City Council under pressure after latest shooting
After the third fatal shooting in five weeks committed by the Albuquerque Police Department, speakers packed Albuquerque’s City Council chambers yesterday evening to express their disapproval of the department and the Police Oversight Commission.
“In 2009, New Mexico became the 15th American state to abolish capital punishment,” said Tylina Hardy, 28, at the meeting. “Today, an APD officer shot a suspected car thief to death.”
On Monday morning an APD officer shot and killed a woman who was suspected of auto theft, according to the Albuquerque Journal. Chief Gorden Eden said the woman pointed a gun at the officer who shot her, according to the article.
Neither the suspect nor the officer has been identified and the officer was placed on leave, according to the article.
Several speakers encouraged attendees of the meeting to attend a vigil later that evening and a protest to be held this morning for the woman who was shot. Others condemned the police department and Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry. Some called for the Police Oversight Commission to become an independent body with more power.
Three former members of the POC spoke during public comment to the city councilors.
Former Commissioner Jonathan Siegel, who resigned from the POC a week ago, said he was sad to leave the commission.
“Only when I found myself constrained by convoluted legal opinions — and only when, in junction with that, I felt I was not certain I was hearing independent analysis — did I feel forced to resign,” he said.
Siegel said decisions by the city legal department divested the POC of necessary powers for performing oversight.
“There is a mounting set of decisions coming out of the city legal department that, as far as I’m concerned, curtail and cut off the reasonable execution of proper oversight, and instead create barriers for ordinary citizens to work with an oversight body like ours,” he said.
One such instance was when the department told the POC that the Independent Review Office is independent, and therefore not under the jurisdiction of the POC, Siegal said. He said this goes against the spirit of the ordinance.
“It’s decisions like that that seem to me to be 180 degrees opposite of the plain language of the ordinance,” Siegel said.
The relationship between the IRO and the POC is outlined in the Police Oversight Commission Ordinance, which was sponsored by City Councilor Brad Winter, according to the City of Albuquerque website.
“The IRO shall be given autonomy and shall perform all duties under the direction of the POC,” according to the ordinance.
According to the ordinance, the IRO is responsible for reviewing citizen complaints filed against APD and for overseeing, monitoring and reviewing the investigations and producing findings for each. Findings related to citizen complaints or police shootings are forwarded to the POC, but the Chief of Police has the sole authority to discipline.
Richard Shine, who also resigned from the POC a month ago, said the City Attorney’s office prevented the POC from conducting oversight.
“The City Attorney’s office has repeatedly tried to block the commission from performing that independent civilian oversight function,” he said.
Shine said the CAO kept the POC from initiating several studies about the APD and has used the POC ordinance to “eliminate any semblance of meaningful, civilian oversight of the APD.”
But Shine said the incident that caused him to leave occurred 12 days ago.
“The City Attorney’s office undercut what little authority the POC had left by interpreting the language of the POC ordinance to mean that the POC’s approval function is limited to making sure that the Independent Review Officer’s public-record letters to a citizen complainer accurately reflect the findings of the Chief of Police,” he said.
Shine said the ruling made the POC’s approval of the public record letters insubstantial.
The IRO outlines its findings from the investigation in a public record letter that is then submitted to the POC for review to be sent to the citizen who made the complaint against APD, according to the POC ordinance.
Assistant City Attorney John E. DuBois said during the incident Shine was talking about, the POC tied in its vote to approve the public-record letter, so the letter could not be sent out to the citizen.
“They wanted the CAO to determine what the letter should state,” he said. “There is nothing in your ordinance that gives any power of jurisdiction to the CAO at that point.”
DuBois said the POC plays an important part in the community, but the ordinance regarding POC prevents the commission from conducting strict oversight.
“What Richard Shine and Jonathan Siegel want is to control every step along the way, from investigation to discipline,” he said. “And your ordinance simply does not allow that.”