'I would rather see the police department say we are as concerned about the possibility of evidence tampering as everybody else' - civilian oversight board member Joanne Fine
Councilor Asks AG for Taser-gate Probe Results
Dan Lewis Says He Doesn’t Want to Award New Deal to Firm if Laws Violated
BY DENNIS DOMRZALSKI
Fearing that City Hall is about to enter into a $5 million deal with a company that might have broken the law, City Councilor Dan Lewis wants the state Attorney General’s Office to release the results of its criminal probe into former Albuquerque Police Chief Ray Schultz’s dealings with Taser International.
Schultz steered a $2 million no-bid contract for Albuquerque Police Department lapel cameras to Taser in 2013 and, according to a state audit, told company officials that the deal was “greased.”
At the time, Schultz was preparing to retire and take a $1,000-a-day job with Taser and was already working for the company while still on the city payroll.
In a letter Jan. 9 to Attorney General Hector Balderas, Lewis asked that the results of the investigation be provided to the council by early February.
That’s when councilors are expected to vote on a city bid-evaluation committee’s recommendation that Taser get a new $5 million contract – this one a multi-year deal to supply APD with another 2,000 body cameras, as well as cloud video storage services.
“The City Council wants to make the best, most well-informed decision possible,” Lewis wrote in the letter.
“This means, of course, not awarding a second contract to a firm that may have already violated City ordinances or regulations,” he wrote.
Lewis, an announced candidate in the Oct. 3 mayoral election, said there are “concerns, on many fronts, of inappropriate actions taken by certain City officials and possibly by Taser International representatives themselves.”
The Attorney General’s office launched its probe of Schultz and Taser in early 2015 after State Auditor Tim Keller released an report that found that Schultz and Taser may have violated city and state laws. Keller’s audit noted Schultz’s consultant role with the company as well as freebies like meals and trips that other city employees took from Taser.
Lewis, a Republican and frequent political ally of the mayor, first called for a probe into Schultz’s dealings with Taser in April of 2014.
Last month, Mayor Richard Berry’s administration announced that it had selected Taser to supply APD with 2,000 new lapel cameras and cloud storage. The proposed new contract was put out to bid and nine companies responded and a selection committee ultimately recommended Taser.
Balderas’ spokesman James Hallinan hadn’t commented as of press time. He has said previously that the Schultz investigation remains under review.
In what a member of the Police Oversight Board is calling the “tee up to an excuse,” the city is apparently suggesting that Taser’s evidence.com cloud storage service might have been hacked.
The idea of hacking was broached by Chief Administrative Officer and City Attorney Jessica Hernandez at a City Council meeting on Dec. 19. That suggestion would be a convenient way for APD to deny responsibility if it is found that some APD officers have altered lapel camera videos, as alleged by Reynaldo Chavez, the department’s former records custodian, said oversight board member Joanne Fine.
On Jan. 9, in a meeting of Civilian Police Oversight Board, Police Oversight Agency Executive Director Ed Harness was asked about the idea that Taser’s evidence.com video cloud storage site was vulnerable.
“What the city is alleging, or trying to disprove or prove, is that there may have been, if there was tampering, that it may have been from outside influences and it may have been like a hacking situation, and they’re trying to say that the system is the problem and it wasn’t an internal problem with particular officers,” Harness said.
Joanne Fine, who had asked Harness about the city’s suggestion of hacking, told ABQ Free Press Weekly, “It is the tee up of an excuse.”
“I’m just sick of ‘It’s not our fault.’ I’m sick of it,” she told this newspaper. “I would rather see the police department say we are as concerned about the possibility of evidence tampering as everybody else.”
Attorney Tom Grover, who represents Chavez, the former records historian who made the allegation of video tampering, ridiculed the city’s hacking theory.
“It’s pretty clear these guys at the city don’t have a clue about what is going on, and that they are scrambling to make up any and all excuses for their own failures. To say that without fully vetting it shows you how reckless and careless these guys are.”
City officials did not immediately reply to requests for comment.
Dennis Domrzalski is an associate editor at ABQ Free Press Weekly.