By DAVID CORREIA
The U.S. Department of Justice announced on Tuesday that its Civil Rights Division will investigate the Albuquerque Police Department. Over the past three years APD officers have killed 17 people in 25 different officer-involved shootings. In addition, APD has been involved in a string of high-profile brutality complaints.
According to a statement released by the DOJ, the investigation will focus on “allegations that APD officers engage in use of excessive force, including use of unreasonable deadly force, in their encounters with civilians.”
In addition to an investigation into recent patterns of police violence, the DOJ will review APD policies and training practices. “The shared goal of this endeavor,” said Kenneth J. Gonzales, U.S. Attorney for the District of New Mexico, “is a safer community and a police department that has the full confidence of the community it serves.”
The Special Litigation Section of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division will conduct the investigation jointly with the U.S. Attorney for the District of New Mexico.
In addition to the high profile killings by police, the DOJ will confront a history of police brutality at APD that includes an alarming pattern of violent posturing and behavior. A pattern that includes a number of high profile cases that include the following:
APD officer Trey Economidy was suspended in 2010 after he posted his job description on Facebook as “human waste disposal.”
Detective Jim Dwyer was disciplined after he listed his occupation as “oxygen thief removal technician” on his MySpace page.
On May 31, 2010 APD Officer Connor Rice was caught on tape beating a man in the chest while APD Officer Ronald Surran pointed a gun at the suspect while stomping the man’s head. All the while the suspect was yelling, “I surrender.” Surran and Rice then celebrated the arrest with high-fives.
Former APD officer Levi Chavez, accused of killing his girlfriend in 2007, allegedly stole drugs from suspects with other APD officers and resold them to other drug dealers.
APD officers Robert Woolever and John Doyle where fired after security videos captured them chest-bumping after viciously beating Nicholas Blume during a February 2011 arrest.
Former APD union boss Joey Sigala, who came under fire in March of this year after creating a cash reward program to officers involved in fatal shootings—a program some critics of APD, including families of the victims of APD violence, said amounted to a reward for police violence—was fired and accused in May of beating up his girlfriend and stealing money from her EBT card.
APD officer Leah Kelly shot Chandler Barr in September of 2010 after he threatened her with a butter knife.
APD officer Matt Kindle allegedly moonlighted providing security for a local prostitution ring.
In June of 2012, the Albuquerque Journal reported that for the past two decades an APD gang unit has been using a noose as its symbol.
Though the U.S. Attorney made no specific comment about individual cases, it seems unlikely the pattern of police brutality in Albuquerque would have come under scrutiny if not for a recent pattern of killings by APD officers. Among the 17 deaths at the hands of APD officers, they include:
The January 13, 2010 killing of twenty-five year old Kenneth Ellis III. Ellis, who suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after multiple tours in Iraq, bled to death in the parking lot of a NE heights Seven-Eleven after Officer Brett Lampiris-Tremba, who had been previously suspended for lying during an investigation, shot the unarmed Ellis at close range. Eyewitnesses testified that Lampiris-Tremba, who once accidentally fired his weapon in the APD Southeast Substation and Tasered a motorist during a routine traffic stop, turned to his partner after shooting Ellis and muttered, “Was that me?” Chief Schultz then demonized the victim in the press.
Trey Economidy, the officer suspended for his Facebook posts, shot and killed an unarmed Jacob Mitschelen in the back in February of 2011.
In March of this year, APD officer Martin Smith shot and killed 31-year-old Daniel Walter Tillison. According to police, Tillison was selling stolen stereo equipment out of his car near the corner of Marquette Avenue and Texas Street. APD Chief Ray Schultz told the press that when Smith confronted Tillison “he then produced a dark item in his hand and pointed it in the direction of the officer.” Smith killed Tillison with one shot. The “dark item” was a cellphone. Officers found no weapons in the car.
The news of a federal investigation was welcomed by many critics of APD. According to Silvio Dell’Angela, a member of SPAN (Stop Police Atrocities Now), “this is only the start of the hopeful clean-up of the lethal cesspool Chief Schultz has created here since taking over in 2005. The news is welcomed by all of the grieving family members and others harmed by Schultz’s hundreds of rogue/thug cops who are never held accountable for their crimes.”