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Thursday, December 18, 2014

Forum cites APD indictment and mayoral recall

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By Frida Salazar / New Mexico Daily Lobo

Charles Powell speaks at a protester forum while holding a sign reading “Justice for Jonathan!!” at the Albuquerque Mennonite Church on Thursday evening. Powell is asking for an investigation into the death of Jonathan Mitchell who was shot in 2013, which may not have been fully investigated by the Albuquerque Police Department at the time of his death.

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As they prepare to pack Monday’s City Council meeting for the second time, protesters on Thursday organized their thoughts for further action against the Albuquerque Police Department’s excessive use of force in a community forum.

Kenneth Ellis II, who helped plan the forum, said protesters organized the event to have continuing action on the issue. Ellis II’s son was shot dead by an APD officer.

“We planned to have this forum to be organized so that we can all be on the same sheet of music and be in sync and get different ideas,” he said. “The report basically just spilled what we have all known for the last four years. They really didn’t specify what changes are going to happen… The action has not yet been stated, so we’re waiting to see what happens.”

According to the Albuquerque Journal, an APD officer killed Kenneth Ellis III by shooting him in the neck in January 2010 as Ellis III pointed a gun to his own head.

Speakers at the forum encouraged people to engage in various forms of activism, such as pushing for indictment of officers, petitioning for the recall of Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry and attending public meetings that have to do with APD.

Andres Valdez, executive director of Vecinos United, said he acquired drafts of the proposals that City Councilor Rey Garduño and Councilor Brad Winters will present at Monday’s meeting to solve what the Department of Justice concluded was an excessive use of force by APD. He said he was unsatisfied with some of the recommendations of Garduño’s bill.

“It appears our friend, Rey Garduño, is betraying us,” Valdez said. “The problem is that city councilors purposefully have betrayed us.”

Valdez said one of the proposals would allow city councilors to each appoint a member to the city Police Oversight Commission. He said he does not trust the city councilors to make appropriate appointments.

Valdez said the draft included various other components that he did not agree with, such as not allowing an independent oversight mechanism and permitting the chief of police to make final decisions on discipline.

“It’s the chief, historically, that has allowed police officers to get away with murder and beat the holy hell out of people, and Councilor Garduño is proposing this?” he said.

People who would attend the council meeting should voice their dissent against the proposals, Valdez said.

“I’m upset. I think all of us should be upset,” he said. “We should oppose this thing come Monday.”

Several organizers supported Valdez’s notion that the proposal didn’t go far enough to make changes in the department.

But David Correia, an organizer for the event, said he doesn’t think opposing the proposals will help the activists’ cause.

“According to the city charter, the mayor has authority over the hiring and firing of the chief and the chief has the authority to discipline the police,” he said. “So no matter what reforms we make, until we take away the ability of the mayor to control the hiring of the chief and the chief to control discipline, then nothing can happen.”

Correia said the better way to approach the situation would be to get a charter amendment that would revoke the mayor and chief’s authority and would toughen the POC.

“The Police Oversight Commission is a joke, and will remain a joke until we get this charter amendment,” he said.

Ellis II said to have concrete solutions to APD’s excessive use of force, the city should sign a consent decree with the DOJ, which means that it will be bound legally with the recommendations of the DOJ report. He said he is also pushing for indictments of all APD officers involved in fatal shootings.

Correia said he had met with Attorney General Gary King on April 11 to push for indictments of the officers. He said King promised that if the DOJ does not pursue a criminal investigation on APD, King will.

“We expect every single officer who have been found to have engaged in unjustified use of force to be charged,” Correia said.

Attendees of the forum also discussed holding officials accountable for their words and actions. They brought up the possibility of passing around a petition to recall Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry and APD Chief Gorden Eden.

Correia said both the mayor and police chief should be kicked out of office to fix the leadership problem of APD.

“They’ve been key parts of the problem,” he said. “The DOJ investigation identifies APD leadership as a part of the systemic problem of APD. Berry is responsible for hiring the chief, so he’s responsible for those.”

And District Attorney Kari Brandenburg should also be recalled, Correia said. He said Brandenburg failed city residents by not prosecuting APD despite the results of the DOJ investigation.

“It’s impossible to write a report about unconstitutional policing and then conclude that the district attorney, who’s responsible for prosecuting crime, hasn’t done anything,” he said. “That’s a serious problem that has to be addressed… She has not indicted one single officer since she’s been DA.”

The City Council will convene on Monday at 5 p.m. at Albuquerque’s City Hall.