BELEN, N.M. (KRQE) – The City of Belen has refused to reveal some investigations to the public. One investigation reveals a Belen Police lieutenant was on paid leave for an incident when he got detained by Albuquerque Police for another. KRQE News 13 has uncovered the details of what happened and why the city wouldn’t let the public know about it.
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It all started with a tip from a citizen, asking KRQE to find out what was going on at the Belen Police Department. A firearms instructor accidentally fired his gun in the police station. Then days later, he was at the center of an Albuquerque Police Department investigation.
Clearing up what exactly happened is usually as simple as a public records request. The largest police department in the state, APD, routinely releases its internal affairs investigations revealing how an officer violated department policies and was disciplined. However, the City of Belen kept it under wraps.
“Historically we have not released personnel information,” Belen Mayor Jerah Cordova said. “We’re very careful about that so that we don’t run into any legal liabilities or risk.”
KRQE eventually obtained the public records from the New Mexico Law Enforcement Academy instead. Now that KRQE had the details, the city is speaking to the public. That includes the officer himself, Jose Natividad, who has since been promoted from lieutenant to deputy chief. “They want to see that we’re transparent. There’s nothing to hide,” Deputy Chief Natividad said.
Last July, Natividad, who is also the department’s firearms instructor, accidentally shot his gun in the police station, hitting a filing cabinet. In violation of department policies on how to handle weapons in the police station, Natividad said he was trying out a kit that converts a pistol to a carbine rifle when he accidentally squeezed the trigger. He said he took responsibility for what happened. “Oh, immediately. There was nobody else to blame but me,” Natividad said.
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Chief James Harris suspended him for one day. However, while on paid leave before that punishment came down, the firearms instructor faced questions again that week about another incident involving his gun.
APD handcuffed and detained the then-lieutenant during an aggravated assault investigation. It stemmed from a heated dispute over a parking space on Osuna near Jefferson.
Natividad had pulled into a “no parking” zone and a business owner told him to move. He did, but he also rolled down his window and told the man not to be so rude. “The way he approached me, you know, like barking. You know, we don’t take barking, man. You know what I mean?” Natividad later told APD.
Natividad got out of his car. “As he continued to go back to his vehicle several times, it just heightened my awareness of me possibly being injured or hurt,” Natividad told KRQE.
Investigators said Natividad, who was off-duty, identified himself as an officer and grabbed his holstered gun and badge and set them on the seat in his truck. The business owner accused the lieutenant of pointing the gun at him, but investigators later concluded there was no evidence to support that and that he did not break any laws.
He did, however, violate more of Belen’s city and police department policies. The investigation found that his behavior was reminiscent of the old school police mentality, with comments like this: Once he started belittling me and talking down to me, I’m not gonna take that.
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Name-calling does not justify a police action and a reasonable officer would have avoided conflict, the investigation stated. Plus, it said, Natividad should not have been representing himself as an officer anyway because he was off-duty, in another city, and on leave. Finally, the firearms instructor’s qualification to use the gun he displayed that day was expired, which is a liability for the city of Belen.
“Thinking about what happened that day, could things have been done differently? Most definitely. Could I have rolled up my window? Could I have driven further to a different parking spot to avoid the whole encounter as a whole? Correct,” Natividad said in an interview with KRQE.
Discipline included a 10-day suspension, a 1-year suspension as the department’s firearms instructor and more training on ethics and de-escalation. “I owned up to my mistake. I took my punishment. I served it, and we move on and that’s part of life.”
Natividad was promoted to deputy chief at the end of March. He has been with the department since 2007 and did not have any past disciplinary cases in his file, according to the internal affairs investigation.