'I’ve told you just very recently the hand-holding is done' - U.S. District Judge Robert Brack
Recriminations, Fingerpointing Mark APD-DOJ Relations During Reform
‘There has been no meaningful effort by the city to work with the parties and the monitor to identify points of agreement and disagreement’ – DOJ attorney
BY DENNIS DOMRZALSKI
More than two years into the effort to reform the Albuquerque Police Department, relations between the U.S. Department of Justice and the city are nearing meltdown.
Documents and telephone conference transcripts show the two sides remain bitterly divided over the role and expectations of the independent monitor in the case. The divisions have led to heated and sometimes emotional exchanges between lawyers for the city and the DOJ.
Now, the DOJ is accusing the city of doing almost nothing to resolve the issues, and the city is asking that a federal court magistrate judge be brought in to mediate the dispute.
A more drastic step would be for the U.S. District judge overseeing the case to take over operation and reform of the police department himself.
“There has been no meaningful effort by the city to work with the parties and the monitor to identify points of agreement and disagreement,” DOJ attorney Luis Saucedo told U.S. District Court Judge Robert Brack during a Jan. 5 status conference.
“Your Honor, our conversations have not been easy. They have involved feelings of frustration and confusion,” Saucedo told Brack. “We spent much time discussing conversations that have taken place in the past, rehashing old controversies and pointing fingers for delays and problems.”
Saucedo went on to say that the city has unfairly attacked the independent monitor in the case, James Ginger, whose public reports have unrelentingly ripped APD for having a “culture of low accountability” and for having little appetite for reform.
“The parties have a responsibility and a duty to the Court to assist and support the monitor in carrying out his duties under the CASA [Court approved settlement agreement],” Saucedo added. “This, we believe, does not include attacking the monitor or blaming implementation problems at APD on the monitor.”
During the conference call to assess progress on achieving the terms of the 2014 settlement of the DOJ’s lawsuit over civil rights violations by APD, City Attorney Jessica Hernandez denied that the city was attacking Ginger but said “the city does have concerns about the roles, responsibilities and expectations between the parties and the monitoring team.”
Hernandez went on, “There are also a number of communication issues that have become impediments to both trying to resolve those issues and also to the reform process, itself.”
Hernandez also told Brack that the city has had concerns about Ginger’s responsibilities since at least the spring of 2016 and that the city reached out to the DOJ and the monitoring team but did not receive responses.
“And so we, the city, reached out again in December and – or maybe even late November and brought those issues up again and said, we need to address these, we need to resolve these, they can no longer go unaddressed, the process is suffering,” Hernandez said.
Neither Saucedo nor Hernandez detailed exactly what their differences are regarding Ginger’s responsibilities. ABQ Free Press Weekly left phone messages with Saucedo and Hernandez seeking clarification. They did not immediately respond.
Hernandez said the city wants its complaints about Ginger’s responsibilities taken to U.S. Magistrate Stephan Vidmar for a type of mediation. Magistrates frequently mediate disputes in lawsuits before federal judges.
Saucedo and Ginger said they preferred any decision on the disagreements to be made by Brack himself. Ginger told Brack that the process he has been using to deal with the city and APD is pretty much the same one he used while successfully overseeing police reform efforts in Pittsburgh and New Jersey.
“This has gone on longer than any project that I’ve had experience with at this level,” Ginger said.
Judge fed up
At one point during the conference Hernandez made what some might consider a threat against Ginger.
“We do not want to publicly criticize the monitor if we don’t have to,” Hernandez said. “That’s the reason we thought that working first among the parties and then maybe with Judge Vidmar would be preferable because we are not trying to publicly criticize or embarrass the monitor in any way.”
Brack told the lawyers he was disturbed by the disagreements about Ginger’s role and that he wasn’t going to let a threat of public embarrassment send the issue to a magistrate judge for resolution.
“And I am as concerned today as I’ve ever been at any point in the process,” Brack said.
“To tell me that, two-plus years into this process we are still not clear on roles and responsibilities, or rather [what], the monitor’s obligations … are being challenged, it’s disturbing, to say the least.”
Brack continued: “And I would hate for anyone and everyone to be embarrassed and called out in a public way, but we’re not going to use Judge Vidmar to avoid embarrassment that may be necessary to move the process forward.
“I’ve told you just very recently the hand-holding is done. These issues need to be addressed. They need to be resolved. And it would be in everyone’s interest to resolve them short of the public pronouncements that are certainly going to come.”
Dennis Domrzalski is an associate editor at ABQ Free Press Weekly.