Albuquerque Police Officers, Supervisors Accused Of Deleting, Altering Video Of Use Of Force Incidents

from the we-control-the-vertical dept

The most famous recording of Albuquerque police in action shows them shooting and killing a homeless man — a shooting that began as a normal rousting for the crime of “illegal camping.” From there, the police turned it into a “standoff” with a cooperative person unsure of which direction to move next out of the very justifiable fear of being shot.

This was just another in a long line of killings by APD officers, not many of which were captured on video. The DOJ issued a report stating that a “majority” of shootings by the city’s police officers were “unreasonable and violated the Fourth Amendment.”

The police department does have a variety of cameras in its possession, which should have generated a wealth of footage for examination by public records requesters, attorneys, and police supervisors — just in case they wanted to get a handle on the PD’s problematic deadly force usage. The Albuquerque Police Department has shot more citizens than the NYPD since 2010, despite policing a city sixteen times smaller.

The footage of use of force incidents is the PD’s best-kept secret. A lawyer representing a family suing the city over the killing of Armand Martin by APD officers was given a copy of footage captured by the police. He was given password-protected files but not the password, despite repeated requests. In addition to representing the widow of Armand Martin, the law firm is now also engaged in an open records lawsuit against the city.

Apparently, the Albuquerque police department doesn’t feel the city’s doing enough to shield them from accountability. Sure, forcing records requesters to file lawsuits just to see public records is a good deterrent, but the only sure way to prevent incriminating recordings from ending up in the public’s hands is to make sure said footage doesn’t exist.

This goes far beyond simply tampering with devices or “forgetting” to activate them in crucial situations. According to an affidavit filed by a former police department employee, Albuquerque officers are tampering with the recordings that actually make their way back to the PD’s cloud storage.

Three officers’ body camera videos that captured events surrounding the fatal shooting of 19-year-old suspected car thief Mary Hawkes in April 2014 were either altered or partially deleted, according to former police department employee Reynaldo Chavez’s nine-page affidavit.

[…]

Another allegation is that surveillance camera video from a salon showing Albuquerque police officers shooting Jeremy Robertson in June 2014 bore “the tell-tale signs that it has been altered and images that had been captured are now deleted. One of the deleted images captured the officers shooting Jeremy Robertson.” Robertson was a police informant and suspected probation violator.

The allegations contained in the affidavit [PDF] show APD officers aren’t interested in the accountability that recordings could theoretically create. The former employee stated he had heard a police supervisor discussing making a camera’s SD card “disappear.” Supervisors also urged officers not to write reports until after viewing captured footage, and if the footage contained “problematic” uses of force, officers were told not to mention the recordings in the report or simply claim the equipment had malfunctioned.

No one from the department wants to go on record about these allegations. The only thing that has been confirmed is that anyone with admin privileges can alter or delete footage using the Evidence.com portal for its cloud storage services. Officers may have had little trouble erasing problematic footage or altering it into uselessness, but it’s unlikely they’ve taken care to scrub Evidence.com activity logs. These are a key part of Chavez’s claims and, unlike the recordings discussed here, they’re likely still intact.

Chavez’s affidavit also claims he was directed to stonewall requests and that city officials were more than happy to blow tax dollars on settlements, rather than turn over requested documents and footage.

In response to IPRA requests related to the deaths of James Matthew Boyd, Jeremy Robertson, and Mary Hawkes, Deputy City Attorney Kathy Levy, and/or a Deputy Chief, told me to deny, withhold, obstruct, conceal, or even destroy records from matters being produced in contravention of IPRA by:

A. telling me that records would not be released without any explanation other than “this won’t be released” or words to that effect. Deputy City Attorney Kathy Levy frequently stated simply, “there are items we just will not release and we will just pay the fines or lawsuits.”

B. Deputy City Attomey Levy told me to creatively identify an allowable exception to IPRA to withhold production of responsive public records in an effort to “baffle” or frustrate the requestor or otherwise burden them.

C. I was told to arbitrarily delay production of responsive public records without justification supporting such delay and to fabricate reasons to burden requestors with additional requirements when such requirements were not needed…

As we’ve seen far too often elsewhere, government entities believe transparency and accountability are forms of damage and actively search for ways to route around these obligations to the public. And given the allegations here, it appears the APD has no interest in cleaning itself up, not even with the DOJ looking over its shoulder.

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Comments on “Albuquerque Police Officers, Supervisors Accused Of Deleting, Altering Video Of Use Of Force Incidents”

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33 Comments
That One Guy (profile) says:

Can't imagine why...

As we’ve seen far too often elsewhere, government entities believe transparency and accountability are forms of damage and actively search for ways to route around these obligations to the public. And given the allegations here, it appears the APD has no interest in cleaning itself up, not even with the DOJ looking over its shoulder.

Probably becase the DOJ is content to only ‘look over it’s shoulder’, and has no interest in doing anything about their actions.

When you know that your ‘boss’ has no interest in holding you accountable, the city has no interest in holding you accountable, you can stonewall and lie to the public all you want to hide your actions, and you happen to be staffed with murderous thugs who thoroughly enjoy unlimited power up to and including the ability to kill on a whim… yeah, not much incentive to shape up and do anything different.

Anonymous Coward says:

APD setting themselves up for local assassination

As a foreign national, it appears that the APD is setting itself for retaliatory assassinations of APD members to be undertaken by the local citizenry. This is usually considered a bad idea by rational folks. But, then again, I don’t suppose that anyone in the APD could be classified as rational only sentient like mosquitoes and flies.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: APD setting themselves up for local assassination

While that is a terrible/grim idea for the amount of bloodshed it will bring to both the citizenry and the police as they lash out in revenge. We seem to be headed that way, Too often we get glimpses on how systematically corrupt law enforcement is getting with too much a priority given to covering abuse and avoiding accountability rather than enacting reform and fixing issues.

Sadly we are reaching a point where its not only the targeted minorities that keep getting shot by the police that have come to see the police as just another dangerous criminal gang to fear and avoid but the citizenry in general.

At what point it becomes safer (in the minds of the citizens) to shoot any police officer that interacts with them out of fear for their safety? (Just like the police loves to claim when they inexplicably kill un-armed/compliant suspects) At the pace we are going we might be finding out sooner than later.

Aaron Walkhouse (profile) says:

Cameras should be under court control at all times.

An officer of the local courts should lock them on and hand
them out to each officer on his way out of the locker room,
then copy them to the cloud and lock both camera and data up
at the end of every shift.

Court officers should maintain control of all recordings at
all times, right through court cases, and be the only ones
deciding what to release to police or the public, under clear
policies that prosecutors and police unions cannot manipulate.

With all that taken out of their hands, police can concentrate
on their jobs and stop worrying about bad cops ruining them.

Quiet Lurcker says:

Re: Cameras should be under court control at all times.

Re-read the quoted portions of the deposition. The author states that it was an attorney who instructed him to hide or otherwise make it difficult for people to get their hands on the recordings and information.

if an attorney – an officer of the court – was involved, that means that likely the courts as a system are in it up to their respective eyeballs.

What we need in this instance are three things:
–civilian oversight of the equipment and recordings;
–in any instance where the city doesn’t IMMEDIATELY cough up responsive materials when requested, the courts MUST presume the accused in the associated case to be innocent; –and IMMEDIATE firing of anyone who tampers with the equipment/records, refuses to divulge the recordings/records promptly when asked, or encourages or supports either of those things, including by not immediately firing the offender. And while we’re at it, let’s include a lifetime ban on working in law enforcement for people who are fired under these provisions.

andrew_duane (profile) says:

Maybe I'm just confused

but why would an archival storage system for something that can by definition be considered evidence in legal cases allow people to log in and erase or alter that evidence?

Even with an audit trail (which is implied), this just seems like madness. Every frame of footage uploaded should be 100% protected. During any trial that happens, the two sides are of course allowed to pick and choose exactly the frames they want to present to support their case…..

Wendy Cockcroft (profile) says:

Re: Re: Maybe I'm just confused

Eh, not quite. You’ve got predatory cops who believe they are above the law and a system more interested in protecting its image than in sorting itself out.

We see this privilege-v-prey story acted out in a number of scenarios, not all of which are as deadly.

This is the problem with being over-privileged; you lose your ability to empathise with the “other” people, you consider yourself above them, you’re indifferent to their suffering, you consider them a nuisance, after which it’s only a matter of time till you see killing them (or letting them die) as pest control.

This is why I rage at partisanship every time I see it; I can see the same pattern emerging in partisan thinking.

Ninja (profile) says:

So the evidence against the police was deleted or tampered with? All the involved are automatically considered guilty. See how fast things will change and cameras will work. Sure it’s a bit overboard but in any case law enforcement should be held to much higher standards because they have a ton of power over the citizenry. If you don’t keep them in a tight grip they WILL abuse that power.

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