U.S. Attorney Damon Martinez said the DOJ never told APD it couldn't ask other departments for help in developing policies, and that it repeatedly encouraged it to do so.
Major APD Contradiction on Policy Writing
BY DENNIS DOMRZALSKI
Was it an honest misunderstanding, incompetence, or something more sinister, like an attempt to obstruct and delay the reform process at the Albuquerque Police Department?
On March 18, Albuquerque City Attorney Jessica Hernandez stunned city councilors when she tried to explain away the APD’s ineptitude at writing policy by saying that APD officials thought they were forbidden by the U.S. Department of Justice from asking other police departments for help in writing policies, or from using model polices that are available on the Internet.
Assistant Police Chief Robert Huntsman, APD’s second in command, echoed those comments. “It was our understanding we were not allowed to, or should not, use model policies,” Huntsman told councilors that day.
But 19 months earlier, on June 11, 2014, APD Chief Gorden Eden told a group of Albuquerque business people that he was looking to other police departments for help in writing policy, especially a use-of-force policy.
“That’s one of the things we are working on right now, is working with what other departments have right now as far as use-of-force policy,” Eden said during a talk to the Economic Forum of Albuquerque at the Hotel Albuquerque in Old Town. “We are also now looking at what is now the standard, acceptable practices that have been implemented in those cities where DOJ has had findings of excessive use of force to find out what courts and the monitor have defined as what is use of force.”
Eden continued: “So, that is something that is going to be a work in progress, and I hope everybody understands that work in progress is not something that will happen very quickly . . . We have to move slowly, making sure we follow the guidelines that are going to be set forth by the United States District Court for New Mexico, the Department of Justice, and make sure we conform to those best practices and laws that already exist.
“I have a three-inch notebook, two of them, that say, ‘Use-of-force policy,’ or ‘Use-of-force policies from all over the United States.’ So, when someone asks me a specific question about what’s a use-of-force policy in Seattle, I have it readily available. Because, right now, departments across the United States are trying to define the uses of force, what is the best practice when it comes to the use of force.”
Eden’s comments to the business people came about five months before the city signed a settlement decree with the DOJ to reform APD’s culture of aggression and get the department back to constitutional policing.
It’s not clear when APD officials came to believe that they could not copy successful policies from other police departments or use model policies developed by nonprofits. APD spokeswoman Celina Espinoza did not immediately answer questions ABQ Free Press emailed her about the situation.
DOJ Ain’t Buying It
But the DOJ isn’t buying APD’s story line. In a March 25 letter to Mayor Richard Berry and City Council President Dan Lewis, U.S. Attorney Damon Martinez said the DOJ never told APD it couldn’t ask other departments for help in developing policies, and that it repeatedly encouraged it to do so.
“The impression is incorrect, and we are perplexed about how this belief came to be,” Martinez’s letter said. “Since the inception of our negotiations on the CASA [Court-Approved Settlement Agreement], DOJ has consistently encouraged APD to evaluate other departments’ policies and draw from best practices in order to meet the shared objectives that became embodied in the CASA.”
Martinez’s letter also addressed Huntsman’s March 18th remarks to councilors. “DOJ has not prohibited or discouraged APD from using model policies,” the letter said. “To the contrary, we have encouraged the City to examine model policies and policies from other departments in developing its own policies and practices,” the letter said.
“Throughout the five-month negotiation process, both DOJ and the City repeatedly invoked best practices from model policies and policies from other departments in staking out their positions on various provisions of the CASA.”
Martinez’s letter went on to say that APD relied on the Las Vegas, Nevada, police department’s use-of-force policy in developing its own policy that was approved on Jan. 21 by the independent monitor, James Ginger.
Misleading the DOJ?
Former Albuquerque City Councilor Pete Dinelli has this interpretation of Martinez’s letter: “To me, he [Martinez] is basically saying someone is lying. They [APD] were intentionally misleading the DOJ,” Dinelli said.
He referenced Ginger’s March 3 report to the federal court judge who is overseeing the reform process. During his report, Ginger told Judge Robert Brack that APD was engaging in a policy of “do little, delay and deflect,” when it came to complying with the settlement agreement.
Dinelli blamed that policy on Huntsman, who headed APD’s SWAT team at one time. He retired from the department in 2012. In its 2014 report on APD’s abuses, the DOJ laid much of the blame for those abuses on the SWAT team.
Huntsman was brought out of retirement by Eden in April 2014, and he helped lead the department’s negotiations with the DOJ. Huntsman was assistant chief when Eden gave his June 11, 2014, talk to the Economic Forum.
“Huntsman is being asked to either rewrite or review the very policies he had a hand in drafting in the first place and that got us into this mess,” Dinelli said. “Ginger said the department was delaying, doing little and deflecting. Is Huntsman part of that? They need to ask Huntsman, ‘Who told you that you could not look at these other policies, or did you just make it up?’”
(Freelance journalist Charles Arasim shot the June 11, 2014 video of Chief Eden at the Economic Forum of Albuquerque meeting; featured photo credit: bizjournals.com)
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