Earlier this week, the City of Albuquerque and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Mexico settled a lawsuit alleging that the Police Oversight Commission (POC) violated the First Amendment rights of several citizens during a meeting last December.
“The terms of this settlement constitute a big win for free speech,” said ACLU-NM Executive Director Peter Simonson. “In a healthy democracy, the public must be able to criticize their government without fear of suppression or retaliation. This settlement not only affirms that right, but expands the public’s ability to communicate with this commission.”
The plaintiffs in this case, Charles Arasim, Kenneth Ellis, Silvio Dell’Angela and Eli Chavez, are all community activists who routinely speak out against police brutality. The four men say they were denied an opportunity to voice their concerns over a perceived conflict of interest involving one of the POC commissioners.
In addition to the $14,000 in damages and attorneys fees, the settlement is supposed to include procedural adjustments to the Commission’s rules to promote enhanced free speech and expression and citizen involvement.
Kenneth Ellis Jr. says he is happy with the settlement because it affirms his right to question the government. “As the father of a son who was wrongfully killed by Albuquerque police, I must speak out about the problems with the police and the Police Oversight Commission—even when the government doesn’t like what I have to say,” Ellis said. “No other family should have to go through what ours did.”
The fiasco began when these men attempted to challenge the ethical standards of then-POC Chairperson Linda Martinez for having deep ties to the Fraternal Order of Police. Martinez served as the law enforcement advocacy group's former president while serving as chairperson of the Commission. According to the complaint, the Fraternal Order of Police has a policy that opposes civilian oversight of police activity at any level of government. Martinez, who vacated the office after her second term, was not eligible for reappointment.