The Albuquerque Police Department is coming under fire after former records supervisor, Reynaldo Chavez, gave a sworn affidavit claiming officers altered and deleted body camera videos.
According to New Mexico In Depth, after at least two police shootings, videos were deleted or edited so they didn’t show the incident.
In the case of 19-year-old suspected car thief Mary Hawkes in April 2014, the videos were partially deleted in spots or altered. In a separate incident, surveillance camera video from a nearby salon showed APD officers shooting law enforcement informant, Jeremy Robertson. That video too was altered. Chavez explained the June 2014 video had “the tell-tale signs that it has been altered and images that had been captured are now deleted. One of the deleted images captured the officers shooting Jeremy Robertson.”
He also said that video cards were easy to take or conveniently lose. He heard Assistant Chief Robert Huntsman confess “we can make this disappear” discussing the body camera videos that were on the SD cards.
The disappearances weren’t unique to patrol officers. Chavez revealed that officers in multiple divisions, including specialized units, were all told not to write reports until there was a review of the body camera videos. If the videos didn’t contain anything concerning, the officers could write up the report on what was recorded. If images were considered “problematic,” officers were told not to mention the recording in the report, write “the recording equipment had malfunctioned” or say that the officer failed to turn on the body camera.
If there were reports that detailed what occurred in the recording, “the video would be altered or corrupted if it was damaging to the police department,” Chavez said.
He also indicated that he spoke to an APD supervisor about the video evidence being deleted or altered and that it was “illegal and unlawful” to do so. He said that he was told by then-deputy city attorney Kathy Levy “she was handling the situation.”
Levy retired from the city last year. New Mexico In Depth called her Friday morning and she denied Chavez’s allegation, saying, it was “absolutely not true.” She further said, “We never had any such conversation.”
Chavez still stands by his affidavit.
Police Chief Gorden Eden declined to answer whether officers had the ability to delete or alter videos.
The affidavit was part of a civil rights lawsuit against the city of Albuquerque, the APD and officer Jeremy Dear on behalf of the family of Mary Hawkes. The family is also suing the city under the Inspection of Public Records Act because they want the logs that supposedly show the officer that altered or deleted videos. The city refuses to turn the records over.
Chavez was placed on leave April 2015 when he led an investigation into unprofessional conduct in the records division. He was ultimately fired. He filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the city in January claiming he was raising concerns about department leaders and unlawful orders that forced him to deny public records requests. The city denies his claims.
The latest allegations also prompted new inquiries into a police shooting that lead to murder charges against two APD officers in March 2014. The officers, in that case, shot a homeless man. The trial ended in a mistrial last month. In the case, one officer testified that he did turn on his body camera, only later to find out that no video was recorded.
The memory cards for Scorpion body cameras were often times “bleached,” deleted or altered, Chavez said in his affidavit. In the case of the homeless man, Chavez alleges that he was told to “deny, withhold, obstruct, conceal, or even destroy records” involving that case and any others.
“These are extremely concerning allegations,” District Attorney Kari Brandenburg said Friday. “This throws everything into question. As prosecutors, we have to rely on what we get and the integrity of everyone in the process. These kinds of allegations raise so many questions.”
A website called Evidence.com allows officers to “edit lapel camera video in any number of ways,” Chavez said. The site lets anyone destroy them by “inserting or blurring images on the videos or by removing images from the video.”
“I was able to see, via the Evidence.com audit trail, that people had in fact deleted and/or altered lapel camera video,” he says in the affidavit. He also said that the site allows for uploading video from other sources like cell phone cameras or surveillance videos.
Chavez alleged that Detective Christopher Whigham trained the department’s public information officers, command staff and officers in other units on how to delete or alter their videos.
APD has released videos in the past that have heavily blurred spots, including one video that shows an officer running down a fleeing suspect with his truck. Another blurred video was of an incident in which officers stormed into a legal needle exchange program looking for drug traffickers.
In the case of Hawks, Dear’s video was functioning on the night of the incident, but the APD said that no video was recorded. Dear has since been fired by the APD for insubordination and other alleged infractions, but he’s fighting to get his job back.
Three other officers involved did record the incident and none of them are blurred to the level that the officer that allegedly shot Hawkes.