4 Investigates: Chris Ramirez sits down with Sheriff Gonzales to discuss policy, transparency | KOB 4
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4 Investigates: Chris Ramirez sits down with Sheriff Gonzales to discuss policy, transparency

Chris Ramirez
October 28, 2019 10:36 AM

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.— More than a year after an independent auditor noted problematic areas in the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Department’s use-of-force policies, Sheriff Manny Gonzales has not changed any portions of the policies or implemented any of the recommendations contained in the audit.

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In 2018, Bernalillo County agreed to pay the Daigle Law Group $23,000 to review BCSO’s use of force policies and recommend changes.  In September 2018, Sheriff Gonzales announced the review was completed and the audit was made public. Among the 22 areas of concern, the audit noted better policies are needed to help deputies deescalate tense situations, establish accountability and discipline for officers who use excessive or unauthorized force and prohibit deputies from firing at or out of a moving vehicle.

In an interview with KOB 4, Sheriff Gonzales said the process is not yet complete and he plans on meeting with Daigle Law Group to finalize whether BCSO will or will not implement any of the recommendations.

Despite the report, Sheriff Gonzales stands by the policies his deputies use today.

4 Investigator Chris Ramirez asked, “as they stand now, do you think your use of force policies are best practices and in line with modern law enforcement standards?"

The fact that more than 13 months has elapsed since the audit was released without any changes has alarmed some in the Albuquerque community. 

“If the department continues to refuse reasonable use of force policies, the likelihood is the use of force will increase,” said Civil Rights Attorney Laura Schauer Ives.  “The community's distrust for the department will increase and that ultimately results in more tax payer dollars being spent on unconstitutional policing.”

Schauer Ives represents the family of Elisha Lucero in a lawsuit against BCSO.  Lucero was having a mental health breakdown when her family called BCSO for help.  When Lucero waved a knife, deputies opened fire killing her.  An autopsy would later reveal Lucero was shot 21 times.

“If they implemented the changes suggested in the audit, Elisha Lucero may be alive,” Shauer Ives said.

Ramirez asked Gonzales if he believes current deescalation policies and trainings need improvement. 

“What I can tell you is that in the cases where our deputies have been involved in shootings, all the cases have been reviewed by the DA, they've been sent to special prosecutors and there are no issues of excessive use of force and they have all been deemed justified shootings.  At this point, there is nothing to substantiate any complaints,” Sheriff Gonzales said.

The District Attorney has not yet ruled on whether deputies were justified in shooting Elisha Lucero.  Bernalillo County has, in fact, paid out millions in settlements over the years to families of people who have been killed by deputies.

An issue that frustrated transparency advocates is the sheriff’s refusal to outfit his deputies with body worn cameras, even though the Bernalillo County Commission appropriated funds for BCSO to purchase them. 

“I'm here to keep people safe,” Sheriff Gonzales said. “I found nowhere in that oath where that makes me more transparent.  There is no proof that cameras make agencies more transparent.”

During KOB 4’s interview with Sheriff Gonzales, a BCSO videographer video recorded KOB staff as they set up for the interview and conducted the interview.  When Chris Ramirez asked why he was being recorded, the sheriff stated it was for transparency.

“You wanted a camera here because you wanted a recorded interaction of what happened in this room,” Ramirez said.  “And that's fair and we didn't object to that.  But I think members of the community, when they interact with your deputies, want a recorded interaction of what happens as well.”

“The sheriff should be proud of the work his officers are doing,” said Laura Schauer Ives.  “He should be proud to show us every day what his deputies are out in the field doing.  The fact that he doesn't want us to see that raises incredibly serious questions. 

“The 50 largest police departments around the country are all using body worn camera technology in this day in age, not just because they may have some deterrent effect on deputies using force, but because you learn from those videos how to improve your policies,” said Peter Simonson, Director of the New Mexico Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

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Chris Ramirez

Copyright 2019 KOB-TV LLC, a Hubbard Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved

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