DOJ ignores APD's history and efforts at sabotage
The stunned spectators who filed out of federal court Judge Robert Brack’s courtroom knew what they had seen and heard, but they couldn’t answer the question of why it had occurred.
What they witnessed during the day-long May 10 hearing on APD’s progress at reforming itself was astonishing and bizarre. The highly-paid people who are supposed ensure that APD abides by its settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice, who are supposed to hold a hammer over the department’s collective head, did no such thing despite having tons of evidence with which to pound the department.
Instead, they basically ignored APD’s history and pattern of trying to torpedo the reform process — including its most recent efforts at sabotage — and spent the day saying nice things about their legal adversary.
In the end, it was unpaid volunteers and community members who ripped APD for its obstructionist and subversive efforts and did the work that the highly-paid professionals who are supposed to represent the community and fight for all of us failed to do.
First, here’s what didn’t happen.
James Ginger, the independent monitor in the case who is Brack’s eyes and ears and whose most recent report on APD was his most damning, apparently forget what he had written and filed with the court just eight days earlier.
During his hour-long presentation to Brack, Ginger failed to mention his report’s most explosive allegations: that APD’s command staff was in “deliberate non-compliance” with the settlement agreement, and that APD wrote a “covert” special order to undermine the agreement, lied about its existence and then refused to provide his staff a copy of the order.
And then there was Luis Saucedo, a lawyer out of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division in Washington, D.C. It was the DOJ that investigated APD for it excessive use of force and violations of citizens’ civil rights, and demanded that APD sign the settlement agreement. In this court case, the DOJ is APD’s adversary, and it is there for one reason only: to ensure by every legal hammer possible that APD complies with the agreement. That includes slamming APD in front of the judge and in public when it obstructs the reform effort.
Many members of the audience in Brack’s courtroom were waiting for Saucedo to rip APD about Ginger’s allegations. Some were hoping that Saucedo would tell Brack that after two and a half years of APD’s foot-dragging, the DOJ had had enough and that it was time for the judge to sanction the department’s command staff, including Chief Gorden Eden.
Instead, Saucedo turned into a Bambi-like creature who praised APD for having made “remarkable progress” toward compliance and who prattled that the long-term picture looked bright and happy. He mentioned nothing about APD’s deliberate non-compliance or about the covert special order.
It’s difficult to describe the mood in the courtroom after Saucedo finished other than to say that jaws dropped and eyes widened in disbelief. It was the total opposite from the DOJ’s past presentations and as if the feds suddenly slammed a speeding semi into reverse gear.
There was the sense that something had just gone horribly wrong.
But it wasn’t all bad, because the volunteers had the courage to say what the professionals couldn’t or didn’t want to say.
Attorney Peter Cubra, who represents a class of mentally ill people, told Brack that the culture of violence at APD won’t be eliminated unless the department’s commanders “give clear and consistent leadership” in that area. He added, “that is not happening” under APD’s current leadership and that it wouldn’t happen.
“The leadership of the department is not, in fact, going to get the job done,” Cubra said. “If you heard what I heard, you should be worried.”
Attorney Peter Simonson, executive director of the ACLU of New Mexico and spokesman for the group APD Forward, told Brack about APD’s refusal, after more than two years, to come up with a definition of neckholds, which are bared by the settlement agreement. He emphasized Ginger’s “deliberate non-compliance” allegation and told Brack, “APD has no reliable system of accountability” when it comes to reviewing use-of-force cases by its officers.
But it was Joanne Fine, chair of the city’s Police Oversight Board, who swung hardest. She blasted APD’s refusal to accept civilian oversight that is required by the settlement agreement.
“As it relates to civilian oversight, the obstructionist, dismissive, often disrespectful behavior by APD leaders dates back to the beginning of our volunteer term over two years ago,” Fine told Brack. “There is an old adage that says, ‘There is always time for the things at the top of your list.’ At this point, I am nearly certain [that] civilian oversight, civilian input, civilian concerns are not on any list for APD leaders, let alone near the top.”
And Fine, a volunteer, asked Brack what so many in the courtroom have been asking each other over two years of foot-dragging by APD, and what the paid professionals have never bothered to ask or answer.
“I would like to know, on behalf of the people who live here, what range of tools the court has at its disposal, to encourage or demand that APD meet its obligations of the CASA [court approved settlement agreement]?” Fine said. “What happens if APD leadership continues to drag its feet and obstruct this process?”
Like the other highly-paid professionals in the room, Brack didn’t really answer the question.
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