Board plans to ask FBI, U.S. Department of Justice and New Mexico State Police to open criminal investigations
Chief, Deputy May be Asked to Resign
The head of the city’s Police Oversight Board says the agency could 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 probes into those allegations, made in November by APD’s former records custodian, Reynaldo Chavez. In an affidavit, Chavez said 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 altered0.
Oversight Board Requests Investigation
On Nov. 30, the civilian oversight board 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. The board’s 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 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.”
What’s clear is that the oversight board doesn’t trust APD or City Attorney Jessica Hernandez to do the investigations in-house 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,” board member David Ring III said. “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 in evidence.com, a cloud platform to which lapel videos are uploaded.
Finding Outside Help
City Attorney Hernandez said recently her office was looking to hire an outside firm to investigate Chavez’s allegations. Mohr questioned whether a firm hired by the city could truly be 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.”
“There is only so much independence that can occur when the city attorney is defending the police department and also hiring the investigator,” she said.
The oversight board voted to recommend to the city that a staffer from the board’s investigatory arm, the Civilian Police Oversight Agency, which probes 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 board is charged with recommending discipline for police officers in complaints filed against them by members of the public. It also reviews all police officer-involved shootings. The shooting cases require board 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.