City Attorneys Fight Sanctions Imposed by Judge in Police Involved Shooting; Seeks Reversal in Ruling

Police Officer Jeremy Dear and Hawkes

The city of Albuquerque is asking a judge to reverse her ruling imposing severe sanctions against the city in a lawsuit surrounding the police involved shooting death of Mary Hawkes at the hands of Officer Jeremy Dear. Hawkes, suspected of stealing a car, was shot and killed by Dear in 2014.

An investigation that began back in April determined that Officer Jeremy Dear’s camera was intentionally disabled right before he shot and killed 19-year-old Mary Hawkes. As part of a “zero tolerance” policy, the police chief later fired Dear who complained that the camera malfunctioned. Unfortunately for Dear, in the three instances that he claimed his camera “malfunctioned” he used force against the suspect.

District Judge Nan Hash ruled in favor of Hawkes’ family in that numerous failures and inconsistencies by the city’s police department and subsequent actions posed an an undue imposition on the family. The judge found that the police department left Hawkes’ family without access to the best evidence available in regards to the case. Actions by members of the department were indicative of a substandard level of accountability.

One of the sanctions imposed by the judge was that the jury would be instructed that the shooting of Hawkes itself was already unreasonable as a matter of law. It was not their position to determine guilt but rather to determine the damages incurred by the family at the hands of the city officials and police.

Deputy City Attorney Stephanie Griffin did not agree with the judge and asked for reconsideration arguing that the sanctions deprived the city of its own due process. Instead of having the jury determine guilt, the decision was already made by the judge. According to the attorney, the ruling did not allow for a fair trial by keeping the jury from assessing the reasonableness of the actual shooting. Griffin also noted that several of the judge’s findings were not corroborated with substantial evidence.

The family’s suit focuses on 10 items of evidence which they claimed was not properly preserved. Among the items listed were a series of videos taken by the Albuquerque Police Department. The videos, recorded the night of the shooting, were heavily edited and did not capture the full shooting. Add to that officers’ body cams were malfunctioning preventing them from recording the full encounter between Dear and Hawkes.

According to the attorneys for the family, the videos provided as evidence were altered and for the malfunctioning body cams, a better attempt to preserve them should have been sought by investigators looking into the shooting.

All the inconsistencies and malfunctioning equipment and lack of control of the equipment led the judge to her ruling. Nash, while admitting the glaring lack of accountability was “disturbing and suspicious” she did not agree that it merited sanctions against the city. Nash did accept fault on behalf of the city for not doing a better job to preserve the cameras involved in the incident.

Griffin argued in her motion to reconsider that the city did comply with all policies and procedures in the preservation of the videos from that night including uploading all video footage to an online evidence website. The physical cameras were not considered “obvious evidence” and the city was not advised to hold on to the actual cameras from that night for the family’s use.

Add to that the cameras were still in the possession of the city but the plaintiffs never asked to see them. Attorneys countered that the cameras were not preserved properly as evidence and could have since been tainted in the process. There was no way to tell who may have had access to them in the interim.

One attorney representing the family, Laura Schauer Ives, called out the city’s attempt to stall out or derail the proceedings by recycling failed arguments. Ives is asking that the judge award the plaintiffs the fees resulting from the wasted hours responding to the menial request.

“If this administration had spent even half the time its wasted on defending its bad decisions on improving APD, the city would be in a much better place today,” Ives stated.

The city did not respond to a request for comment.

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