Albuquerque Police Department Shoots Third Person in 5 Weeks, Right After The DOJ Calls Them Out For 'Excessive Force'


Albuquerque police, already deemed trigger-happy by the Department of Justice, shot and killed 19-year-old Mary Hawkes Tuesday, making Hawkes the third victim of deadly Albuquerque police force in the city in the last five weeks. In early April, the Department of Justice concluded a 16-month investigation and determined that the police force in New Mexico's most populous city practiced a "pattern of use of excessive force, including deadly force." This latest tragedy does nothing to salvage their reputation.

In the past four years, Albuquerque police have discharged their firearms at least 37 times in response to perceived threats, resulting in 23 deaths and 14 injuries. Tuesday's death of Hawkes, the daughter of a retired judge, brings the death toll to 24, and she's the first woman to be killed by the force.

The DOJ investigation found a disturbing trend of unnecessary and lethal force against residents of the city. In a press conference, Jocelyn Samuels, acting assistant attorney general for the department’s civil rights division, noted that Albuquerque police suffered from “inadequate oversight, inadequate investigation of incidents of force, inadequate training of officers to ensure they understand what is permissible or not.” This resulted in a "practice of violating residents’ Fourth Amendment rights” and using deadly force “in an unconstitutional manner.”

These findings come as little surprise to some Albuquerque residents, especially those whose family members have been killed or wounded by the police.

In February 2009, an unarmed 19-year-old who was lying "motionless on his back" was killed after leading police on a low-speed chase. The teenager, Andrew Lopez, was initially hit by a non-lethal shot that put him on his back, at which point an officer approached and shot him in the chest, killing him. This incident resulted in a $4.25 million payout to Lopez's estate and considerable backlash from Albuquerque residents.

Albuquerque police also shot and killed 25-year-old Iraq war veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after he threatened to commit suicide.

One of the most incendiary shootings was that of James Boyd, a homeless man who was known to suffer from mental illness. On March 16, 38-year-old Boyd, who was camping at the foothills of the Sandia Mountains, was shot and killed after a standoff. Video footage from a police helmet showed that he appeared to be surrendering when he was shot. A little over a week later, Alfred Redwine, 30, was also shot and killed following a standoff.

These incidents led to a 12-hour protest against the police's continued use of deadly force, in which several hundred residents came to blows with riot-gear clad police officers. Albuquerque, New Mexico, makes none of the "Most Dangerous Cities in America" lists. It is nowhere to be found on Neighborhood Scout's "Top 100 Most Dangerous Cities," nor is it on the FBI's 10 Most Dangerous Cities list. And yet, the Albuquerque police force is among the deadliest in the nation.

According to the DOJ report, Albuquerque police have shot at a 75-year-old homeless man for refusing to leave a bus stop, a 16-year-old for refusing to lie on a broken glass covered floor, and at another young man who was made immobile by his level of intoxication.

The DOJ's investigation found that the Albuquerque police not only used deadly force, but often used it against individuals who "posed a minimal threat, including individuals who posed a threat only to themselves or who were unarmed." Police officers were also blamed of unnecessarily escalating situations. During the press conference, the father of the Iraq war veteran, said, “Officers in this city have literally gotten away with murder.”

This latest tragedy involving Mary Hawkes only reinforces the need for major reform in the Albuquerque police department, but they are not alone in their excessive uses of force. Seattle, Portland, and New Orleans have also come under fire for their practices, and have taken years and millions of dollars to rectify their wrongs. These cases come at a time when police brutality is making waves, with NYPD's Twitter photo contest taking an ugly turn as individuals posted photos of police aggression.

While the policemen and women of the United States should be celebrated for protecting citizens, they must also be held to a high standard of conduct. Recent events in Albuquerque suggest an unsettling trend of an abuse of power: 24 deaths in five years from one police department is abysmal.

Images: Flickr/Ron Reiring, Flickr/Woody Hibbard