EDITOR’S NOTE: Freelance Reporter Charles Arasim contributed the factual content of this article.
The City of Albuquerque and the Department of Justice (DOJ) Court Approved Settlement mandates the creation of a full time, professional Civilian Police Oversight Agency (CPOA) with a full time Director and investigators and with a 9-member, all-volunteer Civilian Police Oversight Board appointed by the city council. The CPOA board is ultimately responsible for investigations of police misconduct and making recommendations to the Chief of Police for disciplinary actions.
It is reported that the APD Citizens Police Oversight Board (CPOB) is being asked to investigate the hazing of an African American “rookie” member of APD’s SWAT Team by a group of veteran SWAT TEAM members. According to a highly placed confidential source within APD, the rookie police officer reported the hazing to APD Internal Affairs (IA) which initiated an investigation. The investigation resulted in the veteran APD officers being removed from the SWAT unit. The result of their removal is that APD is now unable to respond to critical armed barricaded suspects or hostage incidents requiring APD SWAT call-outs.
The City Council enacted Citizens Police Oversight Agency Ordinance, any board member, without a majority vote of the members, can ask to review APD IA investigative records at a reasonable time and that the CPOA administrative office “shall audit and monitor” all APD IA investigations.
ABQ RAW REPORT
On December 22, the online news agency ABQ Raw posted the following report:
“[On December 21 at] around 2:00AM [in the] morning a call came in to APD where a victim called to say they were being held against their will by a person armed with a knife. The call was at 1913 Alvarado Dr. NE. When APD went on scene the armed person refused to come out of the apartment. Once the armed person refused to come out APD decided to initiate a SWAT callout. By 9:00AM the scene had been cleared and the armed man had been taken into custody without further incident.
About a month and half ago, the Albuquerque Police Department had a fully staffed SWAT team. Sources have revealed that an incident within the veteran SWAT team with a brand-new member caused an internal affairs investigation and the team was all but disbanded.
APD last week transferred 5 newly tested officers into SWAT after the mentioned incident and they are currently training to become fully certified and operational team members.
At this latest SWAT call out APD was the primary agency for the call for service but APD had to call in Bernalillo County Sheriff’s SWAT team for assistance since they don’t have a fully staffed SWAT team currently.
Typically, a fully staffed APD SWAT team has around a dozen team members.
Spokeswoman Jayme Fuller with BCSO confirmed in the last 2 months they have been called to assist APD SWAT 3 times. Fuller went on to say that BCSO and APD always had mutual aid agreements amongst their agencies so it is not uncommon for one agency to ask the other for assistance.
New Mexico State Police spokesperson Lt. Mark Soriano said since November of 2021, the New Mexico State Police Tactical Team has assisted the Albuquerque Police Department SWAT Team with 3 missions. In 2020 and 2019 during the same time frame the New Mexico State Police Tactical Team also assisted the Albuquerque Police Department SWAT Team with 3 missions.
Neighboring agency Rio Rancho Police Department SWAT Lieutenant Richard Koschade told [ABQ Raw] they have assisted APD twice in the past two months.
… It is unclear how many calls have required a SWAT team since the shakeup at APD.”
The link to the full ABQ Raw posted story ins here:
CPOA CHAIRMAN RESIGNS
On December 9, Eric Olivias, the Chairman Of Civilian Police Oversight Agency (CPOA) Board submitted his letter of resignation. In addition to Olivias resigning, two others CPOA Board member resigned within a 48-hour period and they are Tara Jaramillo-Prewitt and Geonie Ralph. A 3rd newly appointed CPOA Board member Richard Johnson who was appointed to the Board at the same time as Gionnne Ralph is reported have to have silently walked away from the CPOA Board on or about November 1, 2021. The Olivia’s letter is a scathing indictment of the CPOA. The resignation comes less than 2 months after CPOA Executive Director Ed Harness resigned and less than one month after Superintendent of Police Reform Sylvester Stanley announced his retirement at the end of December.
SUPERINTENDENT OF POLICE REFORM SYLVESTER STANLEY “RETIRES” AFTER 8 MONTHS
On December 1, a mere 8 months on the job, Superintendent of Police Reform Sylvester Stanley announced he was retiring effective December 31. Stanley was appointed to the two positions of Superintendent of Police Reform and Deputy Chief Administrative Officer in early March. He was tasked with handling discipline of APD sworn police officers, overseeing the APD academy and the Internal Affairs division and working with the Department of Justice on the reform effort.
When Stanley was appointed by Mayor Tim Keller he said they expected him to fill the position in an “interim basis” for 6 months or until the end of the year. The city has launched a national search for his replacement, saying it’s looking for “an experienced professional to lead this cutting edge position” and someone “who is dedicated to police reform.”
SWAT UNIT ELABORATED UPON
A police SWAT Unit, which stands for Special Weapons And Tactics, is generic term for a law enforcement unit that uses specialized or military equipment and tactics. Members of the Albuquerque Police Department SWAT unit are constantly training and are considered some of the best trained, best equipped and best paid officers within APD because of their specialized skills within the department.
A SWAT unit is trained to deploy against threats of terrorism, for crowd control, hostage taking, and in situations beyond the capabilities of ordinary law enforcement and deemed “high-risk” calls. Officers in the SWAT unit are entrusted with complex weaponry and are called upon to handle the most dangerous situations that police encounter. SWAT units typically operate under strict protocols and carry out operations in a highly planned and organized fashion. SWAT officers are usually highly trained sharp shooters. SWAT officers are spread out through department but when there is a SWAT call out, they converge as a unit. The SWAT Unit handles the most dangerous situations that pose a threat to the public.
THREE SWAT DEADLY USE OF FORCE CASES, ONE INVOVING APD CHIEF MEDINA
When it comes to the United States Department of Justice consent decree, the APD SWAT unit has a nefarious history. The April 10, 2014 Department of Justice (DOJ) civil rights investigation found an pattern of excessive force and deadly force and a culture of aggression within APD. The DOJ found that Albuquerque police officers shot and killed civilians who did not pose AN imminent threat of serious bodily harm or death to the officers or others and were more of a threat to themselves. The DOJ investigation found that there was way too much reliance on the SWAT unit and they were called by APD to step in and take control. In force incidents reviewed, the DOJ found instances in which the SWAT unit did not operate with the discipline and control that would be expected of them, and the lack of discipline contributed to unreasonable uses of deadly force.
The DOJ civil rights investigation reviewed 20 officer-involved shootings resulting in fatalities from 2009 to 2012. The DOJ concluded that a majority of those shootings were unconstitutional. Albuquerque police officers often use deadly force in circumstances where there was no imminent threat of death or serious bodily harm to officers or others. Instead, 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 also used deadly force in situations where the conduct of the officers heightened the danger and contributed to the need to use force and deadly force.
The DOJ investigation identified 3 specific deadly use of force cases involving SWAT. Those cases are:
In January 2010, an officer shot and killed Kenneth Ellis, III, a 25-year-old veteran who was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. It was then Lt. Harold Medina, now Chief Medina, who authorized the use of deadly force against Ellis when Median arrived on the scene and was ranking officer who assumed command and control . The Ellis case resulted in a $10 Million Judgment against the city for wrongful death. Officers assigned to Medina’s auto theft unit 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. The officer who shot and killed Kenneth Ellis, was not a member of the SWAT unit, but commanding officers within and over SWAT were present when Ellis was shot. The department’s reports on the shooting make it clear that 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, though our consultants would have expected them to take on these roles and establish control and lines of authority. 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.
In May 2011, an officer shot and killed Alan Gomez, who would not allow his brother and his girlfriend to leave their house. Gomez was unarmed and did not pose an immediate risk of death or serious bodily harm to the individuals in the house or officers when he was shot. The incident began in the middle of the night when the girlfriend called APD because Gomez was refusing to let her and her boyfriend leave their house. Officers arrived and surrounded the house. The officer who shot and killed Alan Gomez was assigned to the SWAT unit. When he arrived on the scene, the officer took a position near the house where Gomez was keeping his brother and his girlfriend from leaving without consulting the commanding officer and without following any kind of a plan for handling the crisis. He also did not seek or obtain the approval of the commanding officer before using deadly force. He acted on his own authority from the moment he arrived on the scene until he fired his weapon. The recklessness of the SWAT officers behavior at the scene formed the basis that his use of deadly force was unreasonable.
On March 16, 2014, homeless camper and mentally ill James Boyd was shot and killed by SWAT police officers Keith Sandy and Dominique Perez in the foothills of the Sandia Mountains after a 14 hour standoff to arrest him for illegal camping. Boyd was suffering from mental illness with a diagnosis of schizo-affective disorder. When APD attempted to arrest him, he resisted and produced two 4-inch knives one held in each hand. APD fired a tazer shotgun, discharge canines and discharged flash bang shells. APD SWAT officers Dominque Perez and Keith Sandy shot Boyd dead claiming they were fearful for the lives of officers. During a press conference on the Boyd shooting, then APD Chief Gordon Eden pronounce the shooting as justified. SWAT Officers Perez and Sandy were charged with murder and a jury could not reach a verdict. The charges were later dismissed. The city settled the wrongful death action for $5 million with the Boyd family. Although the Boyd killing was not one of the deadly use of force cases reviewed by the DOJ, the DOJ report did state the comments of the then AP Chief Gordon Eden that the killing was justified was evidence of the accepted “culture of aggression” within APD stating “the recent remarks by the police chief in response to the James Boyd shooting on March 16, 2014, demonstrate that more work is needed to change the culture of APD.”
The City of Albuquerque is what is referred to as a performance-based budget. It requires all city departments to submit statistics to support their annual budgets for city council approval. Following are the Actual SWAT Activations reported for the last 6 years:
2016 Actual SWAT activations: 44
2017 Actual Swat activations: 59
2018 Actual activations: 72
2019 Actual Activations: 63
2020 Actual Activations: 76
2021 Targeted Activations: 80
The link review the City of Albuquerque approved budgets is here:
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
APD is reverting back to its old habit of reliance on the SWAT unit. It is painfully obvious that APD’s reliance on SWAT has been on the rise for the last 6 years and has almost doubled. What is more alarming is that APD command staff are still incapable of controlling the most lethal unit it has where “hazing” is somehow occurring and it is a throwback to days gone by what SWAT had an inflated opinion of itself and acted like a fraternity.
Ever since its creation in 2014, the CPOA has struggled to exist and has been plagued with infighting and controversy within itself with many board members having their own personal agendas that conflict between civilians wanting true civilian oversight versus those who take the side of law enforcement. With the resignations of CPOA Board Chairman Eric Olivias, the resignations of CPOA board members Tara Jaramillo-Prewitt and Geonie Ralph, the resignation of CPOA Executive Director Ed Harness and the “retirement” of Superannuant of Police Reform Sylvester Stanly, it is painfully obvious that civilian police oversight of APD is in name only.
It is not at all likely that anything meaningful will come of the citizen’s complaint regarding the hazing of a rookie SWAT police officer.
A link to a related blog article is here: