Slap in the Face to Transparency
Former POB Member: City is Violating Police Oversight Ordinance
The city of Albuquerque has refused to turn over to the Civilian Police Oversight Agency the police department's Internal Affairs file on Lt. Jennifer Garcia, who was recently demoted as the head of IA for backdating an altering a public document.
That refusal has prompted a former member of the city's Police Oversight Board to accuse the city of violating the 2014 police oversight ordinance and of trying to hide something and protect someone.
The city's Legal Department notified Ed Harness, director of the Civilian Police Agency, on Friday, Aug. 17, that it wouldn't run over Garcia's IA file, saying the document constituted attorney client privilege.
(Photo: Ed Harness)
The CPOA had requested the file because the POB voted on Aug. 9 to investigate the Garcia matter. The motion to conduct the investigation was made by POB member Chelsea Van Deventer
Former POB member Jim Larson was furious when he heard the news.
“That's horseshit,” Larson told ABQReport. “The [police oversight] ordinance says the POB will monitor and audit Internal Affairs investigations. Why would they violate the ordinance? What are they trying to protect? This is a slap n the face to transparency.”
Harness said he got an email Friday afternoon from Assistant City Attorney Samantha Holtz saying the city would not turn over Garcia's IA file to the CPOA so it could conduct an investigation into the process of how Garcia was demoted.
“I was told by City Legal on Friday afternoon. They said it fell under attorney client privilege and that the investigation was done in anticipation of litigation,” Harness told ABQReport. “I'm a bit unclear of what litigation they are anticipating so I have asked [City Legal] for some clarification there.”
Harness said that the city's refusal greatly hampers the CPOA's ability to investigate the Garcia matter.
“There was some process by which there was a decision to demote her [Garcia] and they must have reached that conclusion based on the investigation,” Harness said. He added that the case has the appearance of a conflict of interest because Jennifer Garcia's husband is APD Deputy Chief Eric Garcia.
“You have her spouse on the department. There is clearly the appearance of a conflict. Was her case reviewed and done no differently than any other case?” Harness added. “Without looking at the file, how can we be sure that all the proper steps were taken?”
APD began investigating Jennifer Garcia in March when she was the commander of the IA unit. The city hired a private firm to conduct the investigation, which found that Garcia had backdated an IA investigation on a police officer to make it appear that the probe had been completed by the deadline imposed by the department's collective bargaining agreement with the Albuquerque Police Officers Association.
Earlier this month, APD Chief Mike Geier demoted Garcia from commander to lieutenant and transferred her to the department's Field Services Bureau.
ABQReport filed an inspection of public records request with the city for the investigative file on Garcia. The city denied the request, and ABQReport then sued the city in state District Court demanding its release. That case is pending and the city has been ordered by District Court Judge Alan Malott to explain why it has refused to release the file.
Geier has also filed an LEA-90 against Garcia with the New Mexico Law Enforcement Academy. An LEA-90 is usually filed when a police chief wants to revoke an officer's law enforcement license. But Geier made no recommendation in his LEA-90 on Gracia, and an APD spokesman said that Geier isn't trying to get Garcia's law enforcement license revoked.
Harness said he doesn't know what his agency will do next to try and pry the file lose from the city, but he added that the CPOA could sue the city in an effort to get it released.
“I don't know what the next steps will be,” Harness said. “We will have to discuss that with the [POB] board and counsel to see what the next steps will be and whether we will have to litigate as well.”