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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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After a three-hour standoff, Boyd suddenly gathered his belongings and appeared ready to surrender. Just then, the officers inexplicably fired a flash-bang round at his feet and released a police dog, prompting Boyd to reach for two small knives. When Boyd turned his body in apparent compliance with an order to get down on the ground, Sandy fired three bullets into his back with a modified M-4 assault rifle. Sandy's partner, Dominique Perez, riddled him with bullets as well. The cops spent the next minute pelting Boyd's lifeless body with beanbag rounds.

Footage of the killing astonished Joe Kennedy, a civil rights attorney who had previously won a $10 million settlement from the Albuquerque PD. "I've never seen a murder captured on videotape before," Kennedy told the local news outlet, Channel 7. "If this doesn't convince this chief and this mayor that officers are out there killing people without justification, I don't know what will."

Outrage and Unrest

Police Chief Eden spun the killing just as Kennedy feared. At a press conference, he described the officers' actions as "justified," claiming that Boyd "directed a threat" toward a canine officer who was, in fact, well out of Boyd's reach. Eden offered a version of events that stood in stark contrast to the video evidence. For his part, Keith Sandy eluded punishment with help from the police union and tacit support from the department. In the wake of Boyd's killing, only 36% of Albuquerque residents expressed confidence in the city's police force.

City-wide outrage boiled over into open rebellion as nearly 1,000 demonstrators marched next to the campus of University of New Mexico on March 30. After a day of raucous but mostly peaceful demonstrations led by family members of police shooting victims, cops in riot gear let loose a fusillade of teargas and moved in to make arrests. "Seemingly out of nowhere the police began charging them, we saw teargas go off, we even got maced out here as the wind is just blowing everything around," remarked News 13 correspondent Cole Miller.

The protest and its violent suppression galvanized the local movement against police brutality. "For the first time we have pressure and we've exposed the violence of the APD like never before," Sayrah Namaste, a coordinator at the American Friends Service Committee-New Mexico, told me. "The families feel like there's momentum and pressure that wasn't there. Now we have a moment where a microscope is on the cops and they're all on edge."

Activist pressure has forced Mayor Richard Berry to shrink from public view, hiding from potential protests at major city festivals like Summerfest and Cesar Chavez Day. Meanwhile, the city council has taken measures to restrict public demonstrations during its meetings. As the blood continues to flow, one of the few whistleblowers to emerge from the ranks of the Albuquerque police is living in fear.

"Nothing's Gonna Happen Here"

In 2006, at a roadblock set up by the Bernalillo County Sheriff's Department, Albuquerque police veteran Sam Costales' life changed forever. Ordered to help turn back traffic, Costales witnessed several sheriffs brutally arrest the famed race car driver Al Unser Sr. as he attempted to return to his home in the neighborhood they had blocked off. When Unser was baselessly charged with resisting arrest, Costales agreed to testify in his defense, helping to exonerate the local legend.

While none of the officers who violently arrested Unser faced punishment, Costales was disciplined for wearing his uniform while testifying in Unser's defense. (Albuquerque cops are only allowed to appear in police dress as witnesses for the prosecution). For violating what he called "the blue wall of silence," Costales was about to be destroyed.

After then-Police Chief Ray Schultz condemned Costales for testifying in Unser's defense, Costales fell victim to a retaliatory campaign orchestrated by the Albuquerque Police Officers Association, the main police union. "APOA started writing nasty sh*t on me on chat forums," Costales told me. "They said, 'Don't give him backup, he will inform on you.' I had to do my job totally alone without backup on calls and was eventually ordered to see a psychiatrist. They said I was a danger to myself and others."

In 2009, Costales successfully sued the city of Albuquerque in a federal court for $662,000 for the police department's role in forcing him out of his job after 23 years.

As one of the few members of the Albuquerque PD to speak out about the culture of violence he witnessed throughout his career, Costales is left to wonder if the retaliation will ever end. "I'm alone today," he said. "I've got no friends at the police department. I never carried a gun for 24 years as a cop when I was off duty, but I do now."

Costales has watched with dismay as APOA vice-president Shaun Willoughby explains away shooting after shooting regardless of the circumstances while defending the election of violent cops like Wallace to the union's board. Costales views the city government as hopelessly corrupt, Police Chief Eden as a feckless character with minimal field experience, and District Attorney Kari Brandenburg as a police tool.

This October, the city reached an agreement with the DOJ to implement a regime of reforms including de-escalation training and the disbanding of notoriously violent units like the ROP. But the deal means little to a former insider like Costales. "Nothing's gonna happen here," he said. "The police are gonna keep doing what they're doing. They're just thumbing their nose."

Mike Gomez shares Costales' skepticism. "There's gonna be nothing but some new training for the cops," he said. "There's no accountability and there won't be any indictments. We've gotta show them that they might go to court if they kill. Right now their badge is a license to kill and they know it."

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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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