Departing District Attorney To DOJ: Albuquerque Police Department Is A 'Continuing Criminal Enterprise'
from the rotting-from-the-top-down dept
District Attorney Kari Brandenburg is done with Albuquerque. More to the point, she’s decided not to seek re-election because she’s especially done with the city’s police force. On her way out the door, Brandenburg — who found herself locked out by the PD after bringing murder charges against two officers for shooting a homeless man — is letting the Department of Justice knows its work with the PD isn’t done yet.
In early 2014, the DOJ released its report on the Albuquerque Police Department. In it were descriptions of the department’s indiscriminate, unchecked uses of force.
Our investigation looked at officer-involved shootings that resulted in fatalities from 2009 to 2012 and found that a majority of them were unreasonable and violated the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. We found that officers used deadly force against people who did not pose an immediate threat of death or serious harm to officers or others, and against people who posed a threat only to themselves. In fact, sometimes it was the conduct of the officers themselves that heightened the danger and escalated the need to use force.
We found that officers use other types of less lethal force, especially electronic control weapons, or Tasers, in an unconstitutional manner. Our investigation looked beyond just the use of deadly force and found a significant number of improper uses of force in our review of over 200 force reports generated between 2009 and early 2013. We found that officers routinely fired their Tasers, which discharge 50,000 volts of electricity, against people who were passively resisting and non-threatening or who were unable to comply with orders due to their mental state. Indeed, we found that encounters between police officers and persons with mental illness or in crisis too frequently resulted in a use of force or a higher level of force than necessary.
Since that point, accusations have arisen that APD officers routinely delete and alter dashcam and body cam footage, allegedly at the behest of supervisors who don’t care for recordings that don’t sync up to the official narratives contained in incident reports. These allegations came in the form of a signed affidavit from a contractor who worked with the police department for several years.
Former DA Brandenburg makes note of these recent allegations in her angry letter [PDF] to the DOJ. But the primary focus of her letter is the toxic Albuquerque police culture, which has turned these public servants into an unaccountable mess.
Since the Settlement Agreement was reached between APD and the Department of Justice, we have seen little progress. Please refer to the independent monitor’s reports for more specific information. In his most recent report, James Ginger, noted the behind the scene reality was that APD has almost no appetite for correcting behavior that violates existing policy.” Further, it was pointed out that investigations looking into use of force by officers appears to rationalize or explain away officer conduct.” Throughout the monitoring process, APD has failed to comply and meet agreed upon standards and measures. In fact, their performance can accurately be characterized as grossly noncompliant.
This part lets the DOJ know just how useless its consent agreements are if it’s not interested in doing anything to ensure the PD lives up to the promises it made to the federal government. So far, the APD appears to be rolling forward with “business as usual” policing — virtually unchanged despite a DOJ investigation and consent decree.
On top of that, the APD appears to be in the (ongoing) business of covering up misconduct and excessive force. The letter notes that whistleblowers have come forward with allegations that police supervisors tend to hand out promotions to officers who help keep department misdeeds under wrap.
Brandenburg sums this up for the DOJ’s convenience, using terms it understands.
Frankly, if any other group of individuals were acting the way APD has allegedly been acting, some of us in law enforcement might refer to them as a continuing criminal enterprise and/or engaged in the act of racketeering. I appreciate how bold a statement that is.
Brandenburg also admits her own office’s culpability in the APD’s toxicity. Since 2010, the APD has shot more members of the public than the NYPD despite policing a population sixteen times smaller. And it’s done this largely without repercussion, thanks to a DA’s office that generally considered itself to be working for cops, rather than working for the public.
One of the major areas of concern are the number of officer involved shootings and instances of unreasonable use of force by APD. In all fairness, our office has been part of that controversy, as we declined to criminally prosecute any officer involved in an officer involved shooting until January 2015.
Of course, Brandenburg now knows from firsthand experience why cops tend to go uncharged in incidents like these. No one wants to bite the hand that feeds it prosecutions, especially not when the bitten entity can bite back just as hard. If the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division is truly serious about fixing American policing, it will need to take a trip back to Albuquerque and start throwing its federal weight around.