APD clears use-of-force investigation backlog

On Special Assignment

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – The Albuquerque Police Department says its Internal Affairs Unit has finally cleared a massive backlog. They did it on top of investigating all kinds of new misconduct cases that popped up along the way.

On Special Assignment, KRQE News 13 takes a look at the cases APD has been handling and what it learned from them. APD records show it completed 84 cases last year, which involved both officers and civilian employees and included misconduct from use-of-force to drunken driving.

When asked how important it is for APD to hold its officers accountable if there’s misconduct, Deputy Chief of the Compliance Bureau, Eric Garcia, said, “Extremely important. The ultimate barometer is what the public, how the public feels about the police department, whether we are treating people fairly, justly and if we are improving.”

Garcia explained that Internal Affairs is now split up into two parts. The Force Division looks into whether officers are following new rules when they use force, and the Professional Standards Division investigates any other potential misconduct.

“Not reporting to duty on time, or not prepared for duty, or it could be as far as insubordination to a supervisor,” Deputy Chief Garcia said.

Internal Affairs investigations KRQE obtained from APD showed the Department moved to fire two employees last year for fraudulent doctors’ notes. An investigator concluded Gang Unit Specialist Antoinette Apodaca changed the time of an appointment on a doctor’s note to avoid going to a meeting.

Meanwhile, another investigation found Records Specialist Ysabelle Martinez called in sick for several days before showing up with doctors’ notes signed in pencil. A call to the hospital confirmed she didn’t actually see a doctor there after all, according to APD. An investigator said Martinez claimed she was being retaliated against and that she was not cooperative with the internal investigation.

The Internal Affairs Force Division has also had its hands full, handling current cases on top of clearing a backlog of old cases, mostly from 2017.

“We started with 304. We completed every single one of them,” said Robert Middleton, Commander of the Internal Affairs Force Division.

He said they finished reviewing those old use-of-force cases that didn’t get a close enough look the first time around.

“They did not have the tools to do the investigations or reviews correctly,” Cmdr. Middleton said of the supervisors who initially reviewed the cases.

He said that the cases came before APD put a new, more thorough system in place to investigate its officers—and looking back, gave APD a chance to catch its mistakes to provide more training to officers investigating use-of-force and to the officers under investigation.

“It’s a history lesson on APD, and it’s extremely important because this backlog defines where we came from.”

Cmdr. Middleton

For instance, KRQE News 13 uncovered an incident two years ago in which supervisors initially cleared the officers. However, a second look after reviewing the backlog showed the officers actually should have been disciplined.

Body camera video shows Officers Steven Arias and Clarence Garcia chasing Daniel Acosta after he didn’t pull over when police tried to stop him for alleged aggressive driving near Central and 63rd.

Police video shows a gun on the ground under Acosta’s right arm.

Then, Ofc. Arias tases Acosta, and you see a gun on the ground. Ofc. Garcia grabs the gun and aims it at Acosta’s head.

“You are so lucky! How dare you pull a weapon on us,” Ofc. Garcia says as Acosta is lying on his back on the ground. “Lie on your stomach. I’m gonna cuff him.”

Raw Video: Officer grabs suspect’s gun, aims it

Obviously, it was a very tense situation, but the internal investigation concluded that is not how an officer should respond. It found Ofc. Garcia violated the firearms policy by using an “unauthorized” gun on duty and violated the use-of-force policy by pointing the suspect’s gun at his head in anger.

“In that moment, since no commands were given and no action was taken other than to lecture the subject, pointing the firearm at Mr. Acosta does not appear to serve the accomplishment of any law enforcement objective,” the investigation stated.

Garcia admitted he should have handled the situation differently, according to the investigation.

“You are so lucky! How dare you pull a weapon on us,” Ofc. Garcia said.

The investigation even looked into whether the action broke the law and could be considered assault. However, after a criminal review and consulting with the District Attorney’s Office, it was determined that no crime was committed.

The findings also stated both officers should have turned on their body cameras a lot sooner than they did because they had been driving behind Acosta for quite some time before he jumped out and made a run for it.

Finally, this second review of the case as part of the backlog determined that supervisors should have reported misconduct when they reviewed the incident first.

It took more than a year to reach that conclusion and give officers feedback. Because it took so long, they won’t be disciplined, based on APD’s agreement with the union.

“We can’t and we won’t discipline somebody if it does go outside of those timelines,” Cmdr. Middleton explained. “It’s not being fair to the police officer.”

However, he said, with the backlog now cleared, his division can focus on getting current cases done faster for officers.

“They need feedback immediately and that was one of our deficiencies as a police department is we didn’t do that for them.”

Cmdr. Middleton

By the end of the encounter with Acosta, Ofc. Garcia actually thanked him.

“Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you for not trying to shoot us because I would’ve been sad. I don’t want to shoot anybody,” he said.

“I don’t want to shoot anybody either,” Acosta replied.

Acosta admitted he ran because he had drugs on him.

Daniel Acosta is currently on probation.

“What concerns me is the fact you’re running with a pistol when officers are chasing you and giving you commands,” Ofc. Garcia explained.

“Yeah. I know. It was wrong of me,” Acosta replied. “I should have stopped and… I’m sorry. I’m gonna get what I deserve, that’s for sure.”

A plea deal filed in District Court on December 11, 2017, shows Acosta pleaded guilty to trafficking meth, and Judge Jacqueline Flores approved the deal to suspend most of his sentence. Acosta spent about 1.5 years in prison, and he is currently serving out his five years of supervised probation, which prohibits him from drinking alcohol or doing drugs.

Out of all 84 cases that APD’s Internal Affairs completed last year, eight ended with an employee getting fired or resigning.

Discipline Imposed for 2018 IA Cases:

Discipline Imposed for 2018 IA Cases

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