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Justice Dept. report: Albuquerque police violating civil rights

The Justice Department said in a report the Albuquerque police engage in what federal civil rights investigators call a "pattern of excessive force."
Albuquerque Police Chief Gorden Eden answers questions during a news conference Mar. 31, 2014.
Albuquerque Police Chief Gorden Eden answers questions during a news conference Mar. 31, 2014.

The Department of Justice has found the Albuquerque, N.M. Police Department -- which has been at the center of a debate on whether fatal force against civilians is justified -- guilty of engaging in "a pattern or practice of use of excessive force, including deadly force." 

According to a harsh report issued Thursday, the Justice Department released the findings of a 16-month-long investigation that reviewed the police department's tactics and determined that Albuquerque's police officers did indeed violate the constitutional rights of civilians. 

Jocelyn Samuels, the acting assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division, said in a news conference that there are existing "structural and systemic deficiencies" within the police department, pointing out "insufficient oversight, inadequate training and ineffective policies."

"What we found was a pattern or practice of systemic deficiencies that have pervaded the Albuquerque Police Department for many years," Samuels said.

Samuels also said that a "culture of acceptance of the use of excessive force" has become pervasive within the police department, often misleading police officers on what is "permissible" or not. She described the actions of the police officers, who have shot and killed 23 people in the last four years, as "unreasonable," "reckless," and "overly aggressive."

"A disconnect exists between officers and residents about the perception of overly aggressive conduct by officers. We observed that many officers were dismissive of community concerns," reads the 46-page letter which was issued to Mayor Richard Berry.

Samuels also said that a significant amount of force cases involved mentally ill people, including James Boyd, the homeless man who was shot and killed by police officers for illegally camping in March. The Albuquerque police confirmed that officers fired six rounds of live ammunition while Boyd was lying on the ground after he agreed to leave the area peacefully. 

The next day, Boyd died in the hospital due to his injuries and his death ignited violent protests where Albuquerque police officers clashed with civilian protesters. 

Boyd was the 37th person shot by the city's police since 2010. 

Since the investigation's launch in 2012, the investigation involved hundreds of interviews with police officers and community leaders. Justice Department officials pored over documents and even rode along with the officers. But Samuels said the department continues failing to properly report incidents of "excessive force," and proper disciplinary action against those officers was not implemented. 

Samuels said that they have released the department's findings to Mayor Berry, who has already asked for independent monitors to be appointed and a new deputy police chief to directly work with the Justice Department monitor. 

"We have found monitors are critical to make sure the changes are successful," said Samuels. 

The Department of Justice also recommended that police officers should be required to report all force incidents, alleged or perceived misconduct, and that any incident should be treated as crime scenes so evidence can be gathered and reviewed by superiors.