Another Police Oversight Board member resigns
- Valerie St. John quits the POB. She blasts the Civilian Police Oversight Agency and its executive director Ed Harness for conducting ineffective and incomplete investigations into civilian complaints against cops.
- “There is also a lack of trust between the Board, Executive Director and his investigative staff as some Board members have doubted the effectiveness of some investigations,” St. John's resignation letter said.
- Acrimony between board members.
- Lack of transparency by the CPOA.
BY DENNIS DOMRZALSKI
Another member of Albuquerque's Police Oversight Board, Valerie St. John, has resigned.
In a resignation letter submitted to the City Council on Thursday, St. John blasted the civilian oversight process as ineffective. She said there was acrimony between board members, a lack of trust in the executive director of the Civilian Police Oversight Agency, Ed Harness, ineffective and incomplete investigations by the CPOA into civilian complaint against cops, a lack of transparency with the public and people who file complaints against police officers, failure by the board and the CPOA to review 169 serious-use-of-force cases involving cops and 69 officer-involved-shooting cases.
St. John also said that the CPOA isn't doing much long-term police policy planning as required by the city ordinance that created the CPOA and the POB.
“There is also a lack of trust between the Board, Executive Director and his investigative staff as some Board members have doubted the effectiveness of some investigations,” St. John's resignation letter said. “After five years of operations the Board is currently anticipating a facilitated session of the Board and CPOA staff to clarify roles and expectations regarding such things as citizen complaint investigations and monitoring or auditing Albuquerque Police Department Internal Affairs investigations.”
St. John's resignation leaves three vacancies on the nine-member board. In November, Chelsea Van Deventer, an attorney, resigned from the POB. In her resignation letter she also blasted Harness for failing to conduct thorough investigations into allegations of police misconduct.
In her resignation letter, St. John cited a case where a civilian complaint against an officer was originally closed by Harness's staff after finding no violations against the officer. But the citizen who filed the complaint did her own investigation, presented her information to the POB, which then forced Harness's staff to reopen the case. The second CPOA investigation found that the officer had indeed violated APD rules.
Here's what St. John's letter said about that case:
“A recent case was presented to the Board to be Administratively Closed, no violations or recommendations. If the complainant had not done her own investigation of records and provided information that she gathered that should have been identified in the CPOA preliminary investigation, the case would have been closed on the Consent Agenda. Subsequent CPOA investigation resulted in numerous violations being sustained with a recommendation for an eight-hour suspension of a Sergeant and termination of an officer.
“The details of the findings in this particular investigation were discussed at a Case Review Subcommittee. When the revised case was presented at the full Board meeting, no details were discussed, it took us 25 seconds to approve the Sustained recommendations in the re-investigated case without the recommended disciplinary action identified. This lack of transparency is extremely troubling by an agency that is supposed to promote a spirit of accountability and communication between civilians and the Albuquerque Police Department while improving community relations and enhancing public confidence.”
St John also said that the CPOA and the POB are way behind in their core mission of investigating serious of force cases involving officers and cases of officer-involved-shootings.
“The core mission is oversight of serious use of force and officer-involved shootings. There are 169 Serious Use of Force and 29 Officer-involved Shooting investigations that have not been reviewed by the Board,” St. John's letter said. “The Board has been ineffective, other than in expressing their frustration in reviewing these cases while the Monitor and APD try to establish a Force Review Board. The CPOA data presented at various times on the status of these type of cases has been unsatisfactory.”
St. John closed her letter with this:
“I strongly believe in successful civilian oversight. I do not believe the current approach is what the Ordinance envisioned. The City Council should exercise its authority to contract with an independent consultant to undertake a complete evaluation and analysis of the entire police oversight process and recommend any necessary changes or amendments that would appropriately improve the process.”