The most famous recording of Albuquerque police in action shows them shooting and killing a homeless man — a shooting that began as a normal rousting for the crime of “illegal camping.” From there, the police turned it into a “standoff” with a cooperative person unsure of which direction to move next out of the very justifiable fear of being shot.
This was just another in a long line of killings by APD officers, not many of which were captured on video. The DOJ issued a report stating that a “majority” of shootings by the city’s police officers were “unreasonable and violated the Fourth Amendment.”
The police department does have a variety of cameras in its possession, which should have generated a wealth of footage for examination by public records requesters, attorneys, and police supervisors — just in case they wanted to get a handle on the PD’s problematic deadly force usage. The Albuquerque Police Department has shot more citizens than the NYPD since 2010, despite policing a city sixteen times smaller.
The footage of use of force incidents is the PD’s best-kept secret. A lawyer representing a family suing the city over the killing of Armand Martin by APD officers was given a copy of footage captured by the police. He was given password-protected files but not the password, despite repeated requests. In addition to representing the widow of Armand Martin, the law firm is now also engaged in an open records lawsuit against the city.
Apparently, the Albuquerque police department doesn’t feel the city’s doing enough to shield them from accountability. Sure, forcing records requesters to file lawsuits just to see public records is a good deterrent, but the only sure way to prevent incriminating recordings from ending up in the public’s hands is to make sure said footage doesn’t exist.
This goes far beyond simply tampering with devices or “forgetting” to activate them in crucial situations. According to an affidavit filed by a former police department employee, Albuquerque officers are tampering with the recordings that actually make their way back to the PD’s cloud storage.
Three officers’ body camera videos that captured events surrounding the fatal shooting of 19-year-old suspected car thief Mary Hawkes in April 2014 were either altered or partially deleted, according to former police department employee Reynaldo Chavez’s nine-page affidavit.
Another allegation is that surveillance camera video from a salon showing Albuquerque police officers shooting Jeremy Robertson in June 2014 bore “the tell-tale signs that it has been altered and images that had been captured are now deleted. One of the deleted images captured the officers shooting Jeremy Robertson.” Robertson was a police informant and suspected probation violator.
The allegations contained in the affidavit [PDF] show APD officers aren’t interested in the accountability that recordings could theoretically create. The former employee stated he had heard a police supervisor discussing making a camera’s SD card “disappear.” Supervisors also urged officers not to write reports until after viewing captured footage, and if the footage contained “problematic” uses of force, officers were told not to mention the recordings in the report or simply claim the equipment had malfunctioned.
No one from the department wants to go on record about these allegations. The only thing that has been confirmed is that anyone with admin privileges can alter or delete footage using the Evidence.com portal for its cloud storage services. Officers may have had little trouble erasing problematic footage or altering it into uselessness, but it’s unlikely they’ve taken care to scrub Evidence.com activity logs. These are a key part of Chavez’s claims and, unlike the recordings discussed here, they’re likely still intact.
Chavez’s affidavit also claims he was directed to stonewall requests and that city officials were more than happy to blow tax dollars on settlements, rather than turn over requested documents and footage.
In response to IPRA requests related to the deaths of James Matthew Boyd, Jeremy Robertson, and Mary Hawkes, Deputy City Attorney Kathy Levy, and/or a Deputy Chief, told me to deny, withhold, obstruct, conceal, or even destroy records from matters being produced in contravention of IPRA by:
A. telling me that records would not be released without any explanation other than “this won’t be released” or words to that effect. Deputy City Attorney Kathy Levy frequently stated simply, “there are items we just will not release and we will just pay the fines or lawsuits.”
B. Deputy City Attomey Levy told me to creatively identify an allowable exception to IPRA to withhold production of responsive public records in an effort to “baffle” or frustrate the requestor or otherwise burden them.
C. I was told to arbitrarily delay production of responsive public records without justification supporting such delay and to fabricate reasons to burden requestors with additional requirements when such requirements were not needed…
As we’ve seen far too often elsewhere, government entities believe transparency and accountability are forms of damage and actively search for ways to route around these obligations to the public. And given the allegations here, it appears the APD has no interest in cleaning itself up, not even with the DOJ looking over its shoulder.