On September 10, Mayor Tim Keller and APD Chief Michael Geier held a press conference to announce that Chief Geier was retiring after 2 years and 9 months as APD Chief. Keller announced a national search would be conducted to find a new chief. During the September 10 press conference, Mayor Tim Keller announced he was appointing First Deputy Harold Medina as Interim APD Chief.
During the September 10 press conference Mayor Keller said in part:
“ … We know reform efforts have hit some snags, and we know there have been back office challenges and distractions. Chief Geier’s retirement comes at the right time for a new phase of leadership to address the old embedded challenges that continue to hamper the department. … .”
It was on September 5 Labor Day Holiday weekend that Mayor Tim Keller and CAO Sarita Nair summoned Chief Geier to a city park where Keller, according to Geier, showed up “incognito”, wearing a cap and sunglasses to met with Geier. Keller told Geier he had decided to let Geier go, that his services were no longer needed and it was time for Geier to leave APD. Keller gave Geier the choice of retiring or being fired and he chose retirement.
Within days after being forced out, Geier made the rounds to all local news outlets and gave exclusive interviews. Geier unloaded on Mayor Keller proclaiming that Keller and his Chief Administrative Officer Sarita Nair micro managed the department. Geier also said that First Deputy Chief Harold Medina circumvented all he did to the point of insubordination.
Keller’s removal of Geier as APD Chief was viewed by city hall insiders and political observers as Keller’s first major step to his bid for a second term. Keller saying that the “reform efforts have hit some snags” was a gross understatement if not a downright lie by Keller. City hall confidential sources have confirmed that Mayor Keller was given an advanced briefing that the 12th Federal Monitor’s report on APD’s compliance with the 271 reforms was going to be the most scathing of all 12 reports as to APD’s leadership. It was.
On Friday, October 6, in a hearing on the 12th Federal Monitors Report, the Federal Monitor Ginger told the court:
“We are on the brink of a catastrophic failure at APD. … [The department] has failed miserably in its ability to police itself. … If this were simply a question of leadership, I would be less concerned. But it’s not. It’s a question of leadership. It’s a question of command. It’s a question of supervision. And it’s a question of performance on the street. So as a monitor with significant amount of experience – I’ve been doing this since the ’90s – I would have to be candid with the Court and say we’re in more trouble here right now today than I’ve ever seen.”
PUBLIC INPUT GIVEN ON WHAT DESIRED IN CHIEF
Within days after the departure of Chief Geier, the city posted and advertised the position nationally. The Keller Administration hired a consultant to help search for the City’s next APD Police Chief. The result was 39 applicants who submitted their resumes.
The City conducted more than 40 virtual meetings with community groups and interested parties. According to a city spokesperson, the city received more than 2,200 responses to an online survey seeking feedback on the Chief’s position. City spokeswoman Alicia Manzano said 5 themes emerged from those meetings expressing a desire for a chief to have an understanding:
1. Behavioral health issues.
COMMENTARY: This should come as no surprise. The 2014 Department of Justice of investigation of APD found a “culture of aggression” with APD’s interactions and responses to suspects that were mentally ill and that were having psychotic episodes. APD used deadly force against people who posed a minimal threat, including individuals who posed a threat only to themselves. Two cases in particular highlight the problem: the shooting of homeless camper and mentally ill James Boyd by APD SWAT in the Sandia Mountain foothills and the shooting of military army veteran Ken Ellis, III who was suffering with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The Boyd case resulted in a $5 million dollar settlement to the Boyd family, the Ellis case resulted in a $10 million settlement to the Elis family, both lawsuits file for wrongful death and police misconduct. The two SWAT Officers that killed Boyd were charged with murder but the charges were dismissed after a jury could not reach a verdict and deadlocked.
2. A commitment to de-escalation use by police.
COMMENTARY: The DOJ found APD failed to use deescalating tactics when encountering the mentally ill. The DOJ found APD police officers too often used deadly force in an unconstitutional manner in their use of firearms against the mentally ill. The DOJ consent decree mandates significant training of officers in de-escalation tactics to deal with the mentally ill and mandated behavioral health policies and procedures.
COMMENTARY: APD has an extensive history of withholding and delaying damaging information and even going to great lengths to withhold informatikon, especially when it comes to police misconduct cases, releasing lapel camera footage, and has repeatedly delayed the releasing of information within APD Internal Affairs. Repeatedly, the city has been fined over the years for Inspection of Public Records (IPRA) request violations. At one time, the Federal Court Monitor charged APD command staff of delay, diversion and obstruction tactics in the release of information and cooperation.
4. Community policing.
COMMENTARY: The 2014 Department of Justice investigation found that APD was severely shorthanded and was having difficulty in handling the severe spike in calls for service and criminal investigations. In 2017, Tim Keller campaigned to be elected mayor on the platform of increasing the size of the Albuquerque Police Department (APD), returning to community-based policing and promising to bring down skyrocketing crime rates. To that end, the Keller Administration began implementing an $88 million-dollar APD police expansion program increasing the number of sworn police officers from 898 positions filled to 1,200, or by 302 sworn police officers, over a four-year period. Keller promised to increase the number of sworn police in the department to 1,200 by the end of his first term. According to city records and reports, APD has 974 officers at last count. APD is short by upwards of 200 sworn police of what was promised by candidate Tim Keller.
5. Racial equity
COMMENTARY: APD, just like all law enforcement agencies over the country, is under more and more public scrutiny regarding its interactions with minorities. The killings of so many unarmed African Americans has brought forth that scrutiny. It was many organizations involved with minority issues that were instrumental in bringing the Department of Justice to Albuquerque to investigate APD’s use of force and deadly force. Six years ago, APD was sued in Federal Court for “racial profiling” and targeting African Americans and Hispanics involved in Federal narcotics investigations and prosecutions in the South East Heights area, but those civil rights cases were dismissed by the courts with a finding of no racial profiling
PUBLIC CONCERNS MIRROR THE DOJ INVESTGATION FINDINGS
It is not at all surprising that virtually all 5 of the themes the public survey found as to what the public wants in its next Chief hit squarely on the issues identified and involved with the Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation and the Federal Court Approved Settlement Agreement.
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.
The link to the DOJ investigation 46-page report is here:
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. 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.
A significant number of the use of force cases reviewed by the DOJ involved persons suffering from acute mental illness and who were having a mental health crisis. The DOJ found APD failed to use deescalating tactics when encountering the mentally ill. The DOJ found APD 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 were found to have used deadly force in situations where the conduct of the officers heightened the danger and contributed to the need to use force.
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.
On November 10, 2014, the City and the Department of Justice entered into a Court Approved Settlement Agreement (CASA) that mandates 271 sweeping reforms of the APD. The CASA was negotiated to be completed within 4 years and after 2 years of consecutive compliance, the case was to be dismissed in November of 2020. Six years have now expired and APD has failed to fully implement the reforms and is not in compliance.
CHIEF APPLICANTS FROM ACROSS THE COUNTRY
On January 1, 2021, the Albuquerque Journal published a front-page story entitled “39 Apply to be Albuquerque’s Top Cop”. The Journal made an Inspection of Public Records Request (IPRA) and the city provided the paper with the resume’s that had been turned in by the applicants on or before December 4. On Wednesday, December 30, the city released the names of 39 applicants.
According to a city spokesperson, a screening process was undertaken. The candidates and their résumés were sorted into 25 “qualified” candidates and 9 “unqualified” candidates. The city gave no specific explanation as to why an applicant was disqualified. The 9 applicants found not to be qualified. Two of those disqualified were identified as David Bibb, the recently ousted chief of the Las Vegas Police Department in New Mexico, and Emil Radosevich, who recently resigned as chief of the Pueblo of Jemez Police Department.
There were 5 applicants who had applied after the Journal’s records request and are identified as : Al Fear, Philip Holmes, Robert Jones, Kenneth McCoy Jr. and Daniel Neill.
The link to the full Journal story is here:
The story divided the qualifying applicants into 3 categories:
1. Police chiefs of small cities
2. Higher ranking officials within large police departments,
3. Those who have left law enforcement for other professions and who are seeking to return.
In response to an Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA) request, the Journal received the following list of identified applicants:
SMALL CITY POLICE CHIEFS
1. George Austin, chief of police of the Milton Police Department in Georgia.
2. Roland Camacho, chief of police of the Chambersburg Police Department in Pennsylvania.
3. Joel Fitzgerald Sr., chief of police of the Waterloo Police Department in Iowa. Fitzgerald was police chief in Fort Worth, Texas, but was fired in 2019.
4. Clinton Nichols, chief of police of the Commerce City Police Department in Colorado.
5. Edward Reynolds, chief of police of the Southern University of Shreveport Police Department in Louisiana.
6. Todd Richardson, who was the sheriff of Davis County, Utah, until 2019. He’s now a deputy with the Beaver County Sheriff’s Office.
LARGE POLICE DEPARTMENT OFFICIALS:
7. Harold Medina, APD’s interim chief while the search unfolds. Medina previously served as deputy chief of APD and, before that, was Chief of Police for the Pueblo of Laguna.
8. Jason Lando, a commander with the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police.
9. Mark Molinari, a commanding officer at the New York City Police Department.
10. James Rhoden, a commander with the Baltimore Police Department.
11. Michael Rigoli, who recently retired as a lieutenant with the Chicago Police Department.
12. Joseph Sullivan, who recently retired as a deputy commissioner of patrol operations for the Philadelphia Police Department.
13. William Taylor, chief deputy of the DeKalb County Marshal’s Office in Decatur, Georgia.
14. Michele Williams, who retired from the Santa Fe Police Department as a lieutenant. She is suing the city of Santa Fe, alleging her rights as a whistleblower were violated when she was removed from her position for reporting time card fraud and other improprieties.
15. Joseph Lestrange, a division chief of the Homeland Security Investigations transnational organized crime division in Washington, D.C.
16. Albert Pleasant IV, a special agent with the Air Force Office of Special Investigations in Texas.
THOSE WHO HAVE LEFT LAW ENFORCEMENT AND SEEKING TO RETURN
17. Jesus Eduardo Campa, CEO of Americas Best Strategic Security Group in El Paso and executive director for the Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training, a regulatory law enforcement agency for the State of Oklahoma. He served previously as chief of police for the Marshall Police Department and applied to be the chief of police in Santa Fe in 2015.
18.Thomas Cassella, director of security and valet at Caesars Entertainment Horseshoe Casino in Baltimore, Maryland. He worked previously for the Baltimore Police Department for 23 years.
19. Brian Childress, an instructor at the Law Enforcement Command College at Columbus State University in Georgia and an assessor for the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies in Virginia. He served as chief of police for the Valdosta Police Department from 2013 to 2018.
20. Jonathan Lewin, senior public safety adviser for the First Responder Network Authority in Virginia. He spent 15 years with the Chicago Police Department.
21. John Pate, the city manager and director of public safety for city of Opa-locka, Florida. He worked previously for the Cook County Sheriff’s Office and the Village of Phoenix Police Department, both in Illinois.
22. Anthony Schembri, who quotes Rudy Giuliani as saying he’s a “pioneer” and has been appointed to various posts by three governors, two mayors of New York, and more. He was a county administrator and director of public safety for Citrus County, Florida, from 2008 to 2009.
23. George Smith, vice president of Corporate Security Life Safety for the Bank of America in Delaware. He previously spent 27 years with the Radnor Township Police Department.
24. David Williams, a mission assurances division chief for the U.S. Air Force in Nebraska.
KELLERS SEEKS TO APPOINT CHIEF PUBLIC SAFETY OFFICER
On December 11, it was reported that the city is looking to hire a Chief of Public Safety who would oversee the chiefs of the Albuquerque Police Department, the Fire and Rescue Department and the Office of Emergency management. The Chief Public Safety Officer would be a civilian post and report to the city’s Chief Administrative Officer.
According to the job posting on the city’s website, in addition to overseeing the three department heads, the new hire “must coordinate with the Chief of Police to provide strong reform-minded leadership as the department works to achieve and maintain compliance” with the Court Approved Settlement Agreement dictating the police reform effort.
Mayor Keller has said hopes to have the police chief position filled by March but has said he doesn’t have a time frame for when a Chief of Public Safety will be in place. Keller acknowledges that both potions will be hard to recruit because of the city’s out of control crime rates, the reform efforts and the fact that both positions are “at will” positions. Whoever is hired will be at risk of losing their job if Keller does not win a second term.
On May 1, 2018, just a few months after Keller took office, an article on this blog was posted and sent to Keller proposing the exact same thing that Keller is proposing, except with the title “Public Safety Commissioner” and including the creation of an entire Public Safety Department.
Below is the link to the May 1, 2018 blog article:
“Create Department Of Public Safety; Abolish APD Internal Affairs; Create Salary Structure”
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
Historically, when a Mayor appoints a Chief of Police, it generates a significant amount of interest and competition amongst the ambitious command staff, usually with Commanders, now called Captains, and even Lieutenants applying for the job. Further, it is also common that former APD command staff also apply and try to return as Chief, such as Chief Ray Schultz and Chief Michael Geier who both retired from APD to go work for another department only to return a few years later to be Chief. This is not happening now.
It is very concerning that Interim APD Chief Harold Medina is the only named applicant for Chief from within the ranks of APD who has applied for the position. Interim Chief Harold Medina has a very troubled past of police officer involved shootings with reactive decision-making and failed leadership resulting in the killing of two mentally ill people having psychotic episodes. Medina was never disciplined for his conduct relating to 2 high profile shootings proclaiming he did nothing wrong.
First, in 2004, then APD Field Officer Harold Medina killed a 14-year-old Cibola High School student in a church who was brandishing a BB Gun. The boy was reported as having a psychotic episode saying he was possessed by demons and went to church for help.
Second, on January 13, 2010, Kenneth Ellis, III, a 25-year-old veteran who was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and threatening to kill himself holding a gun to his head. Elis was shot and killed by APD police officers and it was then Lieutenant Harold Medina that authorized the use of deadly force against Elis as a tactic to take him into custody. A $10.5 Million dollar judgment was awarded to the Elis family for the shooting. At the time of the Ellis shooting, former APD Chief Michael Geier was on the Force Review Board and he has stated that then Lt. Harold Medina failed in his command conduct and that he should have been disciplined.
Interim Chief Harold Medina spins the two tragedies as a positive credential to run the APD saying because of the shootings he now understands the DOJ reforms, their need and can implement them. Good luck with that! If anything, the two killing should have resulted in Medina being disqualified as an applicant. Truth is, Medina is part of the problem with APD that brought the DOJ here in the first place. Medina has no business being interim Chief let alone being made permanent. Medina helped create, did not stop and he participated the “culture of aggression” and the use of deadly force that resulted in a DOJ investigation.
Medina was never disciplined for his conduct relating to the high-profile shootings. When asked if the mayor’s office was aware of the cases, Keller’s Chief of staff Mike Puelle wrote in a statement:
“Acting Chief Medina has been very open about these lessons learned and how he applies them to the ongoing reform efforts at the department.”
HEAVY HANDED MANAGEMENT STYLE DEMANDING LOYALTY
It is no coincidence that Medina is the only named applicant for Chief that currently works for APD or who has worked for APD in the past. APD Command staff, who wish to remain anonymous, have said that Medina is highly aggressive, demands 100% loyalty, feels he is entitled to the job of Chief. It is said Medina does not tolerate anyone who remotely questions his directives and that he manages with intimidation and coercion. Working for such a Chief no doubt eliminates any potential challengers for APD Chief from within the department.
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 Department of Justice 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. The litany of cases includes 4 Cases where $21.7 Million was paid for APD’s excessive use of force and deadly force and $64 Million for 42 police officer shootings in 10 years.
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 has resisted the reform process has no business being APD Chief or Deputy for that matter. Interim Chief Harold Medina was and still is part of the problem with APD. It is not at all likely, despite whatever public comments he makes, that Interim APD Chief Medina will ever get behind the Federal mandated reforms which should disqualify him from being the interim APD Chief and for that matter the new permanent Chief.
OTHER APPLCIANTS OSTENSIBLY HAVE NO POLICE REFORM BACKGROUND
The number one priority of the next full time APD Chief, and in a real sense, the biggest crisis that Chief faces from day one will be implementation of the DOJ mandated reforms. The crisis is very real when the Federal Monitor told the court on October 6, 2020:
“We are on the brink of a catastrophic failure at APD. … [The department] has failed miserably in its ability to police itself. … If this were simply a question of leadership, I would be less concerned. But it’s not. It’s a question of leadership. It’s a question of command. It’s a question of supervision. And it’s a question of performance on the street.”
Based on the listing of the other 38 applicants, it appears none of the applicants has any prior experience or working knowledge dealing with implementation of any federal consent decree and the requirement of constitutional policing training and practices.
If Mayor Tim Keller is indeed sincere in conducting a national search to find someone else other than Interim APD Chief Harold Medina, he should order the national employment search company the city has retained to find qualified law enforcement professionals who have the experience to manage a department in crisis. Experience with a law enforcement department under a DOJ consent decree should be an absolute requirement.
Further, Keller should notify Medina that he has been disqualified from applying for the potion because of his troubling history of excessive use of force and deadly force. Otherwise, it sure does look like Keller is engaged in another sham national search only to appoint and make Harold Medina the permanent chief.
CREATE DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY
Creating the position of Chief Public Safety is nearly not enough. There is a need for a complete overhaul and restructuring of APD with the appointment of a new APD Chief, Deputy Chief’s, new Commanders, Lieutenants, a new Academy Director and a 911 manager. The Public Safety Department needs to consist of four civilian staffed divisions and managed by the Public Safety Commissioner:
1. Personnel and training, for recruiting, hiring, internal affairs investigations and police academy;
2. Budget and finance;
3. Information technology support and crime lab; and
4. 911 emergency operations center with a civilian manager.
Every single APD felony unit needs to be increased in personnel by anywhere between 40% and 60%, including the units of Armed Robbery, Auto Theft, Burglary, Homicide, Gang Unit, Narcotics, Property Crimes and Sex Crimes Units.
APD has consistently shown over many years it cannot police itself which contributed to the “culture of aggression” found by the Department of Justice. The APD Internal Affairs Unit needs to be abolished and its functions absorbed by the Office of Inspector General. “Deadly use of force” cases need to continue to be investigated by the Critical Incident Review Team and the final reports with finding and recommendations.
Mayor Tim Keller squandered a considerable amount of his political capital given to him with his landslide win in 2017 when he failed to seize immediately after his election the opportunity to make sweeping changes by hiring a new generation of police management , hiring Chief Public Safety Officer and with the creation of a Department of Public Safety. Now Keller’s back is against the wall time wise with only 11 months left of his term as he seeks another term. Anyone who accepts either job will have to take one big leap of faith and hope Keller wins a second term, otherwise they could be out of a job within a few months or weeks after taking it.
Mayor Tim Keller and his Administration need to pay special attention to the survey and the input they have received from the public as to what they want in the next police chief. Keller has now appointed as Interim Chief the one person who embodies what the Department of Justice Reforms are all about when it comes to police misconduct.
Mayor Keller has made it known he is running for a second term. He can not afford to make another mistake with APD management appointments and just give his usual smile and lip service and public relations to the process he has put in place.