When police officers shot and killed James Boyd, a homeless, mentally ill man they confronted for illegally sleeping in the mountains, the body camera footage of the incident was so disturbing that the local DA, Kari Brandenburg, recently decided to indict the officers and take the case to court
Albuquerque, NM, somewhat shockingly to outsiders who don't think of the city as being notorious for police violence, was reviewed by the Department of Justice and given a scathing review. The court monitored actions required by the DOJ will go into effect soon, but conditions have deteriorated so badly in the city that a resident of Albuquerque is now over 25 times more likely to be shot and killed by an officer there than they would be in New York City.
These problems are bad for everyone—ranging from the citizens who suffer the violence, to the public servants of Albuquerque who are widely branded as irresponsible and violence prone, to the business and tourism industries who may opt to distance themselves from a city mired in controversy of the worst kind.
That's why when Kari Brandenburg took the rare step to pursue charges against the officers who killed James Boyd, that it was a powerful signal the city was moving in the right direction. The police, though, have started to act out against Brandenburg and her entire office. Just a day after filing charges against the officers, another Albuquerque resident was murdered by police.
And when a prosecutor from Brandenburg’s office went to the scene and sought to attend an investigative briefing, as prosecutors had been doing for years as part of their collection of evidence, police wouldn’t let her in. They claimed that now that the DA’s office had filed criminal charges against a cop, they had a “conflict of interest” and should be excluded.
“Clearly, this could compromise the integrity of the investigation of this shooting,” an outraged Brandenburg told KRQE of the police department’s behavior.
Please read below the fold for more on this story.
Radley Balko of the Washington Post, went further:
Reached by telephone for comment Tuesday evening, Levy, who has for years worked as APD’s attorney, refused to answer questions . . .
Levy also told Martinez that APD “wouldn’t be needing any legal advice or help” and that Martinez “could go home,” Brandenburg said. “They told her we could call another prosecutor’s office to come down.”
Prosecutors’ presence at the scenes of police shootings and inside the investigatory briefings has been ubiquitous for decades here. In fact, the DA’s participation in the investigations is memorialized in a written agreement with APD and other agencies signed in 2004.
“I have never seen anything like this. Ever,” Brandenburg said in a telephone interview, referring to a city official shutting one of her prosecutors out of a briefing. “Clearly, this could compromise the integrity of the investigation of this shooting.”
This isn't the only way police are targeting Brandenburg.
Last October, Brandenburg told an attorney for the police union that she was considering filing charges against the cops who killed James Boyd, a homeless schizophrenic man approached by the officers for sleeping in the Albuquerque foothills. “Within weeks, Brandenburg found herself the target of an investigation by the Albuquerque Police Department,” Aviv explains.
The investigation related to theft by Brandenburg’s son, who had stolen money from friends to feed his heroin addiction. Brandenburg had offered to pay back the victims of the theft, and somewhere along the way, police developed a claim that Brandenburg had bribed witnesses related to the case.
A detective working on the case admitted in a recording that the claims were “super-weak — it’s probably not gonna go anywhere,” but “it’s gonna destroy her career.”
Mayor of Minneapolis Betsy Hodges, when she announced that she would be requiring officers in her city to wear body cameras and that she would be advocating for fair and safe policing, began to experience a dangerous pushback from officers as well in what has become known as the #pointergate scandal
Seen here taking a harmless and lighthearted photo with a voter registration volunteer, Mayor Hodges was soon blasted by the official police spokesman for flashing a gang sign and endangering the safety of officers
A clearly contrived backlash for her stance on officers, the incident was reduced to a joke and a trending topic on Twitter, but it's troubling.
In Albuquerque and Minneapolis, officers are letting local prosecutors and politicians alike know that holding them accountable, in any shape, form, or fashion, will come with very real consequences and repercussions from the police.
Few public displays have demonstrated the consequences politicians will pay for even doing as much as talking about protecting their own children from the potential dangers of police encounters than New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.
As the police union spokesperson claimed the mayor "had blood on his hands" after the senseless killing of two NYPD officers, tens of thousands of officers then literally turned their backs on the mayor and flat out stopped doing their jobs in protest. When pushed for exactly what the mayor did wrong, the officers couldn't even agree and came to blows arguing over it.
Proof, indisputable and increasingly common, that police feel they are beyond correction and that anyone who says otherwise will have hell to pay, is not just uncool, it's despicable and disturbing. A recent bill, proposed by Georgia Congressman Hank Johnson, the Grand Jury Reform Act, is designed to avoid at least some of the clear conflict of interest that we see today when politicians and prosecutors suffer the wrath of police for investigating crimes by appointing a special prosecutor in every case of a police involved murder.
The status quo here is lethal and messy.