It was a bad day in federal court Thursday for the Albuquerque Police Department's command staff as attorneys, members of the public and the independent monitor in the department's reform case ripped APD for deliberately undermining and obstructing the reform process.
The allegations by the independent monitor, James Ginger, and others came all morning long. Ginger said the department has failed to properly investigate use-of-force cases, that an APD unit headed by Assistant Chief Robert Huntsman lied to the monitoring team and that APD's command staff has sneakily issued memos and orders reversing or weakening policies that the monitor had previously approved.
There were allegations that Huntsman violated at least five APD lapel camera policies when he secretly used his lapel camera to record Ginger in March of 2016, and that the city has engaged in a last-ditch effort to smear and discredit Ginger.
Citizen volunteers involved in the civilian police oversight process told U.S. District Court Judge Robert Brack, who is overseeing the reform process, that APD has also been trying to ignore or undermine the civilian oversight process.
And, one attorney, Nancy Koenigsberg with the group APD Forward, accused the DOJ of attempting to walk away from the reform process by failing to defend Ginger from accusations by the city that he is biased against APD.
But as in previous hearings before Brack, the harshest attack on APD came from attorney Peter Cubra, who represents a class of mentally disabled people in the city's settlement agreement with the DOJ.
Cubra accused the city violating at least one of Brack's orders and of trying to “delay and derail” the reform process by attacking Ginger's credibility.
“The city of Albuquerque has no plan for complying with your order,” Cubra told Brack in regards to an order the judge issued earlier this year that APD develop an action plan to address the concerns of parties to the settlement agreement. “This is a deliberate violation of a federal court order.”
Cubra also suggested that Brack can hold city officials in contempt of court for violating his orders. And he said that Huntsman violated the state's rules for lawyers when he secretly recorded Ginger last year.
But Cubra saved his harshest criticism for the city's attack on Ginger, which came in the form of a motion to Brack last month that Ginger was biased against APD.
“They were going to delay and derail the implementation of your order by trying to kill the messenger [Ginger],” Cubra said, adding that the city's attack against Ginger was an attempt “to buy time” in the hopes that the “DOJ will go away.”
Cubra urged Brack to hold an evidentiary hearing on the city's motion in an effort to clear the air and determine the city's true motives in attacking Ginger. “Let's get to the truth of who is up to what,” Cubra said.
Ginger fires back
For his part, Ginger told Brack that APD's command staff continues to deliberately obstruct the reform process even though the process is now three years old.
APD has a “deliberate desire to bypass the Court Approved Settlement Agreement,” Ginger told Brack, and its deliberate noncompliance with the agreement “raises serious questions about APD's commitment to making changes it agreed to.”
That noncompliance includes “little, if any integration of the CASA's requirements” throughout APD's different divisions, Ginger said, adding that there is “complete entropy” of use-of-force reporting and investigation efforts throughout the department.
APD has failed to abide by the CASA at the supervisory, mid-management, command and executive levels,” Ginger said.
One example of a near-total breakdown of APD's ability to identify and investigate use-of-force cases came in the case of a handcuffed prisoner who, after being transported from the arrest scene, was taken out of a police car with his hands handcuffed behind his back and “flung into a masonry wall,” Ginger said.
Ginger added that APD's Force Review Board and Critical Incident Review Team didn't catch the incident, which was on the officer's lapel camera video, until eight months to a year after it occurred. The department's command staff committed 44 errors in failing to properly flag that case, Ginger said.
And the Force Review Board, which is headed by Assistant Chief Huntsman, lied to Ginger's team about having reviewed that video, Ginger said. “The FRB said they had reviewed the video, but in a meeting with us they admitted they had not,” Ginger said.
One of the most glaring problems with the handling the case of the handcuffed prisoner was the fact that the officer's report on the incident didn't match what the video showed. That meant that either the officer's supervisor hadn't reviewed the video or that the officer lied in his report.
APD has also failed to develop a comprehensive training plan for officers despite being given one 18 months ago by the monitor's team, Ginger said. He added that this past Sunday, APD submitted a training plan that was “identical to what we gave them 18 months ago.”
And Ginger ripped the command staff for writing special memos that were designed to “end runs” around policies that had previously been approved by the monitor and the court.
Peter Simonson, executive of the ACLU of New Mexico, told Brack that Huntsman violated at last five APD internal policies when he secretly recorded Ginger in March 2016. According to APD policy, officers can turn on their lapel cameras only for legitimate police business and when official on duty. They can't use the cameras to record conversations when there is an expectation of privacy, Simonson said.
And Simonson said the city's attack on Ginger's credibility was another attempt by the city to “do little, delay and deflect” the reform process. He said the allegations against Ginger were “trumped up” and “little more than a ruse to replace Dr. Ginger” with a monitor who will go easier on APD.