Saturday, January 10, 2004

Police Panel Rules in Protest Conduct

By Lloyd Jojola, Journal Staff Report

Unreasonable force was used by a police officer during an anti-war demonstration last year, the Police Oversight Commission has said.
Thursday's decision supports the opinion of Independent Review Officer Jay Rowland but conflicts with Albuquerque Police Department Chief Gil Gallegos' findings.
Gallegos reviewed the complaint filed by Lane Leckman and does not believe the force used was excessive. Leckman, a physician, appealed the chief's findings to the commission.
The commission also ruled the officer failed to identify himself, an alleged standard procedure violation that Rowland and Gallegos said wasn't proven.
As a result of its action, the commission will write a letter to Gallegos asking him to reconsider his findings, Rowland said.
Police spokesman Jeff Arbogast said Friday the department had not seen the commission's written decision and could not immediately comment on the commission's action.
The incident occurred during a March 20 anti-war demonstration at Central near the University of New Mexico campus.
The crowd, marching west on Central, swelled into the hundreds and were met by police dressed in gas masks and helmets. Police arrested 17 people and cleared the street with tear gas.
Leckman said he was by the bookstore, standing on the sidewalk away from the street, when an officer ordered him to move.
" 'I'm standing on the sidewalk, what is the problem?' '' he said he told the officer, recounting the incident to the commission.
"The next thing I knew, without another word, without any explanation, his baton in both hands, he hit me full force on the chest, knocked me into my fiancee ... knocking her over and bruising her hip. I turned around to pick her up. Turned around and asked him what his name was. He looked at me and did not answer."
Police accounts differ, according to a synopsis of an investigation conducted by Independent Review Office staff. One officer interviewed said, "He did see a man and woman trip over some bicycles in a bike rack and fell. He denied that he or any other officer pushed these people."
A sergeant interviewed said he also saw a man and woman fall over a bike rack. "He didn't see anyone hit them just before they fell," the synopsis states.
Leckman also claims a 911 operator hung up on him when he called police. According to the investigation synopsis, 911 tapes were reviewed and it was discovered that one operator hung up on three callers from the protest.
"The operator did not ask if the callers were injured," the review states. "This operator also called her daughter and played the tape of a male caller choking and gasping. She then laughed about the man's condition."
The 911 operator was found to be in violation of two standard operating procedures, including one that pertains to the use of telephone etiquette.
Arbogast said the operator was disciplined.

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