Updated 7:05 p.m.
After more than a year of investigations, the U.S. Department of Justice has concluded that the Albuquerque Police Department practices excessive force.
At a press conference Thursday morning, Jocelyn Samuels, acting assistant attorney general of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, said the results were a product of a thorough investigation.
“The investigation was not an easy one, but through all of these efforts, we are certain to gather the facts… and reach out to our communities,” Samuels said.
According to a document distributed in the conference, the DOJ found “reasonable cause to believe that the Albuquerque Police Department engages in a pattern or practice of excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment.”
The DOJ has identified three particular patterns of excessive force in APD, according to the document. First, APD used deadly force against people who demonstrated only minimal threat. APD also used less lethal force on “people passively resisting,” and officers frequently used force on people with mental illness, according to the document.
Samuels attributed APD’s excessive use of force to insufficient oversight, inadequate training and ineffective policies of the police department.
The DOJ began its investigation in November 2012. According to the document, the department used testimonials from community town hall meeting participants, APD and city officials, and expert police consultants with the DOJ. The department also consulted documents, such as shooting files, for the investigation.
Samuels said the DOJ will work closely with the city and APD to begin working on reforms as soon as possible. She said her department would monitor any agreement that result from the process and provide expert assistance and a level of accountability.
Damon Martinez, New Mexico’s acting U.S. attorney, said he is pleased with the results of the investigation. He said the DOJ’s release of the reports is a crucial step in reforming APD.
“Today marks a critical milestone in our community and for the Albuquerque Police Department,” he said. “Understanding how we arrived here is very important, but just as important is how we move forward. In the counting days and months, we will determine the next generation of what the police would look like in our city.”
Families of men shot dead by APD were present at the press conference.
Stephen Torres, whose son Christopher was shot dead by APD officers, said he was relieved to see the DOJ seriously address the police department’s use of force.
“I’ve been cautiously optimistic for the last several months,” he said. “I was hoping today would come, but I was fearful that it would not go this far. I’m still hopeful that the criminal division would continue pursuing their investigations. I think that is still necessary… A lot of our concerns have been validated as a result of this release today.”
In April 2011, APD Detectives CJ Brown and Richard Hilger shot Christopher, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia, in the Torres’s backyard, according to KRQE. The officers said Christopher resisted arrest during the incident, and they claimed that as the three men wrestled, Christopher grabbed Hilger’s gun. Torres’ DNA was found on the gun, but not his fingerprints.
Earlier this year, the Bernalillo County District Attorney Kari Brandenburg announced she would not press criminal charges against the officers.
Renatta Torres, Christopher’s mother, said APD should more strictly enforce accountability measures regarding officers who use excessive force. She said the DOJ’s release of results was an emotional experience.
“It’s just really unfortunate that it took so many lives lost before we got to this junction,” she said.
According to the document, remedial measures to decrease violence recommended by the DOJ include clear revision of APD policies and to develop procedures in response to individuals with mental illness. The DOJ also pushes for scenario-based training and role playing for officers.
As for internal investigations, the DOJ recommends to eliminate the 90-day reporting period for police-involved incidents and to allow investigations for third-party complaints. It also pushes for a revision of APD’s civilian oversight process that would allow for civilian review of officer-involved shootings, according to the document.
But Peter Simonson, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, said he would have preferred to see the DOJ require more concrete actions along with the release of the results.
“Frankly, I was a bit disappointed that we didn’t see the Department of Justice propose a consent decree or an actual court order, a court-enforced agreement with the city,” he said. “I understand that that is still a possibility, but I don’t hear them heading towards that.”
Because this was a civil investigation, Samuels said the results addressed police violence in the entire police department. She said the division would not pursue individual shooting cases.
Simonson said his organization would be willing to work closely with APD. He said the ACLU does not plan to call for the firing of any APD officer or city official.
“We don’t have an interest in denigrating the department,” he said. “We don’t have an interest in calling for the removal or firing of anybody in the department. Our interest is in professional, effective, meaningful police process in the city that the community can trust in.”
Martinez said that although excessive use of force in APD had been proven, city residents should not generalize among all police officers. He said he is optimistic about the future of the department.
“Although our investigation has found serious constitutional problems… it was also confirmed that the great majority of APD officers are honorable law enforcement professionals who’d risk their physical safety,” he said. “Their work is not easy.”