Thursday, June 12, 2014

$6 Million for Christopher Torres Death by APD

$8 million for Ken Ellis III's death by APD. Millions and millions and millions more for multiple deaths and injuries by APD since 2010.

At some point, it starts adding up to real money. But The Powers That Be in Albuquerque have so far not batted an eye at this strange "cost of doing business" in The Land of Enchantment.

There were two more killings by police over the weekend. Sixteen year old Victor Villalpando shot and killed by Española police on Sunday, and 24 year old Troy Kirkpatrick shot and killed by Carlsbad police on Monday.

Both shoots are questionable at the least. The case of Victor Villalpando has shaken residents of the town of Española because of the fact that police have charged that Villalpando "pointed a gun" at them as their excuse for killing him. Only no "gun" has been produced, and people who knew the boy said it was completely out of character for him to have a gun, to want a gun or in any way to be associated with firearms. The state police were called in to investigate the shooting and they refuse to comment.

The story the police tell in Española about Victor Villalpando is very similar to the one Jeremy Dear told in Albuquerque as justification for killing Mary Hawkes last April. Dear claimed Hawkes "pointed a gun" at him and he had no choice but to kill her, but the autopsy showed she was shot in the back, like James Boyd was, and the gun that APD initially produced in support of the officer's statement was a gun "similar to" the one Hawkes was said to have pointed at the officer. The "actual" gun wasn't produced for quite some time, and then only in photos.  Curiously, people are skeptical of the claim there was any gun at all.

There is no video of the shooting, nor -- interestingly -- has there been any police video of any police shooting in Albuquerque since the release of the video of the killing of James Boyd in March, a video which the police chief initially declared exonerated the police and justified the shooting. The public, for some reason, disagreed.

Christopher Torres was the son of the Bernalillo County Deputy Manager, a rather high ranking civil official. Mary Hawkes was the daughter of a retired Valencia County magistrate judge who had been a police officer for many years. In other words, these two -- among a number of others who have been shot and killed by police -- were pretty well connected within the local power structure, and their deaths by APD raised hackles well beyond the homeless, the druggies and the parole violators that are the supposed victims of police violence. Those people, of course, have been demonized for years, and if they die by police violence, oh well, they needed to, amirite?

But in the cases of Christoper Torres and Mary Hawkes and Ken Ellis III and James Boyd and so many others, no, they were bad shoots. The killings were wrong. Tens of millions of dollars have already been assessed against the city and APD and paid out for some of these cases, and many millions more no doubt will be assessed and paid out for cases not yet adjudicated. Up till now, these judgements and settlements have simply been the cost of doing business, never really been seen as something to be concerned about, certainly not to be concerned enough to order the police to stop the killing.

Not yet.

After all, we have to understand who is being protected by this shooting rampage by police and why they are allowed to continue killing at will. Even in the cases of Mary Hawkes and Christopher Torres, the daughter and son of rather prominent people, the police were just doing their jobs as they see them.

Killing -- in the sense of on-the-spot executions -- is part of how they see their jobs. It is what they believe they are supposed to do.

Mary Hawkes was suspected in the theft of a truck, and when a police officer saw what he thought was the stolen truck, he gave chase. Apparently he stalked the truck and driver for several hours during the night, and when the driver appeared to abandon the truck and try to escape, he pursued on foot, eventually shooting the victim to death as she attempted to climb over a wall (at least that's what seems to have happened.) The officer had no idea who she was. He claimed she pointed a gun at him, but there is no credible evidence that is so. There is only the statement of the officer and the suspicious weapon photographed next to the dead girl's body by crime scene investigators well after the fact. Those who knew Mary Hawkes are highly skeptical of the police account.

The fact is that Mary Hawkes had been under surveillance and stalked by police for hours. When she was seen "escaping" she became a target for execution. All that was necessary was a pretext, such as "pointing a gun" at the officer attempting to apprehend her. So it would be as she was apparently attempting to scale a wall around a mobile home park. She was shot and killed, and that was that.

Christopher Torres was shot and killed while resisting two plain-clothes officers who jumped the fence into his backyard shouting at him and demanding his surrender. He suffered from schizophrenia, had no idea who they were and was not competent to understand what they wanted even if he had known who they were. Police claimed he grabbed one of their guns -- from out of the inside of his pants? -- and that's why he was shot and killed, but the one woman who witnessed some of what happened said that's not so. Torres did not grab the officer's gun. Instead, the officer pulled his gun and shot Torres in the back three times during a struggle in which the officer was punching and beating Torres while he was trying to avoid the blows and defend himself.

The witness thought that Torres was being mugged by gang members. Torres, of course, was unarmed. The judgement against the officers was scathing. The judge said that the officers provoked the incident and that their use of force ultimately killing Torres was out of bounds, in part due to his mental condition -- a condition which they should have known about  since his parents had made it clear to police, but the officers involved didn't bother to check before their botched attempt to interview Torres on a month-old warrant.

There was a meeting between the Albuquerque police chief and prominent members of the business community at which he was questioned and made statements about the DoJ's recommendations for reform of the department. No one apparently brought up the costs to the city for all of these killings, costs which may get far higher once the killings of James Boyd, Mary Hawkes and some of the others are adjudicated. For business people, these costs have to matter.

Why are these killings happening, and why are all of them -- all, without exception -- declared "justified" by the DA?

I saw her on the news last night, practically hysterical over the judgement in the Torres case -- a shooting she had declared "justified" -- claiming that "if there was new evidence" of course she would reconsider whether or not the shooting was justified, insisting that the judge had considered evidence she didn't have (apparently referring to the eyewitness testimony, testimony that the APD didn't bother to get prior to the civil trial.)  The DA is under increasing criticism and controversy over her inability to find any unjustified police shooting case despite an abundance of evidence -- which for some reason never reaches her...

I'm convinced that most if not all of these shootings happen because of an internal -- but not publicly stated -- mandate the police in general have, not just APD.

Force protection comes first: any perceived threat is to be met with overwhelming force, up to and including lethal force, whether or not there is an actual threat. This comes directly out of military practice in the various war-theaters, where hundreds if not thousands of Iraqis and Afghans have been shot and killed because they were perceived to be threats (for example, at checkpoints or merely because they were in the way of operations or other military priorities.)  The slaughter of innocents in these wars is seen to be just and proper according to largely unstated rules of engagement, and there is no recourse for the victims and survivors. None. That attitude toward threats and force protection has been widely adopted by domestic police forces -- and is clearly a fundamental factor in APD's killings. All they have to do is state that they were "scared for their lives" and almost automatically any action they subsequently take is declared to be justified.

Secondly, the police don't work for the public (any more than the military defends the public.) They work on behalf of the power-and-money players. Guess what? The poor, the marginally sane and insane, the homeless, the drug-addled, the young, the culturally alien black and brown, and other subgroups are considered to be threats to power and money and are therefore subjected to intense policing which from time to time includes summary executions, beatings, and incarceration, all intended to keep the Rabble in line.

This is how the police see their jobs: 1) protect themselves first, 2) protect power and money from the Rabble. Anything else is seen as low priority or no priority.

The DoJ will eventually come up with a program for reform, but if the reform experience elsewhere is any indication, the program will be resisted and defied by the police  -- as in Seattle and Oakland -- and many of the reforms will either take many years to implement or will never be implemented at all, especially if they interfere in any way with force protection and protection of power and money. Serving the public is simply not on the table no matter what anybody says. The abuse and the killing will not stop.

So what can be done?

Some have suggested disbanding the APD and starting over. It would be a rational course if "starting over" meant an improvement, but under the circumstances, that's unlikely. What I've suggested is essentially restricting APD's jurisdiction. Barring them from policing in certain targeted neighborhoods, for example. Substituting a local, community or neighborhood based safety patrols in the affected areas while restricting police (per se) to areas where they feel "safe" might well go far toward correcting the problems of police abuse of power and unjustified killings.

Something must be done, and done soon, to curb the killing spree.

Until it is, there will be no justice and no peace.

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