In June 2010, police officers in the Albuquerque Police Department arrived at the scene of a car crash, where Larry* was convulsing in the vehicle.
The officers ordered Larry to open the vehicle door. When Larry refused, the officers, concerned for the safety of Larry’s child, shattered the passenger-side window to remove the child from the vehicle.
When Larry refused again to exit the car, the officer fired his Taser, hitting him in the back and buttocks. Larry proceeded to crawl out of the vehicle, but when he turned to re-enter the vehicle, the officer Tasered him again.
Although Larry clearly posed no imminent threat, the officer then Tasered him a third time. Larry drifted in and out of consciousness until the ambulance arrived.
In a scathing report released April 10, the Department of Justice documented more than a dozen stories similar to Larry, where Albuquerque Police officers violated people’s Fourth Amendment rights by using excessive force.
Many of these stories involved people with mental illnesses, or who were otherwise medically vulnerable.
“We reviewed many incidents in which we concluded that officers failed to consider an individual’s physical, mental, or emotional state in making force determinations,” the DOJ stated in the findings letter. “Consequently, we found instances where individuals did not pose an immediate threat to the safety of the officer or the public, and officers deployed a level of force that was unreasonable under the circumstances.”
Since 2010, the Albuquerque Police Department officers have fired on 37 people, 23 of them fatally.
In its investigation, which began in November 2012, the DOJ found that Albuquerque Police Department officers “too frequently use deadly force against people who pose a minimal threat and in situations where the conduct of the officers heightens the danger and contributes to the need to use force.”
In addition, the DOJ found that officers too often used less force, like Tasers. Despite these patterns, the DOJ found that almost none of these officers were held accountable, and that the system suffered from “structural and systemic deficiencies – including ‘insufficient oversight, inadequate training, and ineffective policies.'”
The report comes on the heels of the March 16 shooting of James Boyd, a homeless man with a mental illness whose shooting stirred protests and an FBI investigation.
“Today’s groundbreaking announcement marks a critical milestone in addressing problems that have plagued our community and the Albuquerque Police Department for years,” said Damon Martinez, acting U.S. Attorney for the District of New Mexico, in the news release. “These findings come at a unique time for the city and the Albuquerque Police Department and provide a blueprint for changing the culture of the Albuquerque Police Department and for rebuilding broken relationships with the community it serves.”
* names have been changed to protect confidentiality.