Board wants APD Chief Gorden Eden to go after their badges
Civilian Oversight Board Wants Practice Stopped
Because they weren’t fired, APD’s bad cops can work somewhere else
BY DENNIS DOMRZALSKI
The way Beth Mohr sees it, the Albuquerque Police Department is acting like the Catholic Church when it transferred pedophile priests from parish to parish without warning parishioners that child molesters were in their midst.
Mohr, who is chair of the city’s Civilian Police Oversight Board, is angry that APD lets some officers accused of major improprieties retire or quit instead of firing them. In some of those cases, APD hasn’t filed to revoke those officers’ laws enforcement licenses.
If a bad cop is fired but keeps his certification, there’s a good chance he can get hired at other police departments in New Mexico or across the country.
“To have that person have their credentials not even discussed in a meaningful way is a shame and sort of akin to the church sending these priests who molest a kid, and they just send them into the next church, and they don’t tell anybody,” Mohr said during July 14 meeting of the oversight board. “We don’t want to be in a position of doing that with officers that are bad police officers.”
Mohr isn’t alone. CPOB board member Joanne Fine disagrees with APD’s practice of letting bad cops retire and not going after their licenses.
The debate was sparked by the case of APD officer Frank Tillman, who was found to have sent, while on duty, hundreds of texts, some of them sexual in nature, to a 24-year-old woman he met while responding to a domestic violence call. During one of his eight-hour shifts, Tillman spent three hours texting the woman.
Not the first time
And it wasn’t the first time that Tillman had been in trouble for sending inappropriate texts. In 2012, he texted a pregnant 17-year-old girl whom he had pulled over for a traffic stop.
The CPOB, and its investigative arm, the Civilian Police Oversight Agency, recommended that Tillman be fired. APD agreed with that finding, but then let Tillman resign.
APD spokeswoman Celina Espinoza said the department has no control over when officers choose to resign. Officers are entitled to a predisciplinary hearing, she said, and the department can’t violate an officer’s due process rights. Espinoza said the department is in the process of filing a decertification case against Tillman.
APD’s handling of the Tillman case outraged Fine, who said it was similar to the case of former APD Lt. Greg Brachle, who shot one of his own officers eight times during an undercover drug bust in early 2015. The Civilian Police Oversight Agency recommended that Brachle be fired, but APD let him retire instead. APD Chief Gorden Eden didn’t file with the New Mexico Law Enforcement Academy to revoke Brachle’s license.
“That’ not OK with me,” Fine said during the July 14 meeting. “This guy [Tillman] was caught doing this with a teenager, nothing happened then. And now he does it again to another woman, and he gets to resign. So this resignation, there are no bad marks on his record. How is anybody in law enforcement OK with that? How is anyone in the community OK with that? This is wrong on every level.”
Fine told ABQ Free Press that the conversation at the CPOB meeting was a “precursor to examining what kind of impact we can have on this” and whether bad cops “are able to go and be police officers somewhere else.”
“There was a consensus on being aggravated by the fact that we had really despicable behavior, and there has been no action to prevent them from being a police officer somewhere else,” Fine said.
This past October, ABQ Free Press detailed how the process of decertifying police officers in New Mexico is inconsistent, illogical and rife with the potential for abuse that isn’t tolerated in other states.
While police chiefs are required to report to the New Mexico Law Enforcement Academy – the licensing agency for cops in New Mexico – conduct by their officers that could lead to decertification, there is no enforcement mechanism.
There are no penalties for failing to file and no incentives to do so. As a result, cops who have committed seemingly minor infractions of department policy can face decertification proceedings while officers with much more egregious offenses aren’t brought before the licensing board.
Both Fine and attorney Tom Grover, a former Albuquerque police officer, said they think APD had refused to go after the licenses of some officers because it fears doing so could lead to civil liability.
“It is painfully clear that the City of Albuquerque employs a very arbitrary and discriminatory process by which some officers are referred to the academy while others are not,” Grover said. “The city construes reporting officers’ misconduct as a form of admitting that there has been misconduct, and, in their analysis, that is probably detrimental to protecting the city from exposure to civil liability.”
If the city is indeed doing that, it is an “affront to the professionalism of law enforcement,” Grover said, adding that it means that cops who do really bad things won’t face a license revocation proceeding form the city, while those who commit relatively minor things face decertification.
“It undermines the entire system of integrity of law enforcement officers because of the split message it sends,” Grover said.
Fine agreed. “My only supposition is that they [the city] don’t want to get sued, and that is so wrong on so many levels,” she said. “And that is what is making me so angry; they are not supporting the officers that do it right.
“Avoiding a lawsuit is not the way to manage this problem. It is not the way to build credibility in the community. If you want to have a good relationship with the community here, you had better start doing the right thing for the right reason every time.”
Dennis Domrzalski is an associate editor at ABQ Free Press. Reach him at email@example.com.
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