Police Abuse

Albuquerque Police Just a Tad Too Abusive for the Department of Justice's Liking

Report decries repeated, systemic unconstitutional uses of excessive force

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Sure the FBI has pretty much always ruled its own deadly shootings as justified, but that doesn't mean it's okay for just any law enforcement agency to go blasting away. Today, after a nearly two-year investigation, the Department of Justice has determined that the Albuquerque, New Mexico, Police Department (APD) has been using deadly force "in an unconstitutional manner." The New York Times notes:

The review was prompted by complaints about the department, whose officers have shot 37 people since January 2010, 23 of them fatally. The most recent killing was of James Boyd, a homeless man with a long history of violent outbursts and mental instability, who was shot by heavily armed police officers last month and whose death led to street protests and cries for reform.

In a written report, the Justice Department said, "Based on our investigation, we have reasonable cause to believe that A.P.D. engages in a pattern or practice of use of excessive force, including deadly force."

"Our investigation included a comprehensive review of APD's operations and the city's oversight systems," the report said. "We have determined that structural and systemic deficiencies — including insufficient oversight, inadequate training, and ineffective policies — contribute to the use of unreasonable force."

The Albuquerque Police Department's Horrifying History

Reason's Ed Krayewski has been following reports of bad behavior from the APD for the past year. He wrote about the Justice Department report today, noting that the police in the New Mexico city have shot more people than the New York police have over the past four years. Some summaries of issues with the department since 2010:

Public concern about the behavior of the police boiled over into outrage and protests in March when officer's helmet cam captured police shooting to death a homeless man following a confrontation over the man illegally camping. A judge ruled in 2013 that a police shooting of an Iraq War vet in 2010 was unconstitutional. An officer shot and killed Kenneth Ellis Jr. while he was holding a gun to his own head and negotiating with a crisis-intervention officer. In 2012, Albuquerque's district attorney announced she was going to stop sending police shooting cases to grand juries to determine whether or not they were justified. Critics called the practice a sham—no shooting had ever been ruled unjustified due to the practice. The murder trial of a former police officer in 2013 exposed nearly Jerry Springer Show levels of dysfunction within the department. Levi Chavez was charged with killing his own wife with his service weapon. Prosecutors argued he did so to keep her from exposing a staged theft of his pickup truck to collect the insurance money. The defense claimed it was a suicide. The trial revolved around discussion of sexual affairs from both sides, including those with other police officers (again, on both sides). One of Chavez's several mistresses served as his alibi, claiming they were together when Chavez's wife died. A jury ultimately found Chavez not guilty. Local television station KOB4 has a video timeline of the Justice Department's investigation here.