Videos captured on Albuquerque police detectives’ body cameras during a June 28 police action in which they arrested two people at a legal, state-operated syringe exchange show the stark realities of how city officers enforce drug laws.
At least eight officers followed a couple around the West Side that day, planning to arrest them on warrants for drug offenses and a probation violation. The detectives tracked 37-year-old Greg Chaparro and Camille Gabaldon, 38, to 60th and Central SW where the staff at the mobile syringe exchange — a white, unmarked van — were working with clients. Then officers dropped the net.
New Mexico In Depth published a story about the incident last month based on police reports, interviews with the executive director of Albuquerque Health Care for the Homeless, the nonprofit organization that runs the exchange for the New Mexico Department of Health, and brief emailed responses from an APD spokeswoman.
The incident involves the department’s narcotics’ unit, which weeks before had endured intense criticism for targeting homeless people in “reverse drug sting” operations.
Video footage shows a chaotic scene at the syringe exchange, with several officers in street clothes and balaclavas to cover their faces rushing the van with assault-style rifles while others shout commands at people standing on the sidewalk nearby.
The videos cast doubt on APD’s key claim: the detectives did not know the van was a syringe exchange prior to storming it. The detectives ask the Health Care for the Homeless staffers who they work for, but at no point do any of the officers ask about what is going on inside the van. One of the officers seems to have known without being told what Gabaldon was doing inside — exchanging syringes. That same officer enters the van and appears unsurprised by what he finds.
And the footage clearly contradicts the department’s assertion that detectives “did not interact with the staff nor the patrons” at the exchange. (APD did not respond to requests for comment on the contradictions.)
APD provided nine video clips totaling more than an hour in length from what appear to be five different officers’ cameras. The city released the videos after NMID requested them under the New Mexico Inspection of Public Records Act. The department waited 19 days to turn over the videos, four days past the 15-day deadline set out in the law.
The city blurred portions of some of the videos, presumably to obscure the faces of officers who were not wearing balaclavas. The city did not, however, blur the faces of other exchange clients. And audio from the video clips includes the personal information of a teenage girl who had been in the car with Gabaldon and Chaparro, and of the Health Care for the Homeless employees.
NMID has selected for publication five portions of the videos APD provided. The clips below do not reveal the identities of exchange clients or the personal information of anyone who was at the scene that day.
Here, an officer exits his vehicle as other detectives surround the syringe exchange van with their rifles drawn. APD removes a female Health Care for the Homeless staffer from the van and asks her a series of questions about Gabaldon:
This piece of video was shot inside the exchange van as an APD officer questions two Health Care for the Homeless staffers:
The next two clips show officers holding Chaparro and two other men on the ground at gunpoint. One of the men tells officers he has been shot by the police before:
This is a different angle that shows officers order Chaparro and two other men to the ground:
The videos also show the familiarity between police and those they pursue in the enforcement of drug laws. Officers joke with Chaparro and Gabaldon after they are in handcuffs. Officers give them water to drink and talk about previous encounters in which the officers, working undercover, purchased heroin from Gabaldon.
Some of the detectives make conversation with other clients of the exchange — people who are availing themselves of a legal public health service and are not suspected of any crimes. Officers ask whether some of the people have any warrants out for their arrests, then laugh with those people about the inquiry. A detective jokingly asks if one client would be willing to be arrested so the detective can boost his stats.