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9 of 10 APD officers disciplined for crashes receive verbal or written warning

Jen French
October 11, 2017 09:16 AM

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Disciplinary files obtained by 4 Investigates reveal few APD officers are suspended or face serious discipline after they’ve caused a car crash.

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In fact, taxpayers shelled out $1 million for officer-involved crashes in fiscal year 2017 alone.

A SCARY INCIDENT

For 3-year-old Connie Derry Meyers, going on a car ride with her family is a nightmare.

"She'd tell me, ‘Car seats scare me, car seats scare me!’” said Carson Meyers, her father. “She didn't want to get in it and she'd go, ‘No!’ When I go to get her in the car, she'd grab the side of the car door." 

Meyers was driving with his kids and wife on August 18, 2016, near Constitution and Morris when another car slammed into them.

The other driver was Albuquerque police officer Tomas Urioste.

"It was such an emotional ride right then and there because I didn't know, with this one being new, I didn't know if her brain was shaken. I didn't know if there was any kind of trauma or anything going on,” Meyers said. “I was so glad to hear her cry."

The crash into the Derry-Meyers family is the only one on Urioste’s record. APD internal affairs officials issued him a letter of reprimand.

Turns out, Urioste is not the only APD officer crashing into the public. According to Albuquerque City Risk Management Department’s records, there have been 965 officer-involved crashes since July 2014.

Out of those, the APD Accident Review Board determined more than 40 percent of them to have been preventable.

MINIMAL DISCIPLINE

Fewer than 20 percent of all officer-involved crashes resulted in any discipline. Out of the officers who were disciplined, 57 percent received a verbal reprimand and 35 percent received a letter of reprimand.

Five percent were suspended for a few hours. The remaining 3 percent faced no consequences, received verbal counseling or resigned.

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Disciplinary files obtained by 4 Investigates reveal red light cameras — which are now obsolete in the City of Albuquerque — captured Officer Ramon Garcia going more than 40 mph above the speed limit while responding to calls twice in September of 2007.

At the intersection of Quail and Coors, he was clocked going 88 mph in a 45 mph zone while responding to a call. Cameras caught him speeding again a week later — 96 mph in a 45 mph zone.

Garcia was suspended for 10 hours in 2007 for scraping a parked vehicle. After that incident, he was found to be at fault for five more on-the-job crashes from February of 2007 to October of 2016.

Garcia received verbal or written reprimands for all those incidents, except for a crash in 2016 where he struck two pedestrians downtown.

As a result of that, he was given an 8-hour suspension.

APD records show on February 19, 2015, Officer Marcia Benavidez fell asleep in her patrol cruiser and rear-ended a driver. For that, she got a verbal reprimand.

Last April, Officer Jonathan McDonnell crashed into a family at Indian School and Eubank, killing 6-year-old Joel Anthony. McDonnell was involved in five other preventable crashes, receiving either written reprimands or 8-hour suspensions as a consequence for those collisions.

Crashes that occurred in fiscal year 2017 cost Albuquerque taxpayers $1,026,624 in property damage and medical payouts.

In fiscal year 2016, taxpayers paid just under $900,000 for officer-involved crashes, and in 2015 they paid nearly $821,000.

 

Below are, from most costly to least, the 10 most expensive legal settlements for APD-involved crashed from fiscal years 2015, 2016 and 2017. Amounts include property as well as medical payouts.
Loss Date Total Amount Paid Loss Description
2/19/'15 $44,431.66

Motor vehicle accident (MVA)
with city vehicle

9/9/'15 $37,916.95 MVA with city vehicle
1/19/'16 $31,604.95 MVA with city vehicle
11/22/'14 $28,963.75 MVA with city vehicle
6/18/'15 $26,872.24 MVA with city vehicle;
officer rear-ended civilian
2/4/'16 $26,081.22 MVA with city vehicle
8/18/'16 $19,200.54

MVA with city vehicle; officer 
with lights and siren; intersection
collision

1/23/'15 $17,382.35 MVA with city vehicle
11/9/'15 $17,295.59 MVA with city vehicle
10/5/'16 $15,000.00 Struck by APD vehicle while
crossing walkway

 

POTENTIAL CHANGES

The city paid Carson Meyers and his family more than $19,000 in a legal settlement as a result of their crash.

Meanwhile, Meyers said the department should do more in terms of discipline.

“Maybe they should revoke their license, period,” he said. “Maybe they shouldn’t be allowed to drive their civilian cars.”

4 Investigates requested an interview with APD Police Chief Gordon Eden about the disciplinary policy for officers involved in crashes. We were instead directed to Lt. Art Sanchez, who sits on the department’s Accident Review Board.

The board determines if a crash is preventable, but does not determine discipline.

Sanchez said APD is considering driver training for officers, as well as public service aids who’ve been involved in multiple crashes.

"We are putting steps in now to address some of those issues,” Sanchez said.

Because internal affairs determine discipline for officers, 4 Investigates also requested an interview with that department. They have yet to sit down with us for comment.

Credits

Jen French

Copyright 2017 KOB-TV LLC, a Hubbard Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved

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