On April 21, it was reported that APD Chief Harold Medina has ordered the APD Internal Affairs Division to open an investigation of a former Albuquerque police officer who recently retired. The grounds of the Internal Affairs Investigation is that the retiring police officer sent a “farewell email” to all his colleagues. The email was considered highly contentious by Chief Medina.
In the email, the officer thanked his coworkers for their friendship, and the department for its training. He then went on to criticize the mandatory Department of Justice police reforms. The retiring officer wrote in part:
“Remember that the overwhelming majority of citizens do not care about ‘police reform,’ but rather they care about the crime that is plaguing this city. It is your job to take care of that crime, and you should not be constrained from doing so.”
In ordering the Internal Affairs Investigation, APD Chief Harold Medina said it was unfair of that officer to make that generalization. Medina had this to say as justification for the Internal Affairs investigation:
“When you have an individual, who chooses to leave this department and make statements such as ‘The vast majority of the community doesn’t care about police reform’ and ‘They care about crime only,’ that’s an unfair statement to make on behalf of the community. If this employee looks to get hired on in other locations, it’s imperative that we have a complete process and a package to be able to allow their internal affairs to recognize and understand what type of individual they’re hiring. … I would venture to say that most agencies in today’s climate would have concerns if someone doesn’t believe in police reform.
The police union was quick to condemn the IA investigation. The union said the investigation into an officer who doesn’t even work at the department anymore is nothing but a waste of time and taxpayer dollars. The union added that the IA investigation is just one example of the department handcuffing its own officers by over scrutinizing them. The police union has said officers feel like they’re under a microscope, and that APD will lose many of them as a result.
Shaun Willoughby, president of the Albuquerque Police Officers Association (APOA) had this to say about the email:
“We call that a little parting gift. … I think in a highly sensitive reading of the email, they might say, ‘Oh my gosh. He said something negative about reform,’ which is absolutely comical. … One thing is for certain—there is no morale, and the officers don’t feel safe doing their job because they’re damned if they do, damned if they don’t. ”
The retiring officer’s email comes shortly after an APD sergeant was put on administrative leave for his role in an arrest at a protest earlier this month and after 20 Emergency Response Team members resigned. As to the protest, Medina said the Internal Affairs is looking at if the sergeant involved did not do what a lieutenant told him.
The link to the quoted source material is here:
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
There is no getting around it. The only way you can characterize APD Chief Medina calling for an Internal Affairs Investigation over an email that was a parting shot by a retiring office to the department is retaliatory that borders on being vindictive. It’s alarming that Medina would says “If this employee looks to get hired on in other locations, it’s imperative that we have a complete process and a package to be able to allow their internal affairs to recognize and understand what type of individual they’re hiring”. What Medina has done is make an “admission against interest” showing the Internal Affairs Investigation is retaliatory. Any labor law attorney worth their salt will no doubt have a field day with such a remark if the retiring police officer is in fact deprived of a job or livelihood.
The City Attorney may want to have a very long talk with APD Chief Medina and advise him that New Mexico has now enacted a Civil Rights Act. Under the act, a cause of action has been created for anyone to sue government employees for violations of civil rights, including freedom of speech. The defense of qualified immunity does not exist for such actions. The email sent by the retiree was likely protected free speech.
Medina has a history and a reputation for reactive decision-making and his ordering an IA investigation on a retired police officer for comments made in an internal memo confirms that reputation. Instead of reacting to the email by ordering and Internal Affairs Investigation, Medina should have ignored it or merely thanked the officer for his years of service, expressed disappointment that the officer felt that way and move on with more pressing issues. But no, Medina could not resist one final cheap shot to make sure everyone knows who is in charge.