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Albuquerque Incident Shows Abuse of Civilian Oversight

Albuquerque Incident Shows Abuse of Civilian Oversight

I heard it loud and clear in the Courageous Leadership Seminar endorsed by Law Officer a few months ago.

“If doctors, that work in a high stress environment with a high degree of expertise do not let civilians dictate their policy than why would law enforcement.”

I had never thought of it that way and frankly did not think that civilian oversight of law enforcement was a huge deal and while I believe it can be done correctly, it can certainly be abused.

Such is the case in a recent decision by the Albuquerque Civilian Police Oversight Agency (CPOA) on Thursday when they ruled on a two year old deadly force case that officers were out of policy, despite Internal Affairs investigating and finding the officers in policy.

In June 2015, police moved in to arrest Danan Gabaldon in southwest Albuquerque on a felony warrant for driving a stolen SUV at an officer just ten days earlier.

However, the CPOA found problems in how police handled that arrest when an officer got out of his car and Gabaldon drove at him.  The officer fired at the suspect when fearing for his life which is where the CPOA gets it very wrong.

The CPOA said that “the officer shouldn’t have been in that position in the first place…….the officer, knowing that this was his history, and they were briefed on that, should not have put himself in the position where the subject would have had the ability to drive at him.”

A letter to Chief Gorden Eden said the officer “precipitated the use of deadly force by his poor tactics and approach during the ‘high risk stop.’

There it is straight from the playbook.  Let’s take a high stress situation where officers are attempting to arrest a felon, the said felon takes lethal action against officers who then defend their lives but because some ‘civilian’ group sitting in an air conditioned office plays mental mind games on “would, could or should” they say that the cops are wrong.

Meanwhile, the suspect here sits in prison for crimes that took place including aggravated assault on a police officer, aggravated fleeing a law enforcement officer and receiving or transferring a stolen vehicle. He’s also doing time for convictions in three other cases, none of which involved his June encounter with police.

But who cares about that when a bunch of citizens can pass judgement without taking the legal threshold of deadly force into account.

Some may say what’s the problem?  Should we not be holding officers accountable?  I say absolutely but accountability comes from the law and not a bunch of back seat wanna be lawyers.

According to the United States Supreme Court (Graham v. Connor), the officers acted appropriately and that decision prohibits others from using ’20/20′ hindsight to judge and in recent cases, you can’t use the proverbial “he put himself in a bad position’ argument to find what is a legal use of force improper.

As I learned in the Courageous Leadership Seminar, Civilians can be involved in law enforcement in a very successful way but they must be educated in the law and basic tactics that keeps cops safe.  The importance of policing plans and community engagement were discussed and there was an excellent balance placed on how an agency can operate but here in Albuquerque the balance is off.  It’s off because when cops act within the law, they should not be punished.

The Police Chief will have a courageous decision to make.  Will the law and ultimately these officers be supported or civilians that obviously know very little about the legal standards of force.

It is my hope that courage rules in Albuquerque.

The Requirements To Credible ‘Police Reform’

 

About The Author

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Robert Johnson is a 20 year veteran law enforcement officer currently working at a large metropolitan agency. His assignments have included narcotics, gangs and training. He joined Law Officer in 2017 as an Associate Editor.

  • LegalBeagle

    The only thing more likely to be screwed up than oversight by ignorant civilians who don’t know the law (and here they clearly do not) is a consent decree. As a general rule, DOJ OCR is a soup sandwich on a paper towel.

  • zlittle

    Go down to City Hall, raise your right hand, join the department and see if YOU can do it better.

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