ALBUQUERQUE (CN) — The Department of Justice is investigating whether the much-criticized Albuquerque Police Department altered lapel camera videos of police shootings.
The Department of Justice scorched Albuquerque in a 2014 report on police abuse, which found, among other things, that “the majority” of the 20 police killings of civilians from 2009 to 2012 “were unconstitutional.”
A 106-page settlement agreement obligated the city to clean up its police force.
Eleven days after the Justice Department released its report, Albuquerque police shot a teenager to death, and officers’ body cam videos indicated that they moved her body after she died, the family of the late Mary Hawkes, 19, claimed in a lawsuit in March this year.
The Hawkes family’s lawsuit came two months after the police records supervisor sued the city, claiming it fired him for complaining that he’d been ordered to withhold public records. Former records supervisor Reynaldo Chavez also filed an affidavit in the Hawkes family’s lawsuit, claiming that APD officers have altered videos from police shootings, including the Hawkes death.
Albuquerque police have announced they are investigating allegations of video tampering, and the city has said it is hiring an outside investigator to look into it.
The Albuquerque Police Department has acknowledged that it edits videos, but said it does so to clarify them, not to tamper with them or try to hide evidence.
Police say they keep original copies of all video evidence.
Police Det. Frank Pezzano told the Albuquerque Journal that he “would adjust, contrast, zoom in and out and sharpen images,” for “clarifications.”
Albuquerque police were an early adopter of body cameras for officers, one of the first large police forces in the country to do so, though its body cam program has a history of controversy.
Multiple lawsuits and investigations have questioned, among other things, the relationship between a former police chief and Taser International, which sold the city its body cameras in a no-bid deal; a lawsuit from a TV reporter who said police refused to turn over body cam video to her because it would be “a source of embarrassment” to the department; and the widely reported helmet-cam footage of the fatal shooting of James Boyd, a homeless man, in 2014, which also brought a lawsuit.
Department of Justice spokeswoman Elizabeth Martinez told the Albuquerque Journal last week: “The Justice Department has received several requests seeking a federal criminal investigation into allegations that APD lapel camera videos may have been altered or deleted.”
But Martinez said her agency would not comment further on the “ongoing investigation.”