies in the application process.
The city refused to do an on-camera interview on the hiring, but did issue the following statement:
“The city cannot comment on personnel matters. APD typically runs background checks, which are conducted by a contractor, and which generally provide criminal history information for the last seven years.”
CITY PERSONNEL RULES AND REGULATIONS; MORAL TURPITUDE
The City’s personnel rules and regulations are very clear that applicants for jobs are ineligible for employment if they are fraudulent or make a false statement on an application or if they have a prior conviction of a felony involving “moral turpitude”.
“Crimes involving moral turpitude have been defined to be those crimes that involve conduct that is reckless, evil, and/or morally reprehensible. Specifically, a crime may be considered a crime involving moral turpitude if it has any one of the following characteristics:
1. Shocking to the public conscience;
2. Vile or depraved;
3. Contrary to the rules, morality, and duties of society.”
The 3 crimes of forgery, misuse of credit card and robbery committed by Chapel are considered as crimes of “moral turpitude” with any one being enough to disqualify a person for employment by APD.
City personnel rules and regulations require that criminal background checks must be done on any potential employee that is being hired for sensitive positions at city hall and all positions at APD, including all civilian positions. The background checks are mandatory and must be completed before anyone is hired and before they start to work at APD.
CHANNEL 7 TRACKS DOWN CONVICTED FELON HIRED BY APD
Target 7 was able to track down Amir Chapel where he still lives in Albuquerque in order to get his version of what happened. Chapel said he never interviewed for his position because he knew two commanders at APD who reached out to him about the job. Proclaiming “… I didn’t lie” Chapel insisted he didn’t do anything wrong, he said legally he didn’t think he needed to check the box indicating he was a felon because the convictions were so old. His felony convictions happened in 2002, 2003 and 2007. Chapel would not explain why he used different Social Security numbers and dates of birth on his application and directed further questioning to APD Chief Michael Geier and City Attorney Estaban Aguilar.
APD UNION’S PRESIDENT PILES ON
Although Amir Chapel was not a sworn police officer and not a member of the Albuquerque Police Officers’ Association, the union president felt compelled to comment. The police union is now demanding every civilian employee hired by the police department in the past year to have their background checks audited.
Union President Shaun Willoughby had this to say:
“How did this slip through the cracks? You’re the police department! … He was a high-level management, civilian employee of the police department. … This falls on the management of this police department. This should have been caught by this police agency and it wasn’t caught and that is a problem. … This is a police department where integrity and trust and honesty mean something. How many people slipped through the cracks? Are we auditing this? What are we doing to prevent this from happening in the future?”
The entire Target 7 News Report can be viewed at this link:
APD SWORN POLICE ASSIGNED TO DOJ COMPLIANCE BUREAU
On August 1, 2019, the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) issued a “Staffing Snapshot” that reported the extent of resources and personnel dedicated to implementation of the Department of Justice (DOJ) mandated reforms under the Court Approved Settlement Agreement (CASA) with APD’s Compliance Bureau.
According to the staffing report, APD as of August 1, 2019 has a total of 972 sworn officers with 600 officers assigned to the field services patrolling 6 area commands and neighborhoods. 61 officers are reported to be assigned to DOJ Compliance Bureau. The staffing report has a breakdown of sworn officers assigned to the various departments. You can view the APD staffing breakdown here:
The APD Compliance Bureaus consists of the Internal Affairs Professional Standards Division, Policy and Procedure Division, Accountability and Oversight Division, Internal Affairs Force Division and the Behavioral Health and Crisis Intervention Section. One of the major concentrations of the bureau is the ongoing cooperation with the Department of Justice (DOJ) consent decree (CASA) and its implementation of its terms and conditions. Internal Affairs deals with the investigation police misconduct cases. Crisis Intervention deals with the crisis intervention teams who deal with the mentally ill. Policy and Procedures deals with the review and writing of standard operating procedures.
The staffing reported for the Compliance Bureau is 1 Deputy Chief, 3 Commanders, 1 Deputy Commander, 6 Lieutenants, 10 Sergeants and 40 Detectives for a total of 61 which is 6.28% of the department sworn police officers. Confidential APD sources are reporting that the actual number of sworn police officers assigned to the compliance bureau is now at 70 sworn police.
ANALYSIS AND COMMENTARY
It’s embarrassing enough that APD unknowingly hired a three-time felon who was convicted of crimes of moral turpitude of forgery, misuse of a credit card and robbery. What adds a major element of incompetence is that he was being paid $72,000 a year to be APD’s Policy and Compliance Manger for the Federal Court Approved Settlement Agreement (CASA). There is no way he would have been hired for such a sensitive position had a standard background check been conducted.
Other very difficult questions that need to be answered are:
1. Was the position ever advertised and how many people applied?
2. What are the minimum qualifications for the position and did Chapel possesses the experience and background for the job?
3. Was a background check even conducted and what did the city pay for it on contract?
4. Is there any truth to the statement that Chapel was never interviewed for the position because he knew two APD commanders who reached out to him about the job and if so, why was there no interview and who are the APD commanders that acted as references?
5. Does Mayor Keller or Chief Geier intend to take any personnel actions to hold anyone accountable for what happened?
For the past 5 years, APD has been struggling to implement the Department Of Justice mandated reforms. APD has upwards of 70 sworn police that are involved with the reform process and the compliance bureau. The City has also hired a former federal magistrate to work on policy and procedures for the DOJ. It is difficult to understand, given the amount of personnel assigned to the DOJ compliance bureau, why there was a need to hire Chapel in the first place.
It is very disappointing but not at all surprising that APD refused to go on camera for an interview. APD Chief Geier and for that matter, Mayor Tim Keller tend to shy away from bad press or answering hard questions that call into question the competency of City actions and of APD. That was the norm with the prior Republican Administration. However, Mayor Tim Keller from day one of being elected Mayor said there would be “transparency” with what city hall did and he further said he and the city would acknowledge their mistakes, learn from those mistakes and take action to correct those mistakes.
There is absolutely nothing transparent by acknowledging a mistake issuing a press release saying “The city cannot comment on personnel matters …” . By refusing to make any comment other than the statement issued, the Keller Administration opened the garage door to allow the Union President to pile on, which he did.
What is pathetic is that you have the police union president piling on and no doubt savoring the moment, demanding an audit of all civilian APD hires over the last year and making statements like:
“How did this slip through the cracks? You’re the police department! … This is a police department where integrity and trust and honesty mean something.”
The union president needs to be reminded he is part of the police department. This is the same union president who said about the crime rate reductions Mayor Tim Keller reported that were in fact seriously flawed and false:
“I don’t think this was done intentionally, but I think the public is going to have a credibility issue with the Police Department, and this administration [in particular], and we need to work together as a team to prevent this from ever happening again.”
This is also the same union president who called Mayor Tim Keller dishonorable for issuing an apology about the culture of aggression found within APD.
Mayor Keller and Chief Michael Geier need to get out in front on this controversy and provide and explanation as to why there was a failure to conduct a complete background check. A far better explanation is needed from the APD command staff as to what happened with the hiring and termination of a 3 time convicted felon in a highly sensitive position. Otherwise the controversy will only fester.