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Some New Mexico Law Enforcement Agencies Delay In Releasing Information | Local News

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An email with the subject line “BREAKING” went out at 3:30 a.m. on July 10: “An DPA officer was injured in a shooting this morning in front of the Kimo Theater in downtown Albuquerque. “

Two other people were also shot in the 2:30 a.m. incident, Albuquerque police spokesman Gilbert Gallegos wrote.

Two hours later, Gallegos sent a second email – one victim had died. Chief Harold Medina also took to Twitter around 5:15 a.m., speaking about the deadly shooting in a video.

A few days earlier, in the village of Tesuque, a man attacked his 67-year-old mother with a knife outside her home at 8 a.m. The Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office responded to a frantic call from a relative and the man was gunned down as he rushed to a deputy, video shows.

While a New Mexico State Police spokesperson confirmed in an email around 9:30 a.m. that the agency was investigating a shootout involving the sheriff’s office, it would take two days before police to the state recognizes Delia Cervantes’ fatal stabbing and makes it clear that a deputy shot and killed her son, Edward Daniel Santana, 45. Three weeks later, the agency identified Deputy Patrick Ficke as the shooter.

It was the fourth law enforcement shootout in the Santa Fe area in two weeks and the third fatality. In each case, including a fatal incident late in the morning on a downtown street crowded with tourists, there were delays of hours, if not days, in releasing public information.

While some local authorities and law enforcement officials said they saw improvements to be made to keep the community informed about public safety issues, many defended the communication systems in place and expressed broad satisfaction with the process. status quo.

Santa Fe Police Chief Andrew Padilla and Sheriff Adan Mendoza have said saving lives is the top priority – not communication – when their agencies respond to an emergency, such as a violent incident or accident. deadly.

“In this active situation, we are not going to call the break and focus on sending this alert because obviously securing the scene and saving lives is that priority,” said Padilla.

Mendoza said: “It takes time for these officers to properly handle the crime scene, and then try to figure out exactly what the situation is.”

The Albuquerque Police Department, on the other hand, is swiftly informing residents of a series of public safety incidents – such as homicides, shootings of officers involved, serious traffic accidents and thefts to armed hand.

The agency came under fire in 2014 amid a high rate of fatal shootings by officers. An investigation by the Federal Ministry of Justice revealed excessive use of force and reached an agreement with the agency on monitoring and reforms. Gallegos, the spokesperson, said his role is to help mend the police department’s relationship with the community, which means keeping people informed of emergencies.

“I felt like my number one job was to help rebuild trust with the public and to be transparent, timely and honest about what is going on,” said Gallegos. “I think it’s going a long way.”

Part of Gallegos’ strategy is based on a strong working relationship with emergency dispatchers. When 911 calls arrive, they notify Gallegos, who decides if it’s serious enough to alert the public, he said.

The department also publishes weekly homicide investigation updates and holds press conferences offering more detailed information on officer shootings, often with video of the incidents. Unlike smaller state law enforcement agencies, which rely on state police to investigate officer shootings, the Albuquerque Department investigates its own officers who unload guns. fire.

“If the opposite happens, and there is mistrust and the public feels that you are not disclosing information, that trust can quickly erode,” Gallegos said.

“It’s a juggling, a balance, between trying to be timely and precise with what we publish,” he added.

Santa Fe Mayor Alan Webber said Albuquerque police face different issues than their police department. “I think they face a level of public dissatisfaction, and we are not under a DOJ order.”

But, Webber added, “I think we can step up our game.”

Padilla called the Albuquerque agency’s live briefings a “dog and pony show” protocol that he sees no need to emulate.

Good deadline?

The city of Santa Fe has remained almost silent for hours following two shootings in the downtown area on the morning of June 23.

The violent episode began around 10 a.m., when a fight between three women in De Vargas Park escalated and one of the women was shot and wounded. The woman accused of pulling the trigger handed the gun to Francisco Javier Lino-Gutierrez de Lamy, 29, who fired a shot and then fled with the gun, according to reports.

City police chased Lino-Gutierrez to the Old Santa Fe Trail, where law enforcement officials said he suddenly turned and pointed the gun at officers. Sgt. Bradley Lopez shot and killed him outside Loretto Chapel.

Following the De Vargas Park shooting, the city sent a warning via its E911 system, Alert Santa Fe, at 10:32 am, telling residents to avoid the area due to “police activity.”

Three hours later, a city spokesperson released a brief statement confirming the fatal shooting of an officer.

New Mexico State Police, who are investigating local law enforcement shootings, released their statement, with some additional details, at 4:50 p.m.

Padilla said city administrators have delayed the process of releasing a statement to the public.

City spokesman David Herndon confirmed this. The statement had to be reviewed by legal teams before it could be released, he said. Three hours, he added, was a good turnaround time.

“I don’t think we could have done it any faster. We were going as fast as we could, ”said Herndon. “I think it’s a good result.

Unexplained deviations

About 12 hours after Lino-Gutierrez’s death, Santa Fe County MPs shot dead Nathan Jason Roybal, 32, following a nighttime chase from West Alameda Street to Siler Road. People working at nearby businesses said her body was still lying on the pavement when they arrived around 9 a.m. the next morning.

State Police released a statement at 2:15 p.m. on June 24 that a suspect leading MPs in a chase in a stolen black van “got out of the vehicle and pointed a black handgun at the MPs.” The deputies shot at the suspect, hitting him.

More than three weeks passed before state police identified Roybal and the deputies involved: Jacob Martinez, Leonardo Guzman and Cpl. Chris Zook. Meanwhile, the agency has not responded to questions about whether Guzman, a former Santa Fe police officer who shot dead a suspected car thief in 2017, was among those involved. Spokesmen also declined to explain why they would not provide answers.

In subsequent press releases about the shooting, state police repeated the account that Roybal got out of the truck and pointed a gun at MPs before being shot. Dash camera video shows, however, that Roybal immediately dropped the gun and started running. The deputies shot him in the back.

State police reports released as part of a request for public documents more than a month after the shooting indicated that an investigator determined Roybal’s weapon was an air pistol.

Asked about the discrepancies between the events shown in MPs’ camera video and state police’s description of the shooting, acting chief Robert Thornton said an investigation was not limited to a press release.

“When he dropped the gun, yes he ran away then, but we have to understand that these situations are dynamic,” Thornton said. “Our officers and investigators examined him. There was an indication that he pointed the gun, he came out with the gun.

Thornton said “a variety of things” can contribute to delays in releasing public information in such incidents: interviews with officers, who often have legal representation at this point, witness statements and the collection of evidence. evidence.

“Each individual situation is dynamic, and we want to try to be as specific as possible as far as what comes out,” he said.

Mendoza said he noticed some discrepancies in state police press releases, “and I have brought them to the attention of state police at this point.”

But, added Mendoza, “They are the investigative agency, so what I thought was a gap may not be. But I called and I said, ‘Look, I think there’s different information here,’ and so I think we just need to work more collaboratively. “

“It depends on the capacity”

State police have released a series of dashboard and body cam videos from the July 7 shooting in Tesuque late last week. The agency has yet to release a video of the June 23 shooting in downtown Santa Fe.

Susan Boe, chair of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government executive committee, said the timeline was far too long. “Two weeks is way too long. A week is too long, ”said Boe. “In our opinion, at NMFOG, there does not appear to be any justification for keeping this information confidential, especially when someone is killed. “

Some local government officials also agreed that as the city and county of Santa Fe sees increasing levels of violence, an increased presence of methamphetamine, and the fallout from a persistent pandemic, the flow of information from agencies responsible for law enforcement towards the public may need to be improved.

Padilla said increasing communication is one of his goals at the Santa Fe Police Department, but it’s a challenge because he faces a lack of resources.

“It depends on the capacity,” he said. “Do we have a full time [public information officer]? No. … I think we can all agree that, yes, the more information we can get the better.

Greg Gurulé, former spokesperson for the department, has taken on another role with the city. As of fall 2020, communication with the media and the public has been primarily the responsibility of Deputy Chiefs Ben Valdez and Paul Joye.

City Councilor Michael Garcia criticized the setup. “I firmly believe there must be a PIO. It’s a position that is critical and especially in incidents where you have to communicate with the public, ”he said. “Why isn’t there one for the department which is probably one of the most forward-looking? “

But city clerk Kristine Bustos-Mihelcic said many officials believe the system is working. “It’s something that we’ve developed with them over the last few years,” she said, “and I think it’s a structure that has worked really well for us to speed up some of that information. “


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