Federal officials on Thursday said they are conducting a criminal investigation of allegations that Albuquerque Police Department employees altered and deleted body camera video.
The Department of Justice has received “several requests” seeking a criminal probe, Elizabeth Martinez, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Albuquerque, said in an emailed response to questions from New Mexico In Depth.
Detective Geoff Stone shifted in his chair behind the witness stand and glanced at the defendants’ table where two former Albuquerque Police Department officers sat. Stone knew the men well. He attended the police academy around the same time as one of the men, Keith Sandy, and worked the same late-night shift on the city’s northeast side with the other, Dominique Perez. But with his two former colleagues on trial for murder after gunning down a mentally ill homeless man in March 2014 during an hours-long standoff in the Sandia foothills, special prosecutor Randi McGinn wanted to know whether Stone’s relationship with the officers was a problem when it fell on him to investigate them. “No,” Stone told her after a moment.
In the world of police officers and the instructors who train them, guns are not guns; instead, they are “systems” or “platforms.”
Likewise, weapons that fire 50,000 volts of electricity or high-velocity beanbag ammunition at people are “tools” that officers “utilize.”
And what does an officer see through two rifle scopes when he has focused them on someone, pulled the trigger and successfully hit his target? “They’ll fire until that problem disappears from the sight picture,” says Ronald McCarthy, the 78-year-old police practices expert who was once a member of America’s first SWAT team in Los Angeles, formed in response to Civil Rights-era protests in the 1960s. McCarthy’s comment, like those of several other officers, supervisors and instructors, came during testimony in the recently concluded murder trial for former Albuquerque police officers Keith Sandy and Dominique Perez in the 2014 shooting of homeless camper James Boyd. This story was a jointly reported by Justin Horwath of the Santa Fe New Mexican and Jeff Proctor of New Mexico In Depth. Related: Relationships make prosecuting police difficultThe stilted, mechanical language is typical of jargon used by police officers across the country in reports and testimony.
Mayor Richard Berry’s administration says it will bring in an independent investigator to review allegations that city police employees tampered with videos from police shooting cases. The announcement Tuesday afternoon comes less than 24 hours after City Attorney Jessica Hernandez told city councilors that her staff and APD already were investigating the claims and that an outside review would not be necessary. Councilor Pat Davis said at Monday night’s Council meeting — and again in a letter to Hernandez sent Tuesday morning — that he wanted the probe handed off to someone outside city government. Davis wrote that “establishing public trust in the outcome of this investigation is critical” especially given the serious implications of the cases. “And that must be accomplished without delay,” according to the letter.
Kari Brandenburg, the outgoing Bernalillo County district attorney, said Monday a federal “criminal investigation is absolutely warranted” into allegations that Albuquerque Police Department employees have tampered with videos that show police shootings. Brandenburg said Monday in a telephone interview she is sending documentation detailing the allegations to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Albuquerque. A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s office would not say Monday whether the agency planned to open an inquiry based on the district attorney’s referral. But spokeswoman Elizabeth Martinez wrote in an email “the Justice Department takes seriously all referrals from state and local prosecutorial authorities.”
Reynaldo Chavez, the police department’s former records supervisor, swore out an affidavit as part of an ongoing civil right rights lawsuit against APD in which he alleged that department employees had altered or deleted videos showing the events surrounding two controversial shootings by officers in 2014. According to Chavez’s affidavit, which he swore under penalty of perjury, APD employees used Evidence.com, a cloud-based storage system, to alter the videos.
Albuquerque Police Department officials have altered and, in some cases, deleted videos that showed several controversial incidents, including at least two police shootings, the department’s former records supervisor has alleged in a sworn affidavit.
New Mexicans on Tuesday overwhelmingly voted to limit the role of money in judges’ decisions about which defendants stay locked up and which go free before trial. According to unofficial election results from the New Mexico Secretary of State’s website, roughly 87 percent, or 610,000 of 699,000 New Mexicans supported a change to the state constitution aimed at reforming the use of commercial bail.
A public opinion poll shows 78 percent of likely New Mexico voters favor changing the state constitution to limit the use of commercial bail in deciding which defendants stay in jail before trial and which go free. A constitutional amendment on the ballot for next week’s election would allow judges to deny bail to people who are proven dangerous at a hearing. It also would forbid judges from holding non-dangerous defendants in jail pretrial solely because they cannot raise bail money. Early voting began Oct. 11.
Tom Chudzinski rode out of Albuquerque on a Greyhound bus before the sun rose one morning last month, his only remaining possessions tucked into a backpack, a small duffel bag and a cardboard box, which held his disassembled bicycle. The retired architect had pulled into Albuquerque five months earlier in a motorhome crowded with the keepsakes from his 62 years of life: power tools, drafting instruments, personal records and clothing. He was living in the home while traveling the western U.S.
The unraveling began on June 3, when Bernalillo County sheriff’s deputies knocked on the door of his motorhome and, smelling alcohol on his breath, arrested him on suspicion of drunken driving. Although they hadn’t seen him driving, they believed he had crashed his RV into a parked vehicle at a truck stop that sits on a dusty patch of mesa on the city’s far west side. This story was produced in collaboration with Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting, a nonprofit news organization based in the San Francisco Bay Area.
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.