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OpEdNews Op Eds    H1'ed 12/8/14

Inside the Twisted Police Department That Kills Unarmed Citizens at the Highest Rate in the Country

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Wallace has since received a special commendation for distinguished service and was promoted to sergeant. Despite changing the story of how he killed Alan Gomez several times during his deposition, Wallace has been elected to the Albuquerque Police Officers' Association's executive board as the area representative for police supervisors. Chief among his duties is coaching other officers on how to structure their testimonies when they appear before Internal Affairs investigators.

"Wallace is laughing at me right now," Gomez said. "He got money, he got a promotion, and now he's coaching other cops on how to lie."

Perhaps the only consequence Wallace has faced for his lethal violence was being shamed by protesters into withdrawing as a contestant from the city's 2014 National Police Shooting Championships. Nicknamed by local anti-brutality activists the "Killer Cop Competition," the target-shooting jamboree was overseen by Tim Gonterman, a local police officer who tased a homeless man until his ear fell off. (The 2002 incident cost the city $300,000 in an excessive force lawsuit.) Gonterman has since been promoted to the rank of major and appointed to oversee the reforms demanded by the Department of Justice. Albuquerque Police Chief Gordon Eden proudly declared that Gonterman has "demonstrated the strong leadership skills necessary for us to move ahead with DOJ reform requirements."

Partner in Crime

Wallace's partner, Jeremy Dear, has also demonstrated a penchant for deception and wanton violence. Dear was caught lying to investigators during his deposition on the killing of Alan Gomez. He claimed he saw Gomez carrying something resembling a firearm when Wallace shot him. However, in audio recorded on his lapel camera when the incident took place, Dear clearly stated he could not even see Gomez's hands.

This April, just two weeks after the DOJ released its report on the Albuquerque police, Dear shot and killed a 19-year-old named Mary Hawkes under suspicious circumstances. Dear claimed Hawkes had stolen a truck, then drawn a .32 pistol on him when he attempted to arrest her. In the end, Hawkes was found shot three times at a 60-degree downward angle, indicating she was lying down when killed.

Curiously, Dear could not produce any video from his lapel camera that captured his shooting of Hawkes. It was the fourth time that video from his camera had mysteriously disappeared. At Police Chief Eden's press conference on the incident, he displayed a replica of the gun Hawkes was accused of pointing at Dear, raising questions about the whereabouts of the real pistol. To Hawkes' bereaved friends and supporters, it appeared the department was determined to sweep another killing under the rug along with the life of a homeless young woman city leadership seemed to view as disposable.

Raised in foster homes and drawn to the street in search of a community, Mary Hawkes fit the profile of so many other victims of the Albuquerque police. During a stint at the Bernalillo Juvenile Detention Center, she earned her GED and articulated through poetry her harrowing experience as a homeless teen born to abusive parents. On the streets of Albuquerque's gritty International District, she and her friends sometimes broke into cars or vacant homes in search of places to sleep. It was there, under circumstances that will never be fully known, that Hawkes encountered the cop who would cut her life short.

This month, Dear was fired for repeatedly turning off or tampering with his lapel camera. But it remains unlikely that he will ever be indicted for killing Hawkes. Meanwhile, Police Chief Eden has declared that the department's most violent elements may be intractable.

The Killer Cop Clubhouse

Within the Albuquerque police department, a little-known elite unit serves as a de facto clubhouse for some of its most violent members. It is a hyper-militarized anti-gang force known as the Repeat Offender Project, or ROP. For the past two decades, the team has chosen a hangman's noose as its symbol. As Jeff Proctor reported for Albuquerque's News 13, "The [ROP] team plastered the ominous insignia all over its wanted posters, internal memos and other documents."

ROP members are drawn increasingly from SWAT teams, dress in plain clothes and function separately from the rest of the police force. Its leadership has refused to publicly disclose the names of officers in the unit. According to Proctor, a number of ROP officers have been funded by the New Mexico State Police "to receive training that has its roots in preparing soldiers for America's wars in the Middle East and elsewhere" at a Department of Energy military training ground in the desert.

"I think of [ROP] like a fight club," civil rights attorney Shannon Kennedy remarked to Proctor. "They truly are cowboys. There's no supervision, and there's no chain of command. The ROP team does whatever it wants."

Though it is only comprised of a handful of members, the ROP is responsible for at least one out of every 10 officer-involved shootings since 2005. The videotaped shooting this April of a mentally ill homeless man, James Boyd, by ROP detective Keith Sandy was far and away the team's most notorious killing, sparking a storm of protest and forcing a national spotlight on the Albuquerque police's culture of brutality. (Watch the embedded video at the bottom of this article.)

Like Wallace, Sandy was among the four rejects fired from the state police for accepting payments from Wackenhut while on duty. Somehow, he worked his way through elite units until he reached the ROP team, where he received military-style training at the Department of Energy facility.

As soon as he arrived at the Eastern Mountain ravine where Boyd was found camping without a permit, Sandy remarked in murky audio captured by a fellow cop's dashcam, "That f*cking lunatic, I'm gonna shoot him with a [unintelligible] shotgun." Others who examined the audio heard Sandy pledge to "shoot him in the penis with a shotgun."

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Max Blumenthal is an award-winning journalist and the author of several books, including best-selling Republican GomorrahGoliathThe Fifty One Day War, and The Management of Savagery. He has produced print articles for an array of (more...)
 

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