On April 21 cops in Albuquerque shot and killed 19-year-old Mary Hawkes, who was suspected of auto theft. It was the third fatal shooting by officers from the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) in a month and the first since the Department of Justice (DOJ) had announced the results of its review of civil rights violations and abuses by the APD. The assistant attorney general who made that announcement insisted that even though the DOJ found a likely pattern and practice of civil rights abuses, it wasn't singling out any individual officer or questioning the character of the department's members.
"We recognize that many of you are dedicated public servants who wear your badge with distinction," said Jocelyn Samuels, the assistant attorney general. "We do not intend our findings today to mean that you must needlessly risk your lives or safety. You must come home safely to your family and loved ones."
The feds may have declined to target any specific officer that may be contributing to the pattern and practice of abuse but at least in the case of the shooting of Mary Hawkes the APD showed it might be interested in actually disciplining officers contributing to the department's problems. Officers of the APD are equipped with body cameras. Footage from such cameras has helped bring attention to questionable police shootings like that of a knife- or brake pad-wielding man in December or that of a homeless camper in March that sparked protests across New Mexico.
The officer who shot and killed Hawkes did not have his lapel camera turned on. He insists he turned it on prior to the encounter but it was off and the manufacturer said they couldn't determine if the officer was being truthful. Now the officer, Jeremy Dear, has been fired. Reuters reports:
Police Chief Gorden Eden said in a statement the officer was fired for "insubordination and untruthfulness" over the uniform camera issue after an internal probe, but stopped short of linking the firing to the circumstances of the shooting itself.
Dear has not been charged in the incident.
"Insubordination tears at the fabric of public safety especially when the officer makes a choice not to follow a lawful order," Eden said in the statement.
"In imposing the discipline of termination, I considered the seriousness of the acts and omissions, aggravating circumstances and Officer Dear's disciplinary record," he said.
Dear's lawyer insists the APD isn't being fair to his client and is trying to "set an example" by firing Dear. "If they fire every officer who doesn't turn on his uniform camera, they won't have anyone left on the department," said the attorney.
Well, them's the brakes. The APD has one of the highest per capita killing rates in the country for a police department. The DOJ, although deferential to cops, nevertheless identified serious, systemic problems with the APD—problems that have been around for decades. Yes, it seems like the APD is setting an example with Dear. And set an example they should—the department's officers appear out of control.
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