Use-of-Force Policy Contested
James Ginger, the monitor chosen to manage the Department of Justice’s sweeping reform initiative directed at the Albuquerque Police Department, says that while the department is complying with the agreement struck by the Feds last year to make crucial changes to the way APD does business, he is at odds with the police over the institution’s lack of a use-of-force policy. Ginger released his first progress report last week, noting this problem as a stumbling block to reform.
In a meeting with US District Judge Robert Brack last Thursday, a lawyer for the city, Jessica Hernandez, spoke to the conflict, noting that while the dispute was on-going, APD was moving forward toward change but noting, “This is a major organizational change for an organization that's been doing the same thing for years and years.”
The deadline for defining and implementing a new use-of-force policy is June 2016, a date Police Chief Gorden Eden says the department is sure to make, calling the new, yet-to-be-written policy the opportunity to “get it right.” The chief also admitted that delays had to do with the ratification of his new contract, which was enacted after the reforms became law.
After complaints, including one from Ralph Arellanes, the chairman of the Hispano Round Table, that APD officials were falling behind in their commitments to the mandate from the Department of Justice, Brack became concerned, according to reports in the national media.
The monitor’s recent report covers the first part of this year’s work with APD; a second report covering the latter half of 2015 is due out in March.
Murder Trial Continues
The trial of Alex Rios, accused in the savage beating and murder of two homeless Native American men sleeping in a vacant lot in Burque’s South Valley, continued this week at the Bernalillo County Courthouse in downtown Albuquerque.
As part of a plea agreement with prosecutors, self-admitted murderer Gilbert Tafoya, a minor, is testifying against co-defendant Alex Rios—who turned down a plea bargain earlier this year. Tafoya, who pled guilty to second-degree murder in the deaths of Allison Gorman, 44, and Kee Thompson, 46, took the stand to tell the jury about the crimes he, Rios and a third teen named Nathaniel Carrillo reportedly committed in the summer of 2014.
Court transcripts quoted in the Santa Fe New Mexican relate the horrible nature of the crimes. Tafoya is quoted as saying he “stabbed the guy on the mattress seven times,” while his companion Alex “stabbed the guy on the ground the same amount of time as me.” As well as brutally inflicting mortal wounds on the two sleeping Navajo men, Rios told a packed courtroom that afterwards a member of the trio also desecrated Gorman’s and Thompson’s mortal remains, urinating on them before fleeing the scene of the heinous crime.
In defending his client, Rios’ lawyer, Daniel Salazar, said that besides the testimony, the state has no evidence that Rios was actually involved in the beating deaths. DNA matching Rios was found on clothing related to the murders, but Salazar said that is not enough to convict and also questioned Tafoya’s intentions upon cross-examination. The trial continues this week while the third youth accused in the crime will face trial in September 2016.
Update: As the Alibi went to press, jurors began deliberating Rios’ fate. On Wednesday a verdict was returned. Rios was found guilty of the charges; he was convicted of second-degree murder in the deaths of Allison Gorman and Kee Thompson. Prosecutors will seek a long prison sentence for the murderer, according to reports in the Santa Fe New Mexican.
Air Force Pays for Delay
Last December the US Air Force missed a compliance deadline that was integral to clean up efforts related to a huge jet fuel plume threatening Albuquerque’s water supply. Now, according to sources at the New Mexico Environment Department, they will pay for the delay.
Last Wednesday, officials announced that the Air Force will pay the state Environment Department $750,000 to get the project back on track. Although work on remediating the spill has been taking place, progress has been glacial, according to activists who filed a lawsuit last month alleging problems with the Air Force’s management of the 6 to 24 million gallon petroleum-product disaster.
The money garnered as a result of a Notice of Violation filed back in January will help ease the financial burden associated with providing the dedicated regulatory oversight and review required by the project, according to Air Force official Kathryn Lynnes. Further, Ryan Flynn, the secretary of the NMED says his office is committed to getting the spill taken care of. So far, project has removed over 5,000 tons of contaminated soil as well as 570,000 gallons of fuel from soil in the source area.
Meanwhile plans for the lawsuit continue; as reported in last week’s Alibi, proponents of the lawsuit continue to maintain that not enough is being done to keep the city’s fragile water supply contamination-free.