First Mention of Possible Call for APD Chief, Deputy Chief to Resign
Board Chair: ‘We don’t have any idea what the truth is’
‘If it turns out that there is indeed wrongdoing, either criminal or administrative, we would probably be meeting again and asking those people to voluntarily step down’ – civilian oversight board chair Beth Mohr
The head of Police Oversight Board says the agency might soon be asking Albuquerque Police Chief Gorden Eden and Deputy Chief Robert Huntsman to resign over allegations that police officers altered or deleted lapel camera videos.
Whether that happens depends on the outcome of investigations into those allegations made in November by APD’s former records custodian Reynaldo Chavez.
In a nine-page affidavit, Chavez said that officers were told not to write police reports until their lapel camera videos had been reviewed. He alleged that videos in two officer-involved shootings had been altered.
Probe by FBI or N.M. State Police Sought
On Nov. 30, the POB voted to ask the FBI, the U.S. Department of Justice and/or the New Mexico State Police to open criminal investigations into the allegations of video tampering by APD.
POB Chair Beth Mohr was blunt about the potential consequences of those investigations.
“We don’t have any idea what the truth is,” Mohr said during a special POB meeting called to discuss Chavez’s allegations. “In the meantime, we have a chief and a deputy chief, who, the way I read it, stand accused of wrongdoing. So I’m not sure what to do about that. I’m not even precisely sure what to recommend about that.
“If it turns out that there is indeed wrongdoing, either criminal or administrative, we would probably be meeting again and asking those people to voluntarily step down. We’re not there yet, I don’t think.”
Zero confidence in APD, City Hall
What was clear at the meeting was that the POB doesn’t trust APD or City Attorney Jessica Hernandez to do the investigations or to hire a private firm to do them.
“It appears that the veracity of APD is in question here, and obviously APD cannot investigate itself,” POB member David Ring III said during the meeting. “I’m wondering if there is any entity in the state that we can trust to do this?”
Mohr said investigators would need expertise in computer forensics, Taser lapel camera video systems and evidence.com, a cloud platform to which lapel videos are uploaded.
City Attorney Hernandez said recently that her office was looking to hire an outside firm to investigate Chavez’s allegations. But Mohr questioned whether a firm hired by the city could be truly independent.
“Somebody is going to need to be independent from the police department and the city and the city attorney,” Mohr said. “Anybody who is hired by the city attorney is going to have some allegiance to the city attorney, and depending on that person and their expertise and their relationship, they could be extremely independent or they could not be particularly independent if they are hired by the city attorney.
“There is only so much independence that can occur when the city attorney is defending the police department and also hiring the investigator.”
Allegations Cast on All APD Cases before Civilian Board
The POB also voted to recommend to the city that a staffer from the Civilian Police Oversight Agency, which investigates citizen complaints against police officers and officer involved shootings, be involved in selecting any person or firm the city hires to investigate Chavez’s allegations.
The POB is charged with recommending discipline for police officers in complains filed against them by members of the public. It also reviews all police officer involved shootings. The shooting cases require POB members to review lapel cam video. Ring questioned whether the board could trust any of the videos its members have already viewed.
“Is it just limited to one case, or are we looking at everything we have?” Ring asked CPOA Executive Director Ed Harness.
“It does cause question about the veracity of any of the videos that are being reviewed,” Harness replied. “It brings into question everything that is viewed by this body.”
“I was afraid of that,” Ring replied.
Dennis Domrzalski is an associate editor of ABQ Free Press Weekly. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org