“Everyone was horrified, and none of us knew what to do,” said Lisa Chavez, associate professor at the University of New Mexico, after witnessing a UNM Police officer punch a woman while taking her into custody.
A video originally posted to Snapchat using the UNM geotag seems to show a woman being punched and thrown to the ground by a UNMPD officer.
The incident occurred around 12:40 p.m. near the bus circle on the north side of the Duck Pond on Aug. 25.
UNMPD issued a statement Friday describing the progression of events.
Two officers were dispatched to a Welcome Back Days tent near the Duck Pond after receiving multiple calls describing a woman acting aggressively toward workers at a voter registration area, according to the statement. The woman behaved aggressively toward officers once they arrived and refused to leave the area, at which point the officers “took her to the ground and cuffed her.”
The woman also spit in the face of one of the officers on two separate occasions — during the arrest and when she was walking with the officers to the squad car.
Chavez was walking to her 1 p.m. class as the events unfolded, watching as the officers escorted her to the car.
“I saw two police officers walking a woman out who had her hands behind her back, so she was clearly handcuffed,” Chavez said. “I didn’t really recognize what was happening. I just saw that she was down, that she was falling to the ground.”
In the video, the woman is being escorted away from the Duck Pond by two officers, when she turns to one and an altercation takes place.
It is unclear exactly what happened, but a man can be heard in the video saying, “Do that again and see what happens.” It is unclear if the voice belongs to the officer.
UNMPD has launched an internal investigation that will determine exactly what occurred and why. The names of the woman and the officers are currently being kept private, so there is no “retaliation” against the officers, said Trace Peck, public information officer for UNMPD.
The officer who appears to have used physical force with the woman in the video has been “taken off the streets,” Peck said. The officer has been assigned to administrative duties at the department.
“We take these incidents very seriously, and an internal investigation has been started,” he said.
Interviews are currently being arranged with witnesses, including Chavez, and UNMPD will examine the videos and Snapchats they gathered.
“We’re just gathering all that kind of evidence, and then it will be investigated,” Peck said.
From what she witnessed at the scene, Chavez believes the officer used “excessive force.”
“What I saw was her head lifted up in the air and then her face slammed down on the pavement,” she said. “I saw her head going down, because the thing that was really distinct was her hair was all up in the air and then down on the ground, and then they picked her up and put her in the car.”
UNM Interim President Chaouki Abdallah was not available for an interview but released this statement regarding the incident:
“The UNM Police Department has opened an internal affairs investigation into the officer’s behavior. Numerous witnesses who were at the scene, both prior and during the arrest, will be interviewed to determine what happened. I believe it is important to allow the process to proceed and reach a conclusion without comment or interference. I am confident UNMPD and UNM will take the appropriate action following the review.”
Chavez, who has taught at the University for 15 years, now questions UNMPD’s role on campus.
“(I) have never seen anything like this; I am utterly disgusted at this,” she said. “It did not make me feel safe.”
While the officers placed the woman in custody, Chavez talked with other witnesses, and the consensus was that a report should be filed.
After emailing a letter detailing the event and her concerns to UNMPD, the University president and the provost, Chavez has made arrangements to be interviewed as part of the investigation.
Celia Raney is the news editor for the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Celia_Raney.