Police Oversight Commission Snuffs Dissent
The Police Oversight Commission is in hot water after denying a citizen his first amendment rights during public comment. Chair Linda Martinez ordered APD to remove Andres Valdez, director of activist group Vecinos United, from the December 13 meeting when he called her impartiality into question. “Anyone else who speaks out will be removed immediately,” said Martinez after protests erupted from the crowd following the incident.
For the last few months, parents and relatives of people killed by APD, and their supporters, have attended POC meetings, trying to get to the bottom of the commission’s unwillingness to sanction officers. The commission has never punished an officer in a shooting, rubber stamping actions by a department which, by its own admission through a series of self-imposed reforms, is struggling with matters related to officer conduct.
A commissioner since 2007, Martinez is president of the Albuquerque Fraternal Order of Police lodge auxiliary, a support group for an organization that opposes civilian oversight of police; her husband, Robert Martinez, is state lodge president. Charles Arasim, an advocate against police violence, brought the conflict to light in a POC meeting last month. The commission shut down comment on the issue, claiming it needed to be on the agenda.
The December 13 meeting played out like a conspiracy on the part of the commission to snuff out any criticism of their decision. At the opening, Commissioner and POC Vice Chair Bambi Folk moved to change the agenda so the POC could rule on the matter early in the proceedings. They found no conflict of interest and adopted a resolution instructing Martinez to recuse herself only from specific matters presenting a conflict of interest.
Before public comment, Martinez limited discussion during the period to a single new agenda item and “general comments,” anticipating dissenting views from the public over the resolution adopted earlier in the session. She strayed from her usual instructions to testifiers, which in the past included only a ban on discussing pending cases or mentioning officers’ names.
On cue, Commissioner Richard Shine interrupted Valdez, the first speaker, as he drew attention to the commission’s lack of scruples in handling the issue. “You do not have a right…to say anything you want during public comment period,” said Shine. The crowd was livid, insisting that under the constitution they have the right to address the commission’s integrity.
Shine hypocritically cited the first amendment’s freedom of association provision as justification for keeping Martinez on the commission. In his next breath he asked for the removal of a dissenting citizen who had every right to speak before the commission and the public. Commissioner Jonathan Siegel offered the only voice opposing the body’s handling of the situation.
The commission’s stance rendered obsolete the rest of the coalition’s prepared testimony, instilling fear of similar treatment by authorities. Activists wonder what the public comment section of the meeting is for if they are refused the opportunity to dissent to a decision made in that very session.
“They’re totally arbitrary,” said Valdez. “They don’t ever seem to stick to their rules and regulations.”
The activists believe their view of the commission as a ruse was exonerated by its heavy-handed actions. “It’s supposed to be police oversight, not police cover up,” said Kenneth Ellis, whose 25-year-old veteran son APD gunned down two years ago. “I thank God DOJ is here, and I look forward to some indictments, and I look forward to seeing this process cleaned up and fixed.” Ellis and others at the meeting helped catalyze the Department of Justice’s investigation into APD.
The group and other Albuquerque citizens are growing weary of the commission’s reticence, even in the face of the DOJ investigation.
“Who would have to be murdered by police,” pleaded Don Schrader, “before your conscience would come alive and you would feel the agony and the anger of those families, those friends, whose loved ones have been beaten or murdered by police?”
The group showed up at the city council meeting December 17 to raise the issue, supported by members of local activist organizations ANSWER Coalition and Vecinos United. APD Chief Ray Schultz appeared bored during testimony, hardly bothering to shift focus from his phone to the speakers, some of whom shared stories of loved ones meeting violent ends at the hands of APD.
The group is discussing legal action with the ACLU and will pursue several complaints filed with the Office of Internal Audit against Martinez, and Mayor Berry and City Councilor Don Harris for appointing Martinez in the first place.
Readers can view the meeting and scene of Valdez’s ejection at policecomplaints.info, an APD watchdog website.
Victims of APD violence can report incidents anonymously to the Department of Justice: 855-544-5134
Relatives of people slain by APD will be organizing a contingent for the Martin Luther King Jr. Parade/March Sunday January 20. Please join and show your support.