By DAVID CORREIA
In a surreal twist to the controversy raging over Ray Schultz’s future as Police Chief of an Albuquerque police department that has run amok under his watch (APD has killed 17 people since 2010, wounded eight others and been charged with untold number of police brutality charges), Schultz is now trying to save his job by claiming incompetence. He should not be held responsible for police violence, his recent public statements suggest, because he’s clueless about the day-to-day function of his department.
At a press conference last week, Schultz admitted he did not know that his officers used force during a May 31 incident or that other officers were investigating the incident.
This all came during a press conference in which Schultz screened and narrated newly released lapel videos for the press from an incident in which three APD officers beat and Tasered two suspects.
In the video Officer Connor Rice can be seen striking a suspect on the ground three times in the chest while APD Officer Ronald Surran is pointing a gun at the suspect while placing his foot on the suspect’s head (see photo). All the while the suspect is yelling, “I surrender.” Surran and Rice celebrated their arrest with high-fives.
APD Officer Shad Solis then kicked open the door of an apartment where officers thought another suspect was hiding. Rice Tasered the occupant twice, Solis once.
Rice, it seems, has difficulty keeping his Taser in its holster. It was the second day in a row that he had used a Taser on an unarmed suspect.
Though Schultz made a show of releasing the video at the press conference, he did this only reluctantly after KRQE News 13 reporter Kim Holland requested the video under the New Mexico Inspection of Public Records Act. When APD initially refused, KRQE sued APD.
Rice has since been charged with one count of battery and one count of aggravated battery for the May 31 incident, and has been removed from desk duty and placed on paid leave. Surran and Solis have not been charged. Both have been taken off the street.
After the May 31 incident, APD Commander Mike Geier investigated the incidents involving officers Rice and Solis. According to APD’s deputy chief, department protocol allows for a Commander to launch an investigation of officer conduct without notifying supervisors that an investigation is underway.
The press conference where all this came to light was nothing if not strange. The formerly dour Schultz now preens before the press and promises total transparency. He’s taken to hosting multimedia press conferences and kowtowing to a press corps only recently interested in taking this administration to task for the violence of his APD. It’s a new approach for the surly Schultz. Now he’s all bluster and boasting about his new-found commitment to transparency, but anyone paying attention knows better.
It’s 17 dead under his watch and counting and Schultz’s intransigence has been clear from the beginning (see our previous reports on APD police violence here, here, here and here). When the APD killing spree began in January of 2010, Schultz blamed everyone but himself and his officers.
It all began at 9 am on January 13, 2010 when an APD officer shot twenty-five year old Kenneth Ellis III outside the 7-Eleven at Eubank and Constitution. Ellis, who suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after multiple tours in Iraq, bled to death on the pavement from gunshot wounds inflicted by Officer Brett Lampiris-Tremba.
In 2005, five months into his first tour in Iraq, Ellis watched his closest friend die when a bomb exploded nearby. The blast nearly took off his leg. The disabled vet returned to Albuquerque after his last tour and sought help from the Veteran’s Administration. But the VA kicked Ellis out of treatment the Monday before his death (for being late to a counseling session—a policy that no doubt saves the VA millions). Just days later Ellis became APD’s first victim in its most recent string of violent deaths.
Schultz’s response was to defend his officer and dismiss Ellis as a criminal who committed suicide-by-cop.
It took nearly two years, but in October of 2011 Ellis’s family, which steadfastly defended Ellis against Schultz’s efforts to posthumously paint him as a criminal crackpot, finally won the release of police records that say much about the department Schultz leads.
Ellis was killed by Officer Brett Lampiris-Tremba. At the time of the shooting Lampiris-Tremba was a 14-year veteran of the Department. Before his time on the force, Lampiris-Tremba admitted to committing a number of crimes. Once on the force he was suspended for lying during an investigation, once Tasered a motorist in a routine traffic stop and even accidentally discharged his weapon Barney Fife-style in the Southeast Substation.
According to witnesses, after Lampiris-Tremba shot Ellis he turned to his partner and muttered, “Was that me?”
“My brother was a better person morally and ethically than the man that shot him, who is supposed to be held to a higher standard,” said Ellis’s sister Jonelle Ellis.
Of Lampiris-Tremba, Kathy Levy, Albuquerque City Attorney, said only, “He’s had a few (Internal Affairs) complaints.”
The city’s independent review officer found the shooting unjustified, but Lampiris-Tremba was cleared of any wrongdoing by Internal Affairs and a grand jury that, according to recent reports, operates as a rubberstamp for the police department.
Ellis was only the first of many, and as the killings have continued and the pressure has mounted, Schultz’s blame-the-victim routine has fallen out of favor. Closer scrutiny of the many police shootings reveal a police force trained to shoot first and then disappear behind layers of administrative protection.
When news broke of Lampiris-Tremba back in October 2011, Ellis’s father confronted Schultz before a city council meeting. “I’m praying for you,” he quietly told Schultz. “You’ll need it.”
Schultz’s recent “full disclosure” approach appears to be a recalibration of his strategy of self-preservation. By feigning cooperation with the press, he hopes to shore up his fast dwindling support. So now instead of a blue wall of silence from Schultz, he throws everyone under the bus. At this most recent news conference, he blamed the victims of police violence, blamed his officers for unnecessary force, blamed his Commanders for breaking administrative protocol, and blamed the press for hounding him about his lack of transparency.
Schultz is burning his bridges and there aren’t many people praying for him now.