In the Wake of DOJ Criticism: APD Hosts Insensitive Shooting Competition

 In July, the Albuquerque City Counsel hired a new public relations firm to help clean up the City’s image. This was in response to a four year stint in which 30 civilians had been killed and many others had been injured in a rash of Albuquerque Police Department Officer involved shootings. Unfortunately, the City and APD have shot themselves in the foot with their decision to not only participate in, but to host a National Rifle Association police shooting competition, which begins this week.

Since 2010, APD has had more officer involved shooting deaths per capita than New York City (eight times more to be specific). In the past years, families of the dead and injured have pleaded for oversight, prosecution of shooting officers, and a Department of Justice review of the ever escalating police violence in Albuquerque.

The City should outright cancel the event and allow the event to be hosted in a city where the police have received proper training in using their firearms. The insensitivity has reached an unfathomable level. The City is not getting its money’s worth out of their new public relations advisors. Even in the wake of a scathing DOJ review of APD’s use of force policies, it appears that the chasm between the community and the police department continues to grow.

UPDATE: Mike Gomez, whose son Alan Gomez was shot and killed by an APD officer in 2011, is circulating a petition, which he intends to give to Mayor Berry in hopes to compel him to put a stop to the police shooting competition. If you would like to sign this petition, you may click here.

Apologize for City of Albuquerque Police Shootings

Mayor Berry’s call for the city to transcend the current crisis of police shootings is laudable. However, the mayor should take the first step in reconciliation and recovery by apologizing to the families who have unnecessarily lost loved ones to the Albuquerque Police Department.

            The mayor called the shooting of James Boyd a “game changer.” But the city’s “game” has been the same. Poorly trained and poorly supervised Albuquerque police officers have responded to families in crisis with escalation rather than with de-escalation. The chief of police has appeared before the media and submitted arrest records of the person killed, suggesting he is truly a bad person. The chief has then announced the killing justified. The pain of the family of the man killed is worsened when they hear, within days of the shooting, the leader of the police department announce it was just that their son or brother died. When our community collectively gasped at Chief Eden’s declaration that James Boyd was justly killed, the game changed, hopefully forever.  

            The mayor called on us to work together. The mayor wrote that how we handle this crisis will define us as a city. We agree. However, the mayor needs to be a leader in the reconciliation. Mayor Berry should apologize to the families who have lost loved ones through the city of Albuquerque’s indifference to its police department’s training needs. The sooner Mayor Berry apologizes for the Albuquerque Police Department’s culture of aggression, the sooner the city can begin to define itself as a forward thinking, forward moving community. Without deep sorrow, there can be no reconciliation.

            Mayor Berry should apologize, through proclamation, to Kenneth Ellis, IV for the City’s taking of his father’s life. Mayor Berry should apologize to the Ellis family for the city’s failure to seek justice for Ellis’ death. Mayor Berry should apologize to the Ellis family for its police chief’s failure to take responsibility for his death.

The Ellis family has been asking for an apology and reconciliation since the killing of Kenneth Ellis, III. In a February 2013 email, just a month before the civil trial began, Shannon Kennedy asked for a resolution from City Council and the Mayor that “the shooting of Kenneth Ellis was unjustified” and asked for an apology from the city. Ms. Kennedy also requested that the city require that the shooting officer and 75% of its officers receive Critical Incident Training; the training that educates officers in de-escalation of tense situations. The city refused the Ellis family’s request. Now that the city has paid $8 million for the unjustified shooting, it is time for acknowledgement of wrongdoing. We will all be required to show some character in the coming months. Mayor Berry should take the first step and apologize personally to the families who have lost loved ones unnecessarily. 

Chief Eden Wrong on Albuquerque Police Shootings

            The Albuquerque Police Department (APD) has appointed a new Chief of Police after the interim Chief, Allen Banks, stepped down and accepted the Chief of Police position in Round Rock, TX. This now marks the second Chief of Police to step down since the Department of Justice announced, in November of 2012, that it would be conducting an investigation into APD’s use of excessive force and high rates of officer involved shootings. Despite the federal investigation, Gorden Eden states he is up for the job. We hope Mr. Eden understands the dysfunction of APD and is ready to change the culture. However, Mr. Eden seems unconcerned about the investigation and attributes the high number of shootings to lack of respect for police officers.

            Mr. Eden does not appear ready to confront Albuquerque’s exceedingly high police shootings. Without an in depth review of the department’s use of force, he announced that the cause of police shootings was the ‘lack of human dignity’ towards officers not only in Albuquerque but also throughout the country and blamed this attitude for the rise of officer involved shootings. He said, “The rash of shootings that we have seen, not only with New Mexico State Police but we’re seeing with all the police departments throughout the United States, I think that is an indication of the lack of respect for each other. It’s a lack of respect for human dignity.” He continued by also stating, “Those are things, sadly, that few of us have any control over except the person who starts that aggression.” Well, the families of the loved ones lost to the smoking muzzles of APD pistols request some respect be shown to them.  

            Eden’s comment is short sighted. The statistics speak for themselves. At The Kennedy Law Firm, through our experience working on cases where our clients were the victims of City of Albuquerque police shootings, we believe Mr. Eden’s assessment of the issue is wrong and we offer an alternative. We believe the rise in shootings is due to a police overreaction to mental health issues. Crisis Intervention Training (C.I.T.) should be refocused and strengthened. Former Chief of Police, Ray Schultz, was quoted saying he believes the policies are fine, "But we are seeing a higher number of encounters with people with mental illness." It is clear that policies are not fine due to the blatant disregard by APD of the complex issues that people with emotional and physical disabilities deal with on a daily basis. Officers have tools available to deescalate through crisis intervention.

            Whether an individual is suffering from a temporary moment of mental instability, they have a history of mental illness or are suffering from emotional disturbances, it is important for officers to be trained in most nonviolent and nonthreatening tactics. Most situations can be deescalated.

 

            We need a Chief who understands that respect for the dignity of the citizens starts with proper training to deal with people they are intended to protect. The Department of Justice investigation is something the new Chief of Police should take on and respond with a focus on decreasing the civil rights violations and increasing a focus on training. Individuals enter the police force to serve and protect not traumatize and maim; officers deserve a chief who demands officers be given the tools for their jobs. 

Albuquerque Police Shooting of Ellis Tentatively Settled for $8 million

In the past three years a great deal of citizen, legal and media attention has been directed towards the Albuquerque Police Department, and the inordinate number of officer involved shootings that have taken place in New Mexico’s largest city. One such case that has garnered a fair amount of media attention is the shooting of Kenneth Ellis, IV by APD officer Brett Lampiris-Tremba in January 2010. Ellis, a decorated Iraqi war vet and father of a young child suffered from PTSD, as a result of the explosion of an IED. He also suffered a physical disability to his leg. Kenneth Ellis, IV was suffering from a PTSD flashback when he pulled a weapon and pointed it at his own head. Ken Ellis never threatened anyone else and never took the weapon from his head. Lampiris-Tremba took a single shot and fatally shot Ellis in the neck. APD officers then stood by and watched Ellis bleed out from his wound. None attempted to place a compress on Ellis’ wound. After his death, Ellis’ family filed a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of Ellis’ surviving child.

As of Monday, The Ellis case is now one step closer to a resolution. Ellis, et al., v. City of Albuquerque went to trial in March 2013. The jury awarded Ellis’ son $10.3 million for his loss; $2.7 million of the award was to be for punitive damages as the officer’s actions were found to be “wanton and reckless”.

The Ellis case went into mediation and the City has agreed to pay $8 million and forego further costly litigation that has brought even more attention to the issue of officer involved shootings in Albuquerque. At this time, the Court will need to review the settlement and see if it is fair to Ellis’ young son. All the while, the citizens of Albuquerque are waiting for accountability and a transparency to be brought to the process of investigating officer involved shooting events.

                  A resolution for money is always bittersweet. Ellis’ young child will never want for education, health care or counseling. However, he has lost the guiding hand of a father forever. This we can never return to him. 

Jal Teacher Accused of Molesting Student

                The Kennedy Law Firm aggressively prosecutes sexual predators who hurt children from within our schools and community organizations. Our attorneys also prosecute organizations who hire sexual predators into positions of authority and then fail to report the harm which has been done to the abused children.  

                Recently, the media have reported that a former New Mexico educator is under investigation and facing criminal charges for allegedly having sexual relations with a student. Our law firm has years of experience fighting for the rights of children who have been sexually abused by school employees who have used their positions in schools to access and hurt children.

                The sexual abuse of a child by an educator or school staff hurts the child physically and emotionally- also stealing the child’s educational opportunities and stunting the learning process. It can take years of counseling to heal the damage done to a child by an abusive authority figure. The aggressive prosecution of sexual predators discourages future assaults on our community’s children, and may provide for the extensive therapy a child victim needs to recover from such trauma.

                The Kennedy Law Firm aggressively prosecutes these criminals and the irresponsible organizations that have employed a predator and failed at their duty to oversee the safety and education of our children.  

Search and Seizure

               At The Kennedy Law Firm, we would like to offer some basic definitions of search and seizure. However, we encourage everyone who is interested to learn in depth the decisions that have shaped the laws to look on our website under, “Know the Law” which can be found at the bottom of the home page.

Search

            Law enforcement officers and the public often have the misconception that an entry into a person's home, absent an active "looking for something or someone," is not a search under the Fourth Amendment. However, the physical act of crossing a home's threshold constitutes a "search" within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. Payton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573, 576 (1980). Always remember that "search" is a legal term of art that means more than simply seeking out something or someone. Our courts describe a "search" as an intrusion upon a person's reasonable expectation of privacy.

Seizure

            The Fourth Amendment protects persons and property from unreasonable seizures. Payton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573, 585 (1980). In its civil rights practice, The Kennedy Law Firm represents people who are wrongfully detained, wrongfully arrested, suffer excessive force, suffer sexual assault and suffer the loss or destruction of property at the hands of government officials. The United States Constitution protects our bodies from loss of liberty and injury and our property from damage and destruction when illegal government action causes the injury or loss. The legal source for the constitutional protection from personal injury and property damage comes mainly from the prohibition of unreasonable seizures as stated in the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

A Classic Case of Police Brutality and Excessive Force: Justice has Been Served.

                 Justice has been served in a town called North Kingstown in Rhode Island. The police and town have taken responsibility after they critically injured a teenager that had been suffering from a mental illness back in 2009. The town agreed to a $7 million settlement awarded to the family of Mike Kilcline, who was 19 at the time. He was shot nine times inside of his own second story bedroom by the local police officers. According to the lawsuit, the officers had not asked Mr. Kilcline to come out of his room, but rather, they kicked down the door rendering Kilcline, “blindsided and, by virtue of sheer manpower and weaponry, barricaded in his second-floor bedroom.” What resulted was Mr. Kilcline running in defense at the officers with a knife when the officers fired nine shots hitting Mr. Kilcline each time. The shots shattered his face leaving him critically injured and paralyzed; however, he died this past April. Our attorney Shannon Kennedy commented saying, “This is a classic case of the police creating a dangerous situation by aggressively invading the home of someone suffering from a mental illness; then choosing not to call officers trained in crisis intervention; and then escalating the level of fear leading to chaos and the use of deadly force. Hopefully, this police department can get some CIT training to prevent further tragedies.”

To read the article, click here 

Additional Documents Regarding the Cavity Search Cases

In response to the public's request for further information regarding our clients David Eckert and Timothy Young, here are the links to documents related to the series of events:

1. The Eckert Police Report;

2. The Affidavit and Search Warrant regarding Eckert;

3. The Medical Bills sent to Eckert, related to the medical procedures he was forced to undergo;

4. The Young Police Report;

5. The Affidavit and Search Warrant regarding Young;

6. The Medical Bill sent to Young, related to the medical procedure he was forced to undergo.

Time to Re-Think Drug Policy and Forfeitures

                 Since we filed David Eckert v. Hidalgo County(1:13-CV-00727) in the United States District Court for the District of New Mexico, we have fielded many questions about how something like this could happen in America.  We have cited the United States Supreme Court case of Rochin v. California, 72 S. Ct. 205, 342 U.S. 165 (1952), to emphasize that our country does not tolerate this behavior. In that case, police had a man’s stomach pumped in a search for swallowed contraband. The Supreme Court said:

“[The Officer’s conduct does] more than offend some fastidious squeamishness or private sentimentalism about combating crime too energetically. This is conduct that shocks the conscience. There are methods to close to the rack and the screw to permit of constitutional differentiation.”

                Then why did this happen?  Well the government officials who perpetrated this abuse were part of a “Border Task Force”.  These task forces that operate in communities close to our border with Mexico are federally funded collections of local officials.  The officers who make up such tasks force often have little oversight and supervision and are given broad authority.  Many times these task forces have a primary purpose of seizing money and offering the money to the federal government for forfeiture.  Once the federal government forfeits the money, it returns 80% of the funds to the local government.   The task forces have become a significant source of revenue for local law enforcement.  The money is paid directly to the law enforcement agency with no political or citizen oversight on how the money is spent.

     Because of the financial incentive and the lax or non-existent oversight, we see more and more abuses of authority in detentions of the traveling public, illegal searches and now invasive medical procedures.  We need to take all the financial incentive out of police work.

False Information in Eckert Search Warrant

     On August 7th, 2013 we filed the case of Eckert v. Hidalgo County (1:13-CV-00727) in the United States District Court for the District of New Mexico.  Since KOB ran its story on Mr. Eckert’s travails, the national media has followed-up with many stories on Mr. Eckert’s nightmarish experience of January 2nd and 3rd, 2013 at the Gila Regional Medical Center.

     The Blaze.com has reported quite correctly that the search warrant affidavit alleged that Mr. Eckert “was known to insert drugs into his anal cavity”.  The affidavit does not detail which law enforcement officer provided this allegation and does not state the basis for the allegation.  We investigated this allegation thoroughly prior to filing our lawsuit.  We found no evidence to support the allegation and are anxious to question the officers about their source for the allegation.  While Mr. Eckert has struggled in the past with drug use, which resulted in a 2008 arrest and conviction, there is no evidence to support any allegation that he used his anus for transportation of drugs.

     We believe that this issue of false allegations in a search warrant highlights an important point in this case and is an important broader issue on the ability of government to use false information to support detentions of citizens.  We hope that the City of Deming and the County of Hidalgo will respond to media requests and provide the basis for their allegations that Mr. Eckert was known to transport drugs in his anus.  Even if such an allegation were true, the information would not support a 20 foot government intrusion into a man’s body, with a colonoscope, far beyond a visual view of the anal cavity.