‘Constitutional crisis’ could dominate criminal justice debate

Republicans and Democrats will debate what criminal justice reform means during the 60-day legislative session. But a much more serious problem needs their attention, New Mexico Chief Justice Charles Daniels told the Legislature on Thursday.
“I wish I could tell you that New Mexico is providing the functioning justice system promised in the constitution that created the ground rules of our government, but I can’t,” Daniels said.
A justice system requires enough money to make it function.

DAs seek statewide policy on police shootings

District attorneys from around New Mexico are working on a statewide policy for investigating and prosecuting shootings by law enforcement, Andrew Oxford reports in today’s Santa Fe New Mexican. It’s the second action taken by public officials since the Santa Fe New Mexican and New Mexico In Depth published a story that examined the challenges inherent in investigating and prosecuting fatal law enforcement shootings. Last week Attorney General Hector Balderas announced he had created a committee to audit how each law enforcement agency around the state reviews the use of deadly force by its officers. On Monday Balderas announced he was collaborating “with the New Mexico District Attorney’s Association on its effort to standardize what is currently a patchwork of often-unwritten protocols across 13 judicial districts when it comes to police shootings,” Oxford reports. Oxford writes that police in New Mexico have fatally shot 41 people since January 2015, more people per capita than in any other state, according to The New Mexican’s analysis of data maintained by The Washington Post.

Feds confirm investigation of APD body cam allegations

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.

Relationships make prosecuting police difficult

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.

Officers’ language strips emotion from shootings

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.

UPDATE: Albuquerque will order outside review of APD video allegations

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.

DA: Allegations warrant federal investigation

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.”

The allegations

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.

Bail amendment passes convincingly

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.

Poll shows broad support for bail reform

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.