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.
In a prepared statement issued Tuesday afternoon, Hernandez said the independent investigation would focus on whether “original video evidence” had been properly maintained and made available to prosecuting agencies such as the District Attorney’s Office and the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
She did not provide a timeline for hiring an outside investigator, or for the probe’s estimated completion.
“We will cooperate with the independent investigator to complete a thorough investigation as promptly as possible,” Hernandez said in her statement.
The Albuquerque Police Department’s former records supervisor, Reynaldo Chavez, has alleged in a sworn affidavit that APD employees had altered and, in some cases, deleted videos that showed the events surrounding at least two controversial police shootings.
Hernandez’s statement did not say whether city employees continue to review materials related to Chavez’s claims.
Meanwhile, the citizen Police Oversight Board (POB) has scheduled a special meeting next Wednesday to discuss Chavez’s allegations and how potentially altered video could impact the board’s work.
“Clearly these claims, if true, would have tremendous, negative consequences for our oversight of the department,” board member Joanne Fine said Tuesday. “So, as a board, we want to have a discussion about next steps we can take to get to the bottom of this.”
The POB and its investigative arm, the Civilian Police Oversight Agency (CPOA), were created as part of a settlement agreement between the city and the U.S. Department of Justice to resolve longstanding issues of excessive force by city officers and a leadership culture that let them fester.
Under the settlement, the board and the CPOA are responsible for investigating all citizen complaints against officers and police shootings, then recommending discipline for officers to the police chief. The board also weighs in on APD policies.
Fine said the board might consider sending a letter to the U.S. Attorney’s Office asking for federal officials to investigate Chavez’s claims.
If it does, the POB would join an expanding group of officials calling for a federal probe of video tampering allegations that already includes District Attorney Kari Brandenburg.
The POB’s special meeting will be at 5 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 30, at the Plaza Del Sol building, 600 Second St. NW.