Not surprising the Albuquerque Journal ran an expected editorial on the forced “retirement” of former APD Chief Michael Geier. What was surprising was the mere suggestion that Medina may be the “right guy” for Chief and to move “carefully” with a national search, with the former simply not true given his past and the latter a likely sham.
Below is the editorial in full followed by a link to it.
“There was always this idea there was some magical person who could be all things to all people and be a new police chief in Albuquerque. People would say (the chief would) have to have done all the DOJ reforms, and they’d have to be respected by front-line officers and they also have to be from outside Albuquerque but they also have to know Albuquerque. The amazing thing about this is the closest person to that is Chief Geier.”
– Mayor Tim Keller, June 13, 2018
Keller made those comments at a news conference announcing his decision to remove the title of “interim” in front of Michael Geier’s name after a compressed national search that took just six months, rather than the initial one-year projection, to find a chief for the Albuquerque Police Department. There was no need to drag things out, the mayor told reporters back then, because Geier checked all the boxes.
So much for the magic. It’s long gone in a city that’s plagued by violent crime and a police force operating under a Department of Justice oversight agreement that has no end in sight – and is once again in need of a new chief.
Earlier this month, after two years and nine months in the job, Geier was shown the door by Keller and Chief Administrative Officer Sarita Nair. The departure was initially billed as a voluntary retirement where everybody made nice – a day earlier Nair had even chastised a city councilor who had asked during the council meeting whether the chief still had the administration’s support.
It’s now turned into something of a free-for-all.
The voluntary retirement cease-fire lasted until the day after Geier’s last official day on the city payroll, Sept. 18. Then, the chief, who had kept an unfortunately low profile during this tenure whether by choice or, as he claims, by orders from a mayor who does love the cameras – had a lot to say.
Geier, who had a 45-year career in law enforcement that included stints as an officer in the Chicago area, as an APD commander and as chief in Rio Rancho, says the Keller administration micromanaged the department and put a higher priority on dog-and-pony press conferences than on real crime-fighting. Geier says he wasn’t allowed to call his own briefings without including the mayor and was handed talking points by the administration. “I’m not a cop anymore; I’m just a politician’s aide, is the way I describe it,” he told the Journal.
The outgoing chief says the man Keller named as interim chief to succeed him, Deputy Chief Harold Medina, worked against him on key initiatives including one dealing with gun violence. Geier told the Journal he had recommended to Nair that Medina be moved out of his position for insubordination. Instead, it was Geier who was out the door and Medina moved up to the top spot as interim chief.
Nair said this was not a quick decision – that the administration had had concerns about Geier’s job performance since early this year and had met with him multiple times over the summer.
Keller told the Journal it had become clear to him this was the time to make a change. “As mayor, it is my job to hold my team accountable. I offered Geier an honorable retirement, and while he has taken the low road on the way out, full of sour grapes and new-found complaints, I will not follow suit.”
The mayor’s chief of staff, Mike Puelle, however, showed no such reluctance. He said Geier wasn’t putting in the work, that he was rarely at important incidents like officer-involved shootings, protests, staff meetings or press conferences. “The job just wasn’t getting done,” Puelle said.
The back-and-forth goes on, but the end result doesn’t change. The department needs another chief to oversee a department with roughly 1,000 officers in a city with a big-time crime problem.
While the city has posted the job and begun its search – and it’s worth noting Keller’s pick is subject to City Council approval – Medina would seem to be a front-runner. After all, it appears he’s been angling for the position for some time and is openly lobbying for it now.
But his record with APD throws up red flags.
Medina shot and killed a 14-year-old boy in the sanctuary of a West Side church in 2002. The boy had a BB gun in his hand and Medina says the incident haunts him to this day. “That’s why it’s imperative you have a police chief that knows what people go through on both sides,” he said. The boy’s mother says learning Medina has been named interim chief was like “ripping the scab off the wound.”
Medina was the ranking officer on the scene of APD’s fatal shooting of 25-year-old Iraq War veteran Kenneth Ellis in 2010 – one of the department’s most controversial that ended with a jury awarding the family $10.3 million. Ellis had been holding a gun to his own head when another officer shot him in the neck.
Geier and Medina clashed on APD’s controversial handling of protests that turned violent concerning the Oñate sculpture at the Albuquerque Museum. The outgoing chief says he told Medina to have uniformed officers – like bicycle cops – at the scene as a deterrent but that his directive was ignored. Medina says he was concerned that having officers there in riot gear would escalate tensions – so APD officers stayed behind the building until things went south. The administration points out that Geier was not at the scene.
Keller has been lavish in his praise of Medina, saying that “in just the last few weeks, this change at the top has reinvigorated our crime-fighting and reform efforts.”
From the outside it looks as though Medina already was the power at APD and Geier had been marginalized. And Medina may, in fact, be the right person for the job – especially if there is a preference for an “insider.”
But the city needs to move carefully. It should do a bona fide national search – which won’t be any easier given the micromanagement allegations, Geier’s messy departure, the appearance Medina may be the chosen one, a mayoral election coming up next November and a global pandemic.
Those are good reasons the City Council should consider playing a bigger role, even though it’s the mayor’s appointment subject to council approval. Why not have a council listening session or two that allow the public, the business community, activists and others to express their frustrations on crime and lawlessness in the city? And give officers a chance to explain why more than 80% in a recent survey said they felt the mayor didn’t support them? (Geier didn’t fare much better at 62%, and the City Council was worse at 96%.)
Chief of police is perhaps the most critical job in the city of Albuquerque. If this city is to ever reach its potential, we must get on top of the crime problem. And we can’t afford another pick where the seemingly perfect candidate is told to hit the road after less than three years on a job that’s a long way from being done.
DINELLI COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
APD Chief Michael Geier knew what he was getting himself into when he accepted the job as APD Chief. After all he learned his lessons well under former Chief Ray Schultz, rose up through the ranks under Schultz to become a commander where he met then State Senator Tim Keller. Geier knew that being APD Chief is a political appointment. Mayor’s demand and expect results. Geier knew that he served at the pleasure of the Mayor, but he took the job anyway. Geier knew that he could be terminated without cause or reason, anytime and anywhere, including sitting on a park bench, so he has only himself to blame on many levels for taking the job.
GEIER’S LAST DOG AND PONY SHOW
What is painfully obvious is that what former Chief Geier said during the press conference with Mayor Tim Keller announcing his retirement was just another “dog and pony show” done in an attempt to save face and to allow Keller, Nair and Medina deniability that he was being terminated. Geier gave essentially the same reasons for retiring from APD as he did from Rio Rancho as chief. Instead of trying to mislead the public and the press with the joint press conference to save face, Gieir should have cleared out his office, left city hall with his head held high and with an extended middle finger to Keller, Nair and Medina. Geier should of held his own press conference. Instead, he made the media rounds saying he has been wronged and back stabbed and the media are all over it with great relish.
ANOTHER SHAM NATIONAL SEARCH
Interim Chief Harold Medina has already said he will apply to be permanent Chief when the national search starts. If this sounds at all familiar, it is. This is the exact same sham strategy Keller used to make Michael Geier permanent Chief. Soon after being appointed Interim Chief, then Interim Chief Geier made it know he was applying to be permanent chief. After the so-called national search, Keller waived his magic wand and “presto chango”, Keller appointed Geier as permanent APD Chief. Keller went so far as to say that it turned out that the most qualified person to be Chief was already here and it was Interim Chief Geier. If Medina is made permanent chief, the national search will be just another sham.
JOURNAL IGNORS THE PAIN MEDINA HAS BROUGHT UPON VICTIM’S FAMILYS
The Albuquerque Journal does no one any favors by saying Harold Medina’s “record with APD throws up red flags” . The only throw up here is when the Journal editors say “Medina may, in fact, be the right person for the job, especially if there is a preference for an “insider.” The blunt truth is, APD does not need another insider and Interim Chief Harold Medina has no business applying to be Chief let alone being made permanent.
It is pathetic the Journal ignores what Kenneth Ellis Jr told the Journal about Medina. Kenneth Ellis Jr. is the father of Kenneth Ellis III who was the 25 year old suffering from post-traumatic syndrome who was killed by APD with Medina giving authorization use deadly force. The Ellis family sued the city and was awarded $10 Million by a jury. Ellis Senior said Harold Medina is an old face that predates the DOJ investigation and the culture of aggression and lack of accountability it uncovered at APD. According to Ellis, Medina cannot bring forth the change needed at a department “ingrained in corruption” and Ellis said:
“Medina has been part of the problem and, if you’re part of the problem, you can’t be part of the solution. ”
When Bridget Montoya, the mother of 14-year-old Dominic Montoya heard that Harold Medina, the officer who shot and killed her son while the child was having a psychotic episode, named Harold Median interim chief of APD, she said:
[It’s like] ripping the scab off the wound. People think it’s been 18 years, that I should be over it by now, and I’m not. It was so traumatic and so awful what happened – it ruined my life. … My son had just turned 14 years old. He was just a kid. [I have had to work] very, very hard to forgive Harold Medina. I know that I have to. I can’t live with that bitterness. ”
It’s god damn pathetic and abhorrent that Medina said his experiences with the shootings make him committed to reforming the department and said to the Journal:
“That is the biggest thing, looking at these incidents I’ve been involved in and knowing that the direction we’re moving and these changes we’re making could’ve impacted those situations and we could’ve had different outcomes as a department.”
Medina’s comments are like Medina being the doctor who killed a patient during surgery and then offering to be the mortician to make the corpse look good for the burial.
MEDINA PART OF THE PROBLEM
Interim Chief Harold Medina is part of the very problem that brought the Department of Justice (DOJ) here in the first place. It was the past APD management practices that resulted in the “culture of aggression” found by the DOJ that lead to the federal consent decree after 18 police officer involved shootings and the findings of excessive use of force and deadly force by APD.
Any one in APD command staff who assisted, contributed or who did not stop the “culture of aggression” found by the Department of Justice and who have resisted the reform process has no business being APD Chief or Deputy for that matter, and that especially includes Harold Medina. It is not at all likely, despite whatever public comments he makes, that Interim APD Chief Medina will ever truly be committed to all 270 Federal mandated reforms. This alone should disqualify him from being the interim APD Chief and for that matter the new permanent Chief.
The city has “posted” the position and is taking applicants. Mayor Keller has said he will be announcing soon the process that will be followed likely including a selection committee.
Keller needs to find the city another Chief and spare us all from another sham chief selection process