In 1998 the city of Albuquerque, New Mexico brought in Jerry Galvin to take over the police department after a series of questionable shootings and SWAT incidents moved the city to commission an outside investigation. In one incident that made national news, one SWAT officer said to his colleagues, “Let’s go get the bad guy,” just before the team went to confront 33-year-old Larry Walker. The “bad guy” wasn’t a terrorist, killer, or even a drug dealer, but depressed man whose family had called the police because they feared he might be contemplating suicide. The SWAT team showed up in full battle attire, including assault rifles and flash grenades. They found Walker “cowering under a juniper tree,” the New York Times later reported, then shot him dead from 43 feet away.The city brought in Sam Walker, a well-regarded criminologist at the University of Nebraska, to evaluate the police department’s use of lethal force. Walker was astonished by what he found. “The rate of police killings was just off the charts,” Walker told the Times. The city’s SWAT team, he said, “had an organizational structure that led them to escalate situations upward rather than de-escalating.” The city then brought in Galvin, who immediately disbanded the SWAT team, toned down the militarism, and implemented community policing policies. Galvin told the Times, “If cops have a mindset that the goal is to take out a citizen, it will happen.”
Lopez says she finds the DOJ’s findings on less lethal force particularly upsetting.“The less lethal is there so we don’t get into the lethal encounters so, that’s the difficult part is, okay, so we’re wrong on both. We’re wrong when we use less lethal and we’re wrong when we use lethal force,” explains Lopez.
- The Albuquerque Journal reported in 2012 that the city’s police unions had paid bonuses to police officers who shot and killed citizens. Of the 23 cops who shot citizens between 2010 and 2012, 20 received payments of between $300 and $1,000. The union claimed the payments were to compensate the police for emotional distress. Families of the citizens who were shot called them bounties.
- As part of an effort to boost the number of officers on the beat, Schultz began hiring cops with shady pasts, including four who had recently resigned or been fired from the New Mexico State Police. Despite promises that none of those cops would carry guns, one of the hires, Keith Sandy was repeatedly promoted to some of the department’s most elite units.
- Sandy was one of the cops involved in the recent shooting of homeless man James Boyd, which sparked the recent protests. Boyd “was shot because he was holding knives, according to Albuquerque Police Chief Gordon Eden. But police released helmet camera footage (warning: the footage is graphic) from the shooting last week that showed Boyd turning away from officers just before they opened fire.” Despite Boyd turning away, the officers decided to throw a flash grenade, discharge a stun gun and fire six shots from an assault rifle at him.
- On July 1, 2006, a vice team wearing flak jackets and toting guns and ballistics shields raided a gay gym/social club in the city. Some patrons were dragged from the locker room naked, handcuffed, and forced to lie on the floor at gunpoint for more than an hour. One man said he was taken into a separate room where the officers photographed and ridiculed him. “We saw about 15 or 20 flashes coming from there and heard lots of laughter,” one club member later said. “They (the officers) were having a good old time. It was like the gay Abu Ghraib.” Police officials later said they sent the SWAT team after getting reports that the club was dispensing alcohol without a license. According to the warrant, the show of force was necessary because “sending us into this place again puts us or any other undercover officer in danger of sexual assault and/or great bodily harm and/or injury,” a fear that the city’s gay community quite understandably found offensive.
- After accusations that an APD officer had intimidated witnesses, the department assigned three officers to investigate, two of whom had trained under the accused officer, and one of whom was a personal friend. Again, an indication that the department didn’t take misconduct all that seriously.
- In January, the city settled with the family of Jacob Mitschelen, who was shot and killed by Det. Byron “Trey” Economidy after a traffic stop. The shooting was found justified, even though Economidy had improperly used his personal gun in the shooting. Economidy was later suspended for four days for listing his occupation on Facebook as “human waste disposal.”
- In 2007, U.S. District Court Judge William “Chip” Johnson found that the APD’s “Party Patrol” had violated the Fourth Amendment when officers raided a home without a warrant. Created to bust parties where police suspected underage drinking, the Party Patrol often brought in helicopters, and at least 1,400 parties between 2002 and 2007. After court rebukes, they changed their practice of entering homes without a warrant or consent, and of arresting all underage people at the parties, regardless of whether they possessed or had consumed alcohol.
- In 2006, APD Officer Sam Costales was present during an altercation between the race car driver Al Unser and several deputies from the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Department. Unser was arrested for assaulting the deputies. Costales, a cop of 23 years, testified in Unser’s defense that the deputies had abused Unser, and Unser was acquitted. Chief Schultz responded by an opening an investigation — of Costales, for testifying against his fellow police officers. The Albuquerque police union, which is supposed to represent Costales, then sent the Bernalillo County sheriff a letter apologizing for the fact that one of its members breached the “Blue Wall of Silence,” adding that the union was “embarrassed and ashamed” of Costales for implicating “our brother and sisters in blue.” Costales was eventually hounded into retirement. In 2009, a federal jury awarded him $662,000 in his lawsuit against the city.