Jim Larson has been a long-term resident of Albuquerque. Mr. Larson has an extensive and diversified career in law-enforcement both on the Federal and State levels. His law enforcement career includes being a former United States Secret Service Agent, a Dallas Texas Police Officer, and Investigator with the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office and working at Sandia National Laboratories. After retiring from Sandia National Laboratories, Mr. Larson served as a Court Appointed Special Advocate for abused and neglected children. He has been involved with APD civilian police reform including serving a short period of time on the Civilian Police Oversight Board.
The following guest column was submitted by Mr. Larson for publication on this blog:
“On Thursday morning, September 10, Mayor Tim Keller along with APD Chief Michael Geier, held a press conference to announce that Chief Geier was retiring after 2 years and 9 months as APD Chief. Mayor Keller also announced that First Deputy Chief Harold Medina would be taking over as interim Chief starting Monday, September 14.
Harold Medina is the wrong person at the wrong time for the job of Interim Chief and Chief. Medina has no business being in charge of a police department that is still under a federal court approved settlement after the Department of Justice found a “culture of aggression” and a pattern of use of “deadly force”. Harold Medina was part of the problem then and with his negligent management he actually helped create, participated in, or at a minimum, did not stop the “culture of aggression.
Interim Chief’s Harold Medina’s past actions need to be remembered and highlighted.
THE KEN ELLIS SHOOTING
The January 2010, killing of Kenneth Ellis, III, a 25-year-old veteran who was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder by APD was among a string of encounters that contributed to the launch of an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) into whether APD had a pattern of violating people’s civil rights, specifically through the use of force and deadly force.
The DOJ findings found it was unreasonable for the officer to have used deadly force on Ellis. Officers suspected Ellis of vehicle theft and pulled him over in a parking lot. Ellis exited the vehicle holding a gun pointed to his head. Ellis continued to hold the gun to his head as he made several phone calls and the officers attempted to negotiate with him. After several minutes, an officer shot Ellis one time in the neck and killed him.
While it is true that Ellis was holding a gun and thus presented a clear threat of harm, there was never any indication from Ellis’ words or actions that he intended to use the gun on anyone but himself. During his encounter with police, he held the gun to his own head and did not point at police or threaten them with harm. It was unreasonable for the officer to have used deadly force on Ellis. In addition, when officers are dealing with suicidal subjects, their failure to try to de-escalate the situation is a relevant factor in evaluating the reasonableness of any force they might use.
The officer who shot and killed Kenneth Ellis was not a member of the Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) unit, but commanding officers within and over SWAT were present when Ellis was shot. Then Lieutenant Harold Medina was likely the ranking officer on the scene who should have been giving commands or approving the actions of the APD officers .
The DOJ’s investigation of the APD shooting used the department’s own reports on the shooting to make it clear what happened when it states:
“The SWAT commanding officers failed to exert control over the scene, such as by making a plan for handling the crisis, determining where officers should be positioned, or deciding what roles each officer would fulfill … The lack of scene control contributed to a chaotic environment and allowed the shooting officer to act on his own accord when he shot and killed Ellis.”
The Elis Family sued the city for wrongful death. A jury returned a verdict finding the City and the officer who shot him liable for Ellis’ death and awarding more than $10 million in damages.
MEDINA BECOMES APD COMMANDER
Acting Chief Harold Medina was employed by APD for all five of the years of the DOJ review, and at least four of the five, in a supervisory or command level. In January 2010, he was a lieutenant with Property Crimes and the officer in charge at the scene after officers suspected Kenneth Ellis of vehicle theft and pulled him over in a parking lot and later fatally shot him.
Acting Chief Medina later became the Commander for Tactical, which is identified by APD sources as the SWAT unit, where he served 19 months. He later served in the Southwest Area Command and Property Crimes before he retired from APD in 2014.
The DOJ’s investigation found:
“Other instances of officer recklessness that led to unreasonable uses of deadly force involved officers from the department’s SWAT unit who acted without proper discipline or control. In force incidents the DOJ reviewed, they found instances in which the SWAT unit did not operate with the discipline and control that would be expected of them, and this lack of discipline contributed to unreasonable uses of deadly force.”
SWAT units are generally among the most highly trained in a police department. SWAT units are called upon to handle the most dangerous situations that police encounter and officers assigned to SWAT units typically operate under strict protocols and carry out operations in a highly planned and organized fashion.
DOJ review of individual [overall] use-of-force complaints and reports informed their investigation into whether a pattern or practice of excessive force exists. The DOJ investigation
“determined that structural and systemic deficiencies—including insufficient oversight, inadequate training, and ineffective policies— contribute to the use of unreasonable force. For too long, Albuquerque officers have faced little scrutiny from their superiors in carrying out this fundamental responsibility.”
COURT APPROVED SETTLEMENT AGREEMENT
Former Mayor Richard Berry and APD Chief Gordon Eden were never fully committed to the Court Approved Settlement Agreement (CASA) and the 270 mandated reforms that they negotiated with the Department of Justice. They were insincere partners in the development of the CASA, essentially to avoid their reputation being further bludgeoned by a lengthy civil suit they were likely to lose. Once the CASA was negotiated, the Federal Monitor for 4 years found that under Berry and Eden, the APD command staff engaged in a pattern of delay and obstructionists’ tactics and resisted the reforms.
The CASA represented a new strategy with requirements to try to force a cultural shift to achieve it. For all its benefits and blemishes, it is now part of APD’s legacy that remains uniquely APD’s and cannot be traded as if it were a used car. Cultural inclinations are well entrenched, for good or bad. APD leadership for the first three years under the consent decree were a significant obstacle to movement for cultural change with their own resistance to change, continued tolerance of mediocrity, and suspicions of outsiders. Former Chief Michael Geier served as Commander for nearly five years in APD and retired from APD in April 2014. Harold Medina also retired in 2014 after serving as a Lieutenant and a Commander.
It was on April 10, 2014 that the serious and appalling DOJ investigative report conclusions were made public that highlighted the SWAT unit for officer recklessness that led to unreasonable uses of deadly force involved officers from the department’s SWAT unit who acted without proper discipline or control and the SWAT unit did not operate with the discipline and control that would be expected of them, and this lack of discipline contributed to unreasonable uses of deadly force.
The link to the April 10, 2014, forty-six page DOJ investigation report is here:
Three more years after Berry and Eden, under the leadership of Mayor Tim Keller and with the re-tread APD leadership of former Chief Geier and First Deputy Chief Medina, APD continues to struggle with cultural intransigence to the cultural change in APD envisioned by the Court Approved Settlement Agreement and the City’s newly approved Civilian Police Oversight Agency. The CASA monitoring team’s 11th Report observed examples of some APD personnel still failing to adhere to the requirements of the CASA.
The federal monitor in his 11th Monitors report found instances moving beyond the epicenter of the issue supervision to mid- and upper management levels of the organization. The monitor found:
“Some in APD’s command levels continue to exhibit behaviors that build bulwarks preventing fair and objective discipline, including a case of attempting to delay—in some cases successfully—oversight processes until the timelines for administering discipline have been exceeded, thus preventing an effective remedial response to behavior that is clearly in violation of established policy.”
Chief Geier and Deputy Chief Medina, as well as some other Command Staff, were in leadership positions during the culture that led the DOJ to “determine that structural and systemic deficiencies—including insufficient oversight, inadequate training, and ineffective policies— contribute to the use of unreasonable force (emphasis added) and for too long, Albuquerque officers have faced little scrutiny from their superiors in carrying out this fundamental responsibility.”
Six years into the CASA APD continues to struggle with the DOJ finding that APD engaged in a pattern or practice of using excessive force during the course of arrests and other detentions and officers too often use deadly force in an unconstitutional manner in their use of firearms. All of the 11 Federal Monitor reports lends credence that it is APD’s management and the re-hiring command level department personnel to change the culture that they themselves contributed to, participated in, or turned a blind eye have impeded the reforms .
Mayor Keller needs to find and bring in the best that can be found to take over APD. The city needs to find those with the highest potential and get the right people in the right positions which will mark the difference between success and failure. Yet surprisingly, Mayor Keller after unceremoniously removing Chief Geier, seems unable to meet that challenge, once again reverting to someone that thrived in the old culture, a strategy that failed with the appointment of Chief Michael Geier and that is likely to fail again.
MAYOR KELLER NEEDS TO REMOVE MEDINA AS WELL
In imperfect systems initial mistaken calls by well-meaning, smart, and competent people of general good like Mayor Keller are bound to happen and reconsideration is always difficult at best. An opinion once formed is hard to abandon. A conclusion once broadcast is hard to withdraw. But the open mind has to persist beyond the first call in decisions. One’s understanding of the truth, whether that’s the correctness of a fact or conclusions drawn in an investigation, should never be unalterable.
Keller’s appointment of Harold Medina as interim Chief needs to be reversed while there is still time and before he is made permanent. Keller needs a more careful review of the wisdom of re-hiring someone as Deputy Chief and then cursorily removing the Chief and replacing him with a Deputy Chief whose advancement and actions in leadership positions during culture that led the DOJ to determine that structural and systemic deficiencies—including insufficient oversight, inadequate training, and ineffective policies— contribute to the use of unreasonable force emphasis added and for too long, Albuquerque officers have faced little scrutiny from their superiors in carrying out this fundamental responsibility.
This is all the more important when that person was a leader and commander of a unit that was specially called out as a problem in the DOJ investigation. I would hate to see the incredible changes and improvements that the SWAT unit has made while receiving excellent reviews from the DOJ Monitor negatively impacted.
The length of time to do another “national search”, which many in the community and APD believe a charade, is likely very long given the circumstances and timing of the next mayoral election, so this interim Chief decision has incalculable importance for moving forward. The APD officers and personnel and citizens of Albuquerque deserve a more thoughtful and considered decision for the interim Chief than the default again to re-tread, Deputy Chief Harold Medina, especially given his known history and DOJ findings in the SWAT unit he commanded.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: Pursuant to a clarification provided by APD Spokesman Gilbert Gallegos on September 17, the above blog article has been modified by author Jim Larson to clarify the information regarding Interim Chief Harold Medina’s work history and time period as an APD Lieutenant and Commander. The opinions expressed in the above article are those of Jim Larson and do not necessarily reflect those of the political blog www.petedinelli.com. Mr. Larson was not compensated for the column.
DINELLI COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
Interim APD Chief Harold Medina was hired by APD in 1995 and retired from APD after 20 years of service. He served with APD until 2014, when he retired and became Chief of the Pueblo of Laguna for three years. Medina returned to APD as a Deputy Chief when Keller took over as Mayor in December, 2017. APD First Deputy Chief Harold Medina went from being paid $136,040.20 in 2019 to being paid $145,017.60 within a few months after repeatedly complaining to Chief Geier and CAO Nair he was paid less than the other Deputy Chiefs. Former APD Chief Michael Geier was paid $183,378.60 a year and it is likely Medina will be paid the same or near that amount as Interim Chief.
Interim APD Chief Harold Medina has the tragic distinction of shooting and killing a 14-year-old Cibola High School student in 2004 when he was an APD field officer. At the time of the shooting, Harold Medina was 30 years old and was a seven-and-a-half-year veteran of APD. According to news accounts, 14-year-old boy Dominic Montoya went to Taylor Ranch Baptist Church looking for prayer. Montoya was reported as saying he was possessed by demons and went to church for help. Some one noticed the teenager was concealing a weapon and APD was called. It turned out it was a BB gun and when APD showed up, the 14-year-old was fatally shot by police after pointing the BB gun at the officers. It was the APD Officer Harold Medina who fired 3 shots at the 14 year old, Cibola High School Student with two hitting the juvenile in the abdomen. It was reported that the BB gun was indistinguishable from a real gun and Medina said he was in fear for his life.
Links to news coverage is here:
APD leadership and management is crumbling around Mayor Tim Keller who is failing to keep his campaign promises of reducing high crime rates, returning to community-based policing, increasing the size of APD and implementing the DOJ reforms. The abrupt departure of Chief Geier no doubt will have a major impact on implementing the DOJ mandated reforms.
Keller appointed Geier after a “national search” and after Geier retired for a 3rd time from law enforcement. The national search was a sham. Appointing First Deputy Chief Harold Medina as Interim Chief confirms insider information that APD is in total disarray and its management in shambles as result of infighting, with much of the infighting created by Harold Medina. Keller has announced that another national search will be conducted to find a new Chief, and if its anything like the search he conducted that resulted in Chief Geier being appointed Chief, it will be sham. The link to a related blog article is here:
It is no secret at city hall that Chief Administrative Officer Sarita Nair is very much involved with the day to day management of APD and that Deputy Chief Harold Medina have developed a strong working relationship with CAO Nair. According to sources, Harold Medina will do whatever he is told to do by CAO Nair and Mayor Tim Keller. Confidential APD command staff have been reporting that Harold Medina was making it known to them that he intended to be the next Chief of APD.
CLEAN SWEEP IS NEEDED
When candidate Keller was running for Mayor, he promised sweeping changes with APD, a national search for a new APD Chief and a return to Community based policing. During Mayor Tim Keller’s first 8 months in office, Keller did not make the dramatic management changes he promised, but a relied on past management of the department and past practices. The current Deputy Chiefs are not outsiders at all but have been with APD for years.
APD needs a clean sweep in management and philosophy to remove anyone who may have assisted, contributed or who did not stop the culture of aggression found by the Department of Justice and who have resisted the reform process during the last 3 years of the consent decree, including Harold Medina. Keller’s “new” and present Deputies are a reflection of APD’s past and all have been with APD for some time. APD’s current command staff are not a new generation of police officer fully committed and trained in constitutional policing practices.
Mayor Tim Keller needs to conduct a national search to find a new Chief and Deputy Chiefs who are not already with APD and allow whoever is chosen to run APD free of his interference or the interference of CAO Nair. Interim APD Chief Harold Medina is part of the very problem that brought the Department of Justice here in the first place. It is not at all likely, despite whatever public comments he makes, that Medina will ever get behind the Federal mandated reforms which should disqualify him from being Chief. Harold Medina should also be thanked for his service and move on giving him a good letter of recommendation as he seeks employment elsewhere.