APD Lapel Cam Video Of Shooting Reflects APD’s Interaction With Mentally ILL Still Problematic; Effectiveness Of DOJ Reform Training In Doubt; What Needs To Be Done

Max Mitnik: “I’m going to suffer a lot if I don’t kill myself, will you please kill me, sir. Kill me.”

Wanda Mitnik: “Did you really? Did you really? … Why did you do that?”

Michael Mitnik: “We asked for help. … Where did you shoot him? … back of head? … Why did you do that? … He asked you to kill him.”

The June 4 words of Max Mitnik and his parents Wanda Mitnik and Michael Mitnik are about as haunting as it can get when they told the above to APD Police Officer Jose Ruiz in their home.

This blog article is an in-depth discussion of the shooting, APD’s use of force policies under the Department of Justice Court Approved Settlement Agreement (CASA), and what needs to happen going forward.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Max Mitnik is 26 years old. On June 4 he was living with his parents Wanda and Michael Mitnik in their home in the Tanoan gated community. Max Mitnik is suffering from mental illness, he has been under psychiatric medical care for some time and was on medication. He has a history of mental health care at the University of New Mexico Mental Health Hospital. On June 4, Mitnik had not been taking his medication and told his parents he was worried he would hurt them. Max Mitnik does not have a criminal history, has no prior contacts with APD’s Crisis Intervention Unit or mental health reports in police databases.

Around 2 p.m. on June 4, Max Mitnik’s mother and father called 911 to ask APD officers to take him to the hospital because of his comments about being afraid he was going to hurt them. APD Officers Jose Ruiz and Officer Elycio were dispatched to the seen. Upon arrival, Officer Jose Ruiz turned on his lapel camera and a 26 minute 38 second video was recorded.

LAPEL CAMERA VIDEO

On Friday, July 10, the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) released the entire lapel camera video to the news media. A YOUTUBE link to the lapel camera recording can be viewed here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=3&v=a0mTXSwtafs&feature=emb_title

EDITOR’S CAUTION: THE VIDEO IS VERY GRAPHIC, DIFFICULT TO WATCH AND UPSETTING IN THAT IT RECORDS AN ACTUAL SHOOTING. FOR THESE REASONS THE FOLLOWING SUMMARY IS OFFERED:

The first few minutes of the lapel camera video shows two APD police officers talking first with Michael Mitnik, the father, over a fence gate. Soon Max Mitnik walks out to talk with the two police officers. Michael Mitnik opens the gate and female Police Officer Elycio talks with Max Mitnik. She reasons with Max to allow her to put handcuffs on him to follow APD procedures to take him to the hospital.

The officers explain to Max he will have to wait at least an hour in the car before he can be admitted because of a backlog at the hospital. The mother Wanda Mitnik soon joins her husband outside talking with the officers. The officers emphasize to Max he was not under arrest nor in custody. Soon Max becomes upset wants the handcuff off and they are taken off. After the handcuffs are taken off, Max Mitnik, begins to pace in front of the house, down the street and then back appearing and acting agitated.

The video reflects that the father and the officers continually talked with Max Mitnik as he tried to decide whether he wanted to go with them or be taken to the hospital by his parents. The officers again emphasize to Max that he is an adult, not accused of any crime, and they cannot force him to go with them to the hospital and he could go with his parents.

Max Mitnik finally agrees for a second time to go to the hospital with APD, is again handcuffed but with his hands in front of him. The officers begin to walk Max to marked SUV unit. Max Mitnik changes his mind as he is being escorted to the APD unit, he turns suddenly and starts to walk towards his parents and the officers ask him what’s wrong.

At this point, Michael Mitnik and Officer Jose Ruiz again try to reason with Max to go to the hospital. Michael Mitnik offers to ride with Max in the police car while Wanda Mitnik follows in the family car. The father tells Max if he does not go, they will only wind up calling APD again. Max says “What happens if I get violent there?… at the hospital.” Officer Ruiz then tells Max that the hospital has its own security. Max tells them he does not want to go the hospital and asks that the handcuffs be removed and the cuffs are removed.

Once the handcuffs are removed, Max Mitnik walks back to the house, goes inside the home. He is not followed by the APD Officers who lose sight of him. The officers requested a Mobile Crisis Team (CIT), a unit be dispatched. CIT Units are made up of a behavioral health clinician and an police officer who responds to mental health calls.

Before the Mobile Crisis Team has a chance to be dispatched and arrive, Wanda Mitnik is heard screaming inside the house. Officer Ruiz runs inside, guided by Max Mitnik’s father to a bathroom where Max Mitnik has locked himself inside. Wanda Mitnik shows up with a key to open the bathroom, said her son was inside the bathroom and was stabbing himself in the neck.

The shooting occurs at 15 minutes and 1 second into the lapel camera video when Officer Ruiz has Wanda Mitnik unlock the bathroom door, the door slowly opens to the dark bathroom and seconds later, Max Mitnik emerges from the bathroom, he is bleeding from the neck starts to walk slowly towards Officer Ruiz and says calmly, but as if begging, in a low tone of voice:

“I’m going to suffer a lot if I don’t kill myself, will you please kill me, sir. Kill me.”

The video shows Max Mitnik approaching the Officer Ruiz with something in his hand, which is later identified as a paring knife. Two shots are fired by Officer Ruiz. One shot hits Max Mitnik in the hip and the other shot hits him in the head and Max Mitnik falls to the floor unconscious.

Both Wanda and Michael Mitnik reacted in shock to the shooting of their son they had just witnessed.

On the lapel camera video Wanda Mitnik says to Officer Ruiz before going to her son to try to revive him and stop the bleeding:

“Did you really? Did you really? … Why did you do that?”

The video reflects that Officer Ruiz bends down appearing to pick up something later identified as a paring knife. As soon as Wanda Mitnik goes into the bedroom to help her son, you can hear officer Ruiz call in “shots fired” and he begins to heavily pant as if emotionally upset, start walking down a hallway panting and turning back around after regaining his composure.

Michael Mitnik, sitting down in obvious grief watching his wife and a female police officer giving Max aide had the following exchange with Officer Ruiz:

Michael Mitnik: “We asked for help. … Where did you shoot him? … back of head?

Officer Ruiz: “… No, he was coming toward me, so I don’t think in back of the head.”

Michaele Mitnik: “Why did you do that? … He asked you to kill him.”

Paramedics arrived and Max Mitnik was taken to the emergency room. Remarkably Max Mitnik survived the close range shooting.

Media reports reflect that Max Mitnik was critically injured and spent a month at the hospital before returning home. He is expected to undergo another neurosurgery, and physical and occupational therapy to re-learn how to do such basic tasks as walking and dressing himself.

The Mitnik shooting was the 4th APD Police Offer involved shooting with 2 of the shootings resulting in death.

Links to news coverage are here:

https://www.kob.com/albuquerque-news/apd-releases-video-of-police-shooting-in-tanoan/5788708/

https://www.abqjournal.com/1474759/video-shows-tanoan-shooting-during-mental-health-call.html

https://www.krqe.com/news/albuquerque-metro/police-involved-in-shooting-in-northeast-albuquerque/

APD INITIAL REACTION

Lt. Scott Norris is with APD’s Violent Crime Section. Norris responded to media inquiries about the Tanoan shooting. When asked why APD Officer Ruiz did not use less lethal force, Lt. Norris said the use of force response was still under review by APD Internal Affairs. He also said Ruiz was carrying a Taser at the time of the shooting and that Officer Ruiz told investigators he was afraid he was going to be cut and “furthermore, he thought he was going to be killed.”

Norris responded to media questioning this way:

“What we do know right now is the subject was closing distance on the officer with a knife raised to his hip. … We know this occurred within close quarters. The officer’s decisions are still being investigated and, after the investigation is completed, our Force Investigation Division will forward their findings to our Force Review Board [which will review] the officer’s tactics of drawing and exhibiting a weapon, and [if] the use of deadly force in this instance met the standards expected of all of our officers.”

Lt. Norris said the internal investigation will also look at whether Ruiz should have picked up the knife after the shooting as it said he did in the search warrant. Lt. Norris had this to say:

“Those are the types of things we look at and, as I said earlier, if there is a deficiency in the policy, if the officer violated a policy, that will be addressed administratively. … All these investigations have a concurrent administrative investigation and criminal investigation. That is something that will obviously be something of note in the investigation and, if it’s out of policy, it will be addressed accordingly and, if it’s within policy, we can take a look at the policy and see if we can make that policy better.”

https://www.abqjournal.com/1474759/video-shows-tanoan-shooting-during-mental-health-call.html

A Multi-Agency Task Force, made up of detectives from APD, New Mexico State Police and the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office, is still investigating the incident.

REVISITING THE DOJ USE OF FORCE AND DEADLY FORCE INVESTIGATION

On April 10, 2014, the United States Department of Justice (DOJ), Civil Rights Division, submitted a scathing 46-page investigation report on an 18-month civil rights investigation of the Albuquerque Police Department (APD). The investigation was conducted jointly by the DOJ’s Washington Office Civil Rights Division and the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of New Mexico.

You can read the entire report here.

https://www.justice.gov/sites/default/files/crt/legacy/2014/04/10/apd_findings_4-10-14.pdf

The DOJ investigation included a comprehensive review of APD’s operations and the City’s oversight systems of APD. The DOJ investigation “determined that structural and systemic deficiencies — including insufficient oversight, inadequate training, and ineffective policies — contribute to the use of unreasonable force.” Based on the investigation and the review of excessive use of force and deadly force cases, the DOJ found “reasonable cause to believe that APD engage[d] in a pattern or practice of use of excessive force, including deadly force, in violation of the Fourth Amendment … . and [the] investigation included a comprehensive review of APD’s operations and the City’s oversight systems.”

What differentiates the DOJ’s investigation of APD from the other federal investigations of police departments and consent decrees is that the other consent decrees involve in one form or another the finding of “racial profiling” and use of excessive force or deadly force against minorities. The DOJ’s finding of a “culture of aggression” within APD dealt with APD’s interactions and responses to suspects that were mentally ill and that were having psychotic episodes.

A significant number of the use of force cases reviewed involved persons suffering from acute mental illness and who were in crisis. The investigation found APD’s policies, training, and supervision were insufficient to ensure that officers encountering people with mental illness or in distress do so in a manner that respected their rights and in a manner that was safe for all involved

The investigative report found a pattern or practice of use of “deadly force” or “excessive use of force”. The DOJ reviewed all fatal shootings by officers between 2009 and 2012 and found that officers were not justified under federal law in using deadly force in the majority of those incidents. Albuquerque police officers too often used deadly force in an unconstitutional manner in their use of firearms. Officers used deadly force against people who posed a minimal threat, including individuals who posed a threat only to themselves or who were unarmed. Officers also used deadly force in situations where the conduct of the officers heightened the danger and contributed to the need to use force.

USE-OF-FORCE CONTINUUM

According to the National Institute of Justice, the “use of force continuum” is a well established and recognized law enforcement policy concept adopted by law enforcement agencies throughout the United States, including APD. Under the use of force continuum, law enforcement officers should use only the amount of force necessary to mitigate an incident, make an arrest, or protect themselves or others from harm. The levels, or continuum, of force police use include basic verbal and physical restraint, less-lethal force, and lethal force.

The level of force an officer uses varies based on the situation. Because of this variation, guidelines for the use of force are based on many factors, including the officer’s level of training or experience. An officer’s goal is to regain control of a situation as soon as possible while protecting the community. Use of force is an officer’s last option and considered a necessary course of action to restore safety in a community when other practices are ineffective. The use of force by law enforcement officers becomes necessary and is permitted under specific circumstances, such as in self-defense or in defense of another individual or group.

Links to more about the use of force continuum are here:

https://nij.ojp.gov/topics/articles/overview-police-use-force

https://nij.ojp.gov/topics/articles/use-force-continuum

APD USE OF FORCE AND DEADLY FORCE POLICIES

The DOJ Court Approved Settlement Agreement (CASA) was negotiated over a 6-month period after the DOJ released its investigation report finding that APD engaged in a “pattern and practice” of unconstitutional “use of force” and “deadly force.” The 106-page negotiated CASA agreement was filed on November 10, 2014.

It took the city upwards of 2 years to revise and rewrite APD’s “use-of-force” and “deadly use of force” policies in a manner consistent with the court-approved settlement agreement. As a backdrop to what happened on June 4, APD’s use of force and deadly force policies need to be highlighted to understand the levels of use of force APD officers are trained to use. A link to the entire use of force policy is here:

http://documents.cabq.gov/police/standard-operating-procedures/2-52-use-of-force.pdf

The APD use of force policy is SOP 2-52 and became Effective January 11, 2020. APD’s use of force and deadly force policies are 8 pages long and essentially defines and elaborates for training purposes the “use of force” policies. APD’s 8 pages of use of force and deadly force policies is and elaboration and refinement of the “use-of-force continuum.”

The policies that apply to APD interacting with the mentally ill can be easily gleaned from all the policies.

Following are APD’s use of force and deadly force policies:

2-52-2 Policy

Officers shall make every effort to preserve the sanctity of human life in all situations. …

Officers who use force shall use the minimum amount of force that is reasonable, necessary, and proportional based on the totality of the circumstances confronting the officers in order to bring about a lawful objective.

Once force is used, officers shall reduce the level of force or stop using force as the resistance or threat decreases. …

Under this policy and the Supreme Court’s decision in Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 286 (1989), use of force by officers is considered from the perspective of a reasonable officer on scene and other requirements consistent with this policy. (See SOP – Use of Force Review and Investigation by Department Personnel for discussion of the use of force standard of review.)
… .
2-52-4 Use of Force Requirements

A. General Requirements

1. Officers shall first use de-escalation techniques when feasible to gain the voluntary compliance of an individual to reduce or eliminate the need to use force.
a. Among these techniques are the use of advisements, warnings, and verbal persuasion as discussed in SOP – Use of Force – De-escalation.
2. When feasible, officers shall allow an individual a reasonable amount of time to submit to arrest or a lawful order before using force.
3. Officers shall continually assess whether the use of force is necessary and when continued force applications are no longer necessary to accomplish a lawful objective. Officers shall reduce the level of force applied as the nature of the threat diminishes to include stopping the use of force.

B. Reasonable Force

1. Force is reasonable when it is the minimum amount of force necessary to effect an arrest or protect an officer or other individual under the circumstances.

C. Necessary Force

1. Force is necessary when no reasonable alternative to the use of force exists. When force is necessary, officers shall use the minimum amount of force required that is reasonable.

D. Proportional Force

1. Force is proportional when it includes consideration of the totality of the circumstances surrounding the situation, including the presence of articulable imminent danger to the officer or others.
2. The use of proportional force by an officer does not require the use of the same type or amount of force as that used by the individual.

E. Totality of the Circumstances

1. When force is used, the decision to use force and the level of force must be reasonable, necessary, and proportional given the totality of the circumstances.

F. Lawful Objectives

1. Officers shall only use force to achieve a lawful objective. Officers are authorized to use force:

a. To effect a lawful arrest or detention of a person;
b. To prevent and/or terminate the commission of a crime;
c. To intervene in a suicide or self-inflicted injury;
d. To enforce a valid Certificate of Evaluation;
e. To defend an officer or person from the physical acts of another; or
f. To conduct a lawful search.

2-52-6 Use of Force Procedures

A. General Procedures … .
B. Response to High Threat Situations … .

C. Deadly Force

1. All provisions of this policy, which govern use of force, including the officers’ duty to preserve human life, the requirement to use de-escalation techniques and tactics, the requirements officers use only the minimum amount of force reasonable, necessary, and proportional under the circumstances governing force, also govern lethal force.
2. An officer shall not use deadly force against an individual unless the officer has probable cause to believe an individual poses a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or anyone else.
3. … .

D. Deadly Force is:

1. Discharging a firearm at an individual, whether intentional or accidental;
2. Any neck-hold as defined by Department policy;
3. Intentional strikes with a baton, flashlight, radio, weapon, stock/handle, or improvised impact weapon to vital areas of the body to include the head, neck, throat, torso, or groin;
4. Intentionally striking an individual’s head against a hard, fixed object such as a roadway, floor, wall, or steel/iron bars;
5. Intentionally targeting the head, neck, throat, chest, or groin of an individual with a beanbag shotgun;
6. Intentionally targeting the head, neck, throat, chest, or groin with a 40-millimeter impact munition launcher;
7. Intentionally targeting an individual’s head, neck, chest, or genitalia with an Electronic Control Weapon (ECW);
8. Intentionally kneeing or kicking an individual’s head or neck while the individual is in a prone or supine position; or
9. Deliberately striking an individual with a motor vehicle.

FEDERAL COURT RULING ON APD’s USE OF FORCE POLICY

Six years ago,the APD Union was not a named party to the original civil rights complaint for excessive use of force and deadly force filed against the city by the Department of Justice (DOJ). Soon after the DOJ initiated the federal lawsuit against APD and the City, the APOA police union intervened to become a party to the federal lawsuit in order to advocate for union interests in city policy and changes to the “use of force” and “deadly force policies.”

The Police Union, despite public comments of cooperation and comments made to the court, have never fully supported the agreed to reforms. The union contributed to the one-year delay in writing the policies objecting to many provisions of the policies. The police union repeatedly objected to the language of the use of force policy asserting the policy was unreasonable.

In January, APD implemented the new use-of-force policies. Late last year, the APD Police Union filed a motion relating to the use of force policy arguing it is unconstitutional. In the motion the police union argued the policy was too vague and undefined and it is difficult to determine what facts “a reasonable officer” would have known at the time they decide to use force or deadly force.

On June 25, Judge Browning, the federal judge assigned to the federal settlement case, denied the unions motion. Judge Browning ruled the language in the use-of-force policy is consistent with the “objective-reasonableness standard”. This is the legal standard articulated by the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Graham v. Connor , 490 U.S. 386 (1989). The US Supreme Court decided the case on May 15, 1989.

“Graham v. Connor determines the legality of every use-of-force decision any police officer makes. Using the Graham standard, an officer must apply constitutionally appropriate levels of force, based on the unique circumstances of each case. The officer’s force should be applied in the same basic way that an “objectively reasonable” officer would in the same circumstances. The Supreme Court has repeatedly said that the most important factor to consider in applying force is the threat faced by the officer or others at the scene.”

https://www.policemag.com/341717/understanding-graham-v-connor

Judge James Browning wrote:

“the determination whether a reasonable officer would have known that the offender suffered from mental illness is not based on whether it surfaces after the situation that the offender suffered from mental illness. Instead, the determination is based on whether a reasonable officer at the crime scene would have known from the circumstances that a person suffered mental illness.”

https://www.abqjournal.com/1469640/judge-overrules-police-union-objection-to-use-of-force-policy.html

COMPLETION OF MANDATED REFORMS UNDER THE CONSENT DECREE

APD has completed the following mandated reforms under the CASA as applied to dealing with the mentally ill:

1. After a full year of negotiations, the new “use of force” and “use of deadly force” policies have been written and implemented. All APD sworn officers have received training on the policies.
2. All sworn officers have received at least 40 hours crisis management intervention training to deal with the mentally ill and others.
3. Sweeping changes, ranging from APD’s SWAT team protocols, to a ban on chokeholds, to an audit of every Taser used by officers, to a re-write and implementation of new use-of-force and deadly force policies, have been completed. More training and controls over the use of Tasers by officers has been completed.
4. All other federal consent decrees in the country involve in one form or another the finding of “racial profiling” and the use of excessive force or deadly force against minorities. APD’s consent decree deals with APD’s interactions and responses to suspects that are mentally ill and having psychotic episodes. “Constitutional policing” practices and methods, and mandatory crisis intervention techniques and de-escalation tactics with the mentally ill have now been implemented, with all sworn officers having received the training.
5. APD has revised and updated its policies on the mandatory use of lapel cameras by all sworn police officers.
6. The Mental Health Advisory Committee has been implemented.

https://www.cabq.gov/mental-health-response-advisory-committee/documents/court-approved-settlement-agreement-final.pdf

PUBLIC SAFETY DEPARTMENT

On June 14, Mayor Tim Keller announced plans to create a new Public Safety Department that would send trained professionals to respond to certain calls for help in place of armed officers. The Albuquerque Community Safety Department would have social workers, housing and homelessness specialists and violence prevention and diversion program experts who would be dispatched to homelessness and “down-and-out” calls as well as behavioral health crises. The new department would connect people in need with services to help address any underlying issues. The department personnel would be dispatched through the city’s 911 emergency call system. The intent is to free up the first responders who typically have to deal with down-and-out and behavioral health calls.

Keller said “down and out” calls usually end with someone going to jail or to a hospital. According to Keller:

“And the determiner of [whether a person goes to jail or a hospital] is either firefighter or police [officer]. … Neither of them should be making that initial call, unless it’s a situation of violence. … We’re just expecting them to solve every individual’s problem, and I think that’s totally unfair to them and their training. … We should have trained professionals do this, instead of folks with a gun and a badge. But in general, that’s what we have to fix.”

https://www.abqjournal.com/1466317/mayor-proposes-public-safety-department.html

COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS

The lapel camera video shows the difficulty it is for trained police officers to implement use of force and deadly force written policy and apply those policies with real life events in police work. Much of police work when police are engaging with a criminal offender, especially when they are involved in the immediate commission of a crime or a fleeing suspect, is reactionary. Being reactionary during an incident, the time to make a decision to use force or deadly force, and to what extent, is literally one or two seconds. Such was the incident with Max Mitnik.

The lapel video of the Tanoan shooting of Max Mitnik will no doubt be reviewed over and over again and again by not only by APD Internal Affairs Unit, the Force Investigation Division, the Force Review Board but also the Federal Monitor overseeing the DOJ consent decree. It is likely the lapel camera video will also wind up being used at the APD academy for training purposes.

The Tanoan lapel camera video is a case study of the “heartbeat” decisions that police officers are required to make, especially when dealing with the mentally ill. When you review the video, no one can say with absolute certainty what was going through the mind of Officer Ruiz, what extent he felt his life was in danger and why he decided to fire his gun, except for Officer Ruiz himself.

Obviously, the “powers that be” must decide if city policy was violated, if the shooting was self defense or the defense of the another and if officer Ruiz truly felt his life was in danger when Max Mitnik approached him holding a paring knife. The most important factor to consider in deciding if the use of deadly force was legally justified is the extent of a threat faced by an officer using the force or the threat to others at the scene. That is the rub when deciding to discipline or prosecute any police officer for shooting anyone. Ultimately a decision will be made if APD Police officer Ruiz acted in a way that an “objectively reasonable” officer would have acted in the same circumstances.

COMPLICATING FACTORS

There were two police officers initially dispatched to the Mitnik residence on June 4 and who interacted with Max Mitnik. Each officer placed handcuffs on him on two separate times as they explained to him why the handcuffs were needed as they attempted to reason with him to allow them to take him to the hospital. No doubt both officers will be interviewed to give their own version of what happened and what they felt could, should or what was done.

What really complicates the Max Mitnik shooting case is the fact the call out to the Mitnik residence was not to make an arrest or to investigate a crime. The call out was a “welfare check” to assist a mother and father dealing with a son who was having a psychotic episode, who was threatening to get violent and who wanted to go to the hospital. The police could not force Max to go to the hospital, he had not committed any crime nor did they have probable cause to make an arrest for a crime. The only thing the officers could do was attempt to reason with him. Demanding that Max wear handcuffs was no doubt to conform with APD standard operating procedures, but was it necessary if Max was not being arrested but just be transported to the hospital? All the officers did do was attempt to reason with the Max and call for CIT. They also lost control of the scene when they allowed Max to go back into the home and allowing Max to escalate the interactions with the police.

The lapel camera video reflects that a few standard operating procedures may have been violated. What happened on June 4 reflects the “real world” of policing. It became “a no-win situation” for all involved, especially the police officers who were conducting a “welfare check call” to provide assistance. No crime was being reported nor investigated. The family was asking for help, and it escalated to a police officer shooting. The two Police Officers were clearly acting courteous at first, but once they allowed Max Mitnik out of their site and allowed him to go back into the home, they lost complete control of the scene and endangered themselves and the Mitniks as well.

The “no win situation” was that had the officers been far more aggressive with Max Mitnik and used force at any level where no arrest was being made they would have been condemned of escalating the situation contributing to the shooting.

GOOD START IS IMPLEMENTING CUBRA RECOMMENDATIONS

On June 22, the Albuquerque Journal published guest editorial column written by respected and well-known civil rights attorney Peter Cubra. He made two major recommendations that should be implemented immediately. Following are those recommendations:

“When a family member wants help getting mental health treatment for a loved one, the city sends APD officers to conduct “welfare checks” despite frequent, including recent, tragic results. On March 30, APD officers responded to Valente Acosta-Bustillos’ family’s request for a welfare check. Two police officers went to his home, ultimately shooting him to death. On June 4th, Max Mitnik’s family similarly called 911 requesting help getting Max mental health treatment. Reportedly, Max Mitnik had not threatened anyone when the call was made. Nonetheless only police responded, then shot him in the head. Mental health professionals, not police, should be in charge of “welfare checks.”

“APD has “Crisis Outreach and Support Team” (COAST), comprised of “civilian employees supervised by a department sergeant” who provide “crisis intervention, access to mental health services, and education” and “perform case follow up in order to connect individuals in need with service providers.” None of COAST’s functions are “policing,” but the city has refused to move those tasks from APD to another entity that serves people experiencing homelessness and/or mental disabilities. No study is necessary to know that tracking down people with mental disabilities to encourage them to participate in treatment is not “policing.” Transferring the resources of the COAST team out of APD is a no-brainer. But the city’s administration hasn’t done it.”

The link to the full Peter Cubra guest column is here:

https://www.abqjournal.com/1469237/two-obvious-fixes-for-apd-are-staring-us-in-the-face.html

The two recommends made by Cubra should be the immediate precursor to the creation of the Public Safety Department that would send trained professionals to respond to certain calls for help in place of armed officers. The Albuquerque Community Safety Department needs to make every effort have social workers, housing and homelessness specialists and violence prevention and diversion program experts who would be dispatched to homelessness and “down-and-out” calls as well as behavioral health crises.

APD REFORM NOT THE PANACEA MANY BELIEVE

One glaring problem identified by the shooting of Max Mitnik is that after 6 years of implementing the DOJ mandated reforms, rewriting of APD use of force and deadly force policies, millions spent in training on how to deal with the mentally ill, another shooting of a mentally ill person having a psychotic episode has occurred after a desperate family had reached out for help from APD. In a very real sense, the shooting Max Mitnik is a reflection that all the training mandated by the DOJ reforms in dealing with the mentally ill has failed.

The most common complaints regarding the Court Approved Settlement Agreement (CASA) are that there is too much oversight and that the mandates are tying the hands of police. Actions and even criticism by “politicians” and the media are often problematic and resented by police. What those law enforcement fail to understand is that is what is called civilian oversight. It is the elected officials, the politicians, who are ultimately held accountable for what cops do. It also the voters who must hold and demand accountability from both the police and the elected official in that it is the taxpayer that ultimately pays for police misconduct and excessive use of force and deadly force.

CITY MUST ACT NOW

Given the political climate in Albuquerque with the DOJ consent decree, the shooting of Max Mitnik will no doubt renew the debate as to what is the real role of APD officers. Police cannot do it all on their own when it comes to the mentally ill, the homeless and drug addiction. The debate must include demanding the Mayor and the City Council to get their acts together, stop the press conferences and posturing, stop blaming APD for all the ills it is dealing with and be far more aggressive in dealing with mental health issues and the homeless issues by expediting the creation of the Public Safety Department to deal with mental health issues facing the city. The city has failed to break ground on a “detox center”. Moving at a snail’s pace at this point is useless and will only compound the problems APD is facing.

COUNTY COMMISSION MUST ACT NOW

The debate must also include demanding the County Commission and the Bernalillo County Sheriff to get their acts together when it comes to mandating the use of lapel cameras. Sheriff Gonzales is looking foolish more and more each day when he says he will resist implementation of the use of lapel cameras now required by state law. Gonzales is looking like a relic of law enforcement arguing lapel cameras do not reduce crime. The Sheriff’s opposition to lapel cameras sure hell will not help him run for Mayor next year against Tim Keller as is expected. Police lapel camera footage is needed to determine if actions of police officers conform with constitutional policing practices.

On Feb. 26, 2015, the Bernalillo County Commission approved a 1/8 % gross receipts tax increase on a 3-2 vote to fund new behavioral and mental health services to improve access to mental and behavioral health care services in the county. The tax generates approximately $20 million annually. When enacted, the county commission announced the intent for the tax was to invest the funding “in proven ways to better manage the high cost of addiction, homelessness and mental health problems”. According to a county commission announcement, “these issues impact families throughout the community and drive up the cost of public services, especially at the Metropolitan Detention Center.” The gross receipts tax costs shoppers one cent on a $10 purchase of goods and services.

The problem is, the County Commission is still sitting on millions in tax revenues generated from the behavioral tax assessed. In 2015, when the Bernalillo County Commission approved the tax, it failed to develop a plan on how all the money would be used, including not identifying services to be provides, location of facilities and qualifiers to obtain the services offered. As a result of having no spending plan or identifying priorities, the tax has been collected but not spent. Approved programming should eventually cost the county $18.9 million annually, but more than $70 million in tax revenue has accumulated and the amount is growing.

Talk about a waste of valuable time. It was not until November, 2019, that the County Manager asked the Bernalillo County Commission to approve a resolution that permits “stakeholders, providers, community members, staff, commissioners, or other interested parties” to propose behavioral health service ideas through a website. Up until now, only county staff had been authorized to propose behavioral health service ideas. All program appropriations will require final approval of the County Commission.

CONCLUSION

What happened on June 4 is the real world that police officers deal with to “protect and serve.” The debate must include if police officer’s roles and responsibilities should include being a school teacher, a social worker, a psychologist, a guidance or drug counselor, an attorney or judge who carries a badge and a gun with a license to kill as the need arises to defend themselves or others. Until the debate ends, until the City and County governments get their acts together, and until the DOJ consent decree is finally dismissed, we can all expect more killings of people who are having psychotic episodes by law enforcement.

This entry was posted in Opinions by . Bookmark the permalink.

About

Pete Dinelli was born and raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He is of Italian and Hispanic descent. He is a 1970 graduate of Del Norte High School, a 1974 graduate of Eastern New Mexico University with a Bachelor's Degree in Business Administration and a 1977 graduate of St. Mary's School of Law, San Antonio, Texas. Pete has a 40 year history of community involvement and service as an elected and appointed official and as a practicing attorney in Albuquerque. Pete and his wife Betty Case Dinelli have been married since 1984 and they have two adult sons, Mark, who is an attorney and George, who is an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT). Pete has been a licensed New Mexico attorney since 1978. Pete has over 27 years of municipal and state government service. Pete’s service to Albuquerque has been extensive. He has been an elected Albuquerque City Councilor, serving as Vice President. He has served as a Worker’s Compensation Judge with Statewide jurisdiction. Pete has been a prosecutor for 15 years and has served as a Bernalillo County Chief Deputy District Attorney, as an Assistant Attorney General and Assistant District Attorney and as a Deputy City Attorney. For eight years, Pete was employed with the City of Albuquerque both as a Deputy City Attorney and Chief Public Safety Officer overseeing the city departments of police, fire, 911 emergency call center and the emergency operations center. While with the City of Albuquerque Legal Department, Pete served as Director of the Safe City Strike Force and Interim Director of the 911 Emergency Operations Center. Pete’s community involvement includes being a past President of the Albuquerque Kiwanis Club, past President of the Our Lady of Fatima School Board, and Board of Directors of the Albuquerque Museum Foundation.