Monday, May 21, 2007

Group calls for citizen's arrest of cop in fatal crash

By Michael Gisick, The Albuquerque Tribune
Monday, May 21, 2007

A police watchdog group is seeking the citizen's arrest of an Albuquerque police officer involved in a fatal wreck last year.

New Mexico Vecinos United is also calling for the resignations of Albuquerque Police Chief Ray Schultz and Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White, charging both with condoning abuses by their officers.

A letter calling for the resignations will be handed over to city and county officials during a protest today, Vecinos United director Andres Valdez said. The protest marks the one-year anniversary of the crash that left 74-year-old Flora Aragon dead.

A grand jury this year cleared APD Officer Zachariah Floyd of criminal wrongdoing in the crash.

An APD investigation found that he was speeding through a South Valley neighborhood while responding to a domestic violence call when he swerved to avoid another vehicle and hit a wall outside Aragon's home. The wall collapsed, killing Aragon and injuring two other people.

Valdez said the group will hand over a "citizen's arrest warrant" against Floyd as part of the protest, scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. outside the main police station Downtown.

"We're going to present it to the chief and see what the response is," Valdez said. "We're not going to grab (Floyd) and use excessive force against him."

Valdez said the "warrant" has not been signed by a judge.

"And we probably won't find one who will sign it," he added.

APD spokeswoman Trish Hoffman said a warrant without a judge's signature has no legal standing. She said she'd never heard of private citizens swearing out an arrest warrant.

"There's a process in place, and it was followed," Hoffman said of the Floyd case. "The grand jury determined that no crime was committed."

Aragon's family has filed a wrongful death suit against APD, said Aragon's granddaughter, Denise Baker.

The letter from Vecinos United claims officers initially called in the crash that killed Aragon as a minor traffic accident, and that as a result emergency medical responders weren't prepared to treat her injuries.

It also claims police tried to have firefighters wash away blood at the scene to destroy evidence.

Baker said she hopes the arrest warrant, which was her idea, will prompt a second look at the case.

"We don't know what was presented" to the grand jury, whose proceedings are secret, Baker said. "We want another court to look at this."

Baker said the failure to prosecute Floyd left the impression that police officers are "above the law, in some cases."

Vecinos United charges Schultz with condoning abuses by officers in several cases, including Aragon's.

"Thank God most police officers are reputable and good officers," the letter to Schultz states. "You are not one of them."

But, it continues, "You must resign so that there may be some hope for a police chief that would get rid of officers that hurt, kill and abuse human beings."

A letter to White employs similar language and says the group calls for his resignation with "much joy."

Valdez was instrumental in pushing for the creation of APD's independent Police Oversight Commission after a series of police shootings in the late 1990s. He's since been critical of the commission, saying it sides too often with police.

An attempt to make a citizen's arrest of a law enforcement official is not without precedent in New Mexico.

As Valdez noted, Chicano land rights leader Reyes Lopez Tijerina used the proposed citizen's arrest of a district attorney as the basis for the famed 1967 raid on the Rio Arriba County Courthouse in Tierra Amarilla.

"That's not to say we're intending to raid anything," Valdez said. "We're not."

No comments: