On Friday, December 4, 2020 a status conference hearing was held on the 12th Compliance Audit Report on APD reforms mandated by the Court Approved Settlement Agreement (CASA). One failure identified by the Federal Monitor was that APD’s Internal Affairs (IA) was not properly investigating serious use of force instances by APD police officers. During the hearing, it was revealed that the City and the Department of Justice (DO) were negotiating a “stipulated order” to create and External Force Investigations Team (EFIT).
Paul Killebrew, special counsel for the DOJ’s civil rights division, said that after the 12th Federal Monitor’s report was released on November 2, the DOJ and the City realized that something had to be done. If not agreed to by the city, the DOJ would have to take very aggressive action. Killebrew told Federal Judge Browning:
“The city agreed the problems were serious and needed to be addressed … that’s significant. If we had gone to the city and the city disagreed with our picture of reality, and had they not been willing to address the problem we identified, I think we would be in a different posture … We might have needed to seek enforcement action over the city’s objections.”
“APD has proven over and over again its agility to avoid the requirements of the CASA.”
EXTERNAL FORCE INVESTIGATION TEAM
On February 26, U.S. District Judge James Browning approved a stipulated order creating the EFIT. The EFIT team will train APD Internal Affairs (IA) investigators on how to properly investigate uses of force instances by APD police officers. The City agreed that at least 25 force investigators would be assigned to the APD Internal Affairs until APD demonstrates that fewer investigators are necessary to timely investigate uses of force by APD Officers.
GROUNDS FOR CONTEMPT
Assistant United States Attorney Paul Killebrew had this to say about EFIT:
“… [W]hat we have is a city that has failed to comply with that court order over and over and over again. It’s not an option right now to do nothing. If we sit back and wait, using all the tools that we have already been using, I don’t know why we would expect things to change on their own. The sense of the United States when we received the monitor’s report was that additional interventions were required. …
When we read [the Independent Monitor’s 12th report], we believed that there were likely grounds for contempt, and that we could probably make a good case for a receivership, at least as it regards serious force investigations.
This is essentially something short of a receivership, but far more extensive than what is occurring now. What we’re talking about is having external folks assisting Albuquerque investigators in each investigation to ensure that those investigations identify out-of-policy force and to ensure that there is a strong factual record available so that policy violations can be identified and that officers can be held accountable. That is simply a nonnegotiable term of the consent decree. We must have officers held accountable for out-of-policy force, and after six years, we cannot wait for that to happen any longer.”
THE MEDINA AND STANLEY TAG TEAM
On Monday, March 8, Mayor Keller announced Harold Medina as the new APD Chief of Police. Medina had been serving as interim APD Chief since Mayor Keller fired APD Chief Michael Geier. For over 3 years, Keller promised implementation of the DOJ reforms until they stalled so much that he fired his first Chief Michael Geier. It was APD’s excessive use of force and deadly force against the mentally ill that was at the center of the DOJ’s finding of a culture of aggression. Chief Harold Medina has a nefarious past with the use of deadly force against two people suffering from psychotic episodes. The first was when Medina shot and killed a 14 year old child who was having a psychotic episode, went to a westside church for help and armed with a BB gun. Medina had been dispatched to the scene and when the child brandished the BB gun, Medina shot him dead. The second shooting happened years later when then Lieutenant Medina authorized the use of deadly force against a 26 year old veteran suffering from service connected post traumatic stress disorder who held a gun to his head, with APD shooting and killing him. A jury found that the veteran was a danger only to himself and awarded a $10.5 million judgement against the city. During his January 23 webinar interview, Interim chief Harold Medina said he has the “hindsight” to take the department forward. He said “How can you change a culture if you had not lived and been a part of that culture?” With these words, Medina essentially said he was part of the “culture of aggression” that brought the DOJ here in the first place. Anyone who helped create, knew about or did not stop the “culture of aggression” has absolutely no business being Chief of Police. Chief Medina has also blamed the DOJ consent decree for APD’s inability to concentrate on crime.
Along with his appointment of Harold Medina as permanent APD Chief, Mayor Keller also appointed Sylvester Stanley as “Interim Superintendent of Police Reform” in addition to the position of Deputy Chief Administrative Officer (DCAO). In 1982, Sylvester Stanley began his career with the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Department (BCSO) where he began his career as a patrolman. Over the years, he advanced through the ranks serving as a Detective, Sergeant, and Lieutenant retiring, in 2002, with the rank of Captain. Sylvester Stanley served as Police Chief for the Isleta Police Department from 2018 to 2021. Stanley’s extensive law enforcement background and experience, although impressive as it is, is void of any work or dealing with federal consent decrees and void of any background in constitutional policing practices which are the center piece of the DOJ reforms. Superintendent Stanley has also been given authority over disciplining police officers ostensibly for violations of the DOJ reforms. The police union has objected to Stanley having any authority to discipline asserting that the union contract gives that authority exclusively to the Chief.
APD Chief Harold Medina will not be reporting to Stanley nor Stanley to Medina, but both will be reporting to Chief Administrative Officer Sarita Nair who will likely be forced to resolve any disputes between the two. Medina and Stanley will essentially be acting like a “CASA Reform Tag Team” who will be reporting to political operative Chief Administrative Officer Sarita Nair.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
Two comments made by Paul Killebrew, Special Counsel for the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, are worth repeating because of how revealing they are and just how bad APD has become:
“APD has proven over and over again its agility to avoid the requirements of the CASA.”
“…[W]hat we have is a city that has failed to comply with that court order over and over and over again.”
With these comments, Assistant United States Attorney Paul Killebrew confirmed what many knew what the City, APD and the Police Union have been doing for the last 6 years under 2 Mayors and 3 Police Chiefs. One can only wonder what the Department of Justice (DOJ) has really done over the 6 years with the city spending upwards of $35 million a year on the reform efforts. The DOJ knew what was going on, it was warned repeatedly by the Federal Monitor, and yet the DOJ did absolutely nothing.
Where there is a will to obstruct the CASA reforms, APD and the Police Union always find a way, something now admitted to by the DOJ. By approving the agreed Order to create the EFIT, Federal Judge Browning has given the City and APD one more opportunity to get their act together and get the job done on implementing the reforms. It should be the very last chance.
The very real risk is the parties will continue to flop around like fish out of water accomplishing very little, another year will pass, perhaps a new Mayor will be elected, and the engrained APD culture of resistance to the reforms will continue unabated.
It’s as if APD and its management are once again attempting to run out the clock on another Mayor, this time Mayor Tim Keller and his administration, knowing full well the municipal election is on November 2, 2021 and Keller could be out of office. The EFIT gives incumbent Mayor Tim Keller plausible deniability against the accusation that he has not taken action to implement all the DOJ reforms as he promised 4 years ago when he ran for Mayor.
Truth is Mayor Tim Keller for 3 years has allowed a sore to simply fester when it came to APD’s deliberate attempts to undermine the reform efforts while at the same time trying to lay claim that he has done a great job with APD and all the reforms. Keller has failed to make the sweeping changes to the Albuquerque Police Department, and his promised implementation of the DOJ reforms stalled so much that he fired his first chief. Keller has appointed Harold Medina, who has a nefarious past with the use of deadly force against two people suffering from psychotic episodes, permanent chief.
Keller has also appointed Sylvester Stanley “Interim Superintendent Of Police Reform” to oversee the CASA reform with little disclosure what authority he has over APD. The police union has objected to the announcement that Stanley will be imposing discipline as opposed to the APD Chief asserting that it violates the union contract with the City.
Things have only gotten worse under Keller as has crime in the city. Keller’s smile on his face and grin in his voice is a sharp contrast to the truth of what is happening with APD.
The EFIT must be the very last chance for the city and APD to make the DOJ reforms to work. If APD management, the union and rank and file continue with their efforts of “noncompliance”, not overtly, but in a manner to avoid detection and once again using “agility to avoid the requirements of the CASA”, the Federal Court should say enough is enough and hold the city in contempt of court.
Federal Judge James Browning has scheduled a “status conference” on the case for April 15. It will be the very first hearing since Mayor Tim Keller appointed Harold Medina as the permanent APD Chief and Sylvester Stanly as “Interim Superintendent Of Police Reform”.
The April 15 status conference will be held via Zoom Video/Web Conferencing. The December, 2020 status conference hearing had upwards of 150 attendees. It is hoped that during the April 15 Status Conference, the public will learn how much progress has been made in creating the EFIT and if and when it will begin to train APD and commence investigating use of force cases by APD officers. The extent of authority and control Interim Superintendent of Police Reform Sylvester Stanly will have over the EFIT should be elaborated on and discussed.
If the EFIT is not successful, the Court should order the Federal Monitor to take over APD’s Internal Affairs Unit and the use of force investigations. In the event that the EFIT fails, which is more likely than not, Federal Monitor James Ginger needs to be given full authority over Internal Affairs personnel to the extent of being given direct management and control to issue orders and commands as to how use of force investigations are to be conducted.
Then and only then will full compliance with the reforms be achieved.