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Monday, July 15, 2024 | Back issues
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Feds Takes on Albuquerque Police Abuses

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (CN) - Uncle Sam laid out a laundry list of abuses by Albuquerque police officers in 46-page report accompanying a federal complaint on the heels of a settlement.

"From 2009 through 2012, Albuquerque police officers have been involved in approximately 20 officer-involved shootings resulting in fatalities," the complaint filed Wednesday states. "The United States concluded that the majority of these shootings were unconstitutional. The use of unreasonable deadly force by Albuquerque police officers continues."

The Justice Department found that APD officers "use deadly force in circumstances where there is no imminent threat of death or serious bodily harm ... and where officers' own conduct escalates situations and contributes to the need to use force," the complaint states.

In once incident, "officers set an individual on fire by shocking him multiple times with an electronic control weapon after the individual had doused himself with a flammable substance," the United States says.

Though the eight-page complaint does not get into specifics, the Justice Department's report notes that there is much research organizations cautioning against deploying a Taser near flammable materials.

The gasoline-doused man whom police set on fire is described as "Edward" in the report, which says the incident occurred in December 2009, with officers responding to a domestic-violence call.

"The officers kicked down the door and immediately smelled a strong odor of gasoline," it states. "Sheets, carpet, and even Edward, were saturated in gasoline. One officer reported that he was struck in the face with an object that was later identified as a lighter that came from Edward's direction."

The report notes that officers first deployed their Tasers on the resistant Edward multiple times to get him in handcuffs.

Edward then "began banging his head against the wall and attempted to kick at the officers," the report states. "At this point, an officer used his Taser again in drive-stun mode and ignited Edward's shirt in flames. The fire had to be extinguished by another officer. The officer set Edward on fire with his Taser despite clear indications that the apartment and Edward himself were saturated with gasoline. Even if officers believed Edward posed a significant threat before he was handcuffed, once restrained, officers had other options available, such as leg restraints to prevent him from kicking. Instead, officers exposed him and others to the extreme danger of catching fire from the Taser's electrical discharge."

The complaint also claims that officers repeatedly fail to report, investigate, and follow up on uses of force, and that the department fails to adequately train and instruct its officers in how to minimize the need for force in the first place.

APD officers also use less lethal force unconstitutionally, and "use physical force, such as punches, kicks, and violent takedowns, against individuals who pose little or no threat to officers or others," the complaint states.

The Department of Justice launched its investigation of APD in November 2012.

The pattern of excessive force amounts to a violation of the Fourth Amendment and the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, according to the complaint.

The United States seeks declaratory and injunctive relief to force sustainable reforms.

Albuquerque agreed on Oct. 31 on reforms intended to ameliorate the city police's use of force against civilians.

Executive Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Martinez filed the suit.

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