Thursday, June 21, 2007

Armed Albuquerque Public Schools police force costly, estimate reveals

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By Susie Gran, Albuquerque Tribune
Thursday, June 21, 2007

An armed school police department with patrol cars and higher wages will cost Albuquerque Public Schools an additional $1.8 million.

That's the estimate being provided on June 21 to the Community Safety Commission, a group that will propose changes to the district's police force to Superintendent Beth Everitt.

The estimate was prepared by Chief Business Officer Bill Moffatt, who cautioned the district would have to keep police salaries competitive with local law enforcement "which could provide a potential drag on funding to schools."

Moffatt said the current district budget for school police and campus security is $5.2 million.

The commission is considering several options: contracting for law enforcement services with local police agencies; upgrading the current school police force; turning the school police into an unarmed security department or contracting with a security agency.

Everitt is seeking recommendation for reorganizing school police in the wake of a critical audit and the ouster of School Police Chief Gil Lovato.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

A deeply damaged life collides into greater tragedy

By Joline Gutierrez Krueger, Albuquerque Tribune
Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Cynthia Seeley told people she wanted to die.

In her short, painful 40 years of life, she had buried a son and been raped by a relative and, later, by an Albuquerque police officer.

She had fallen into booze and crack cocaine to escape the anguish of many failed relationships, male and female. She was a convicted felon, a drug trafficker, a forger and a woman on the edge.

She had also been a near-millionaire after receiving $943,380 in a federal lawsuit against Christopher Chase, the police officer she accused of rape.

In the courtroom that day in February 2005, she had smiled. And cried.

Two years later, money had apparently not bought her happiness.

In the morning of June 16, she tried to kill herself, according to a criminal complaint.

She downed a pint of vodka and a handful of alprazolam, an anti-anxiety medication. She got behind the wheel of a Chevy Avalanche and hurtled on Georgia Street Northeast through a residential neighborhood north of Expo New Mexico.

No one knows why she was there.

She ran a stop sign at Mountain Road and slammed into a silver Lexus driven by Tran Dung, 47, sending his car spinning and snapping his neck, the complaint says.

Doctors at University of New Mexico Hospital say Tran, a recent immigrant from Vietnam, is paralyzed and will likely die a "slow, painful death," the complaint says.

His condition had been so grave that Albuquerque police had initially charged Seeley with vehicular homicide.

For now, though, Tran will live. He is listed in serious condition, a hospital spokeswoman said.

Seeley will live, too, whether she wants to or not. She is charged with great bodily harm by vehicle and remains in the Metropolitan Detention Center in lieu of $100,000 cash-only bail.

She had walked away from her SUV, crumpled into the front of a house. Police say they found her curled on a front lawn, rocking and muttering, "I didn't want to hurt anyone."

Less than a mile from where she sat was the place that on a cold February day in 2002 she had been hurt, too.

She had testified at her federal lawsuit trial that Chase, an Albuquerque police officer for four years, had parked his squad car behind a Bennigan's at Louisiana Boulevard and America's Parkway Northeast and raped her in the back seat.

When it was over, he threw her and her purse to the ground "like trash" and drove away, she testified.

Chase had been one of two officers called to her apartment to investigate a call of domestic violence with her girlfriend.

Chase had offered to drive her to a friend's house so that the two women could separate and cool off when he veered off to the Bennigan's instead.

Seeley's lawsuit was one of six against Chase. All told, the city has paid out nearly $3 million in those cases.

Chase is serving a 15-year prison sentence after pleading no contest to 10 criminal charges involving attacks on seven victims, including Seeley, between 2001 and 2003.

If she is convicted, Seeley could be serving prison time as well. Certainly then her mental state will be brought out again in court.

During Chase's trial two years ago, psychologist Elaine Levine testified that Seeley had diagnoses of long-term depression, anxiety, alcohol and drug dependence and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Seeley, Levine said, was born of a mother strung out on heroin and into a life where nothing and no one could be counted on. She was sexually molested by a grandfather, Levine said. She gave birth to her first child when she was a child herself; by age 18, she was a mother of two.

Seeley married the second child's father, who abandoned her with three children when she was 21, Levine said. She began using cocaine and crack cocaine, especially after the death of her youngest son, killed, ironically, in a car crash.

"She has really suffered her whole life," Levine said.

The psychologist had advised the court that Seeley would need intensive long-term psychotherapy to help her "peel back layer after layer of trauma."

Whether Seeley had engaged in such treatment is unknown. If she had, it apparently had not worked.

Now, the pain that has brought her to her knees has apparently brought pain and paralysis to Tran and his family. The legacy of her sorrow is passed on, ugly and cold and relentless.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Police officers shouldn't carry guns, review team says

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By Susie Gran, Abq Tribune
Thursday, June 14, 2007

It's time to disarm the school police and let city and county cops carry the guns, the experts say.

Contracts with Albuquerque police and the Bernalillo County sheriff are the best law enforcement option for Albuquerque Public Schools, a review team from the Council of Great City Schools says.

The team's recommendation was reviewed on June 14 by the district's new Community Safety Commission, formed to help determine the fate of the embattled APS Police Department.

The council team also recommended overhauling the district's police department to create a new safety and security arm.

The team said the Albuquerque Board of Education and its administration don't seem to have the will or leadership to run an armed police force.

"Based on their past performance, it is not apparent that the Board of Education and the district's executive leadership team would provide the executive leadership, support and backing, and make the critical and difficult decisions that would be required to create a safety, security and professional, fully authorized law enforcement department," the report said.

The review team said the proposed safety and security department could concentrate on intervention and prevention in creating safe schools.

The commission will review the team's recommendation, then forward its own recommendation on to Superintendent Beth Everitt.

The goal is to have all changes in place by the time school starts in August, said district spokesman Joseph Escobedo.

The APS Police Department has a $3.1 million budget and 40 sworn officers, who are allowed to carry their weapons before and after school. Currently, there are 32 officers and eight openings.

Everitt called on the Council of Great City Schools to make recommendations on best practices for school police after the debate over arming officers heated up and audits verified problems in the department.

The chief for the last 16 years, Gil Lovato, has been on administrative leave since January amid allegations of misconduct and mismanagement of his department.

Everitt has said she will not renew his contract when it expires June 30.

Under Lovato, the district's school police operated as a police department with sworn officers. Many officers have urged the school board to allow them to carry guns around the clock.

The school board agreed to review its gun policy after the council review. Some board members also suggested the district consider disbanding its police force and asking the city or county to contract police services.

Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White, who is a member of the safety commission, said on June 12 that APS must decide whether it needs its own police department, an unarmed security force or a little of both.

"It's kind of like an identity crisis," White said of school police.

"The district needs to do a needs assessment to determine if they need sworn officers. If they do, then they need to be armed."

White said it's not his recommendation for the sheriff or city police to take over school police.

"We should have close coordination, and the head of school police should report directly to the superintendent," he said.

Meanwhile, the district and Lovato are preparing for a court battle over his contract.

Lovato's attorney, Sam Bregman, said he intends to sue the district on the grounds of wrongful termination, defamation and retaliation.

The district refused Bregman's offer of a $500,000 settlement to end the dispute, district spokesman Rigo Chavez said.

An internal audit of Lovato's department identified 20 infractions including poor evidence-room inventory

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Details of APD SWAT shooting revealed in search warrant

By Michael Gisick, Albuquerque Tribune

An Albuquerque SWAT officer fired a gunshot into a house where a knife-wielding man had barricaded himself and his daughter, according to a search warrant. Moments later, officers stormed the house and shot and killed the man.

The warrant, filed Monday, offers new details on the confrontation between police and Jay Martin Murphy, 42.

Murphy was killed June 5. Police say he threatened officers and his 14-year-old daughter with a 12- to 14-inch knife.

According to the warrant, police were called to 1608 Spence St. S.E. at about 1 p.m. June 5 after a report that Murphy was in his front yard with a knife.

A uniformed officer found Murphy driving through the neighborhood and followed. Murphy threw a beer bottle out the window of his truck, the warrant says.

Murphy then returned to his house on Spence Street and, after walking toward the front door, turned toward the officer while holding the knife. His son, Jay Murphy Jr., 19, exited the house and "advised the officer his dad was `harmless' and tried to calm the situation down," the warrant says.

As Murphy Jr. and the first officer continued talking, a second officer arrived and found Murphy Sr. standing on the porch. Murphy threw a beer bottle at the officer and started throwing other items from the porch before retreating behind a wrought-iron screen door.

Murphy's daughter, Mariah, tried to leave the house but Murphy grabbed her arm and told her, "You are not going anywhere," the warrant says. Before he closed the house's front door, officers also heard Murphy say, "Shoot me," "Shoot the knife" and "I see you guys with guns."

A SWAT team arrived at the scene and decided to force its way into the house after determining Murphy's daughter was in immediate danger.

"Prior to the entry into the residence, a SWAT officer observed Jay Sr. make an aggressive move toward Mariah and believed her life was in danger and fired one shot into the residence from an outside location," the warrant says.

As officers stormed the house, "Jay Sr. attempted to stab one of the officers" and was shot, according to the warrant. He was taken to University of New Mexico Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Police spokesman John Walsh said the officers involved in the shooting have been cleared to return to work after a standard, three-day paid leave.

The officers who shot Murphy have been identified as Josh Brown and Russ Carter. Both are 10-year veterans.

Asked whether it would be unusual for an officer to fire into a house where someone had been taken a hostage, Walsh said:

"There's no way to say whether it would be unusual or not. Every single scene is different and fluid and dependent on human events."

The mother of Murphy's two children told police that Murphy had a history of using crack cocaine and other drugs, according to the search warrant.

Murphy had faced several domestic violence charges, including aggravated assault on a household member and child abuse.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Albuquerque Police Identify Man Shot by Officers

Associated Press

Albuquerque police have released the identity of a man who was fatally shot by officers.
Jay Martin Murphy, 42, was killed Tuesday after barricading himself inside an Albuquerque home with his teenage daughter, authorities said.
He was armed with a knife and at one point threw bottles at officers, police said.
Albuquerque police spokesman John Walsh did not release the identities of the two police officers who fired their weapons. The officers are on standard three-day paid leave, he said.
Police have said Murphy had previous run-ins with the law, including arrests on charges of aggravated assault on a peace officer, vehicle theft, criminal trespass, battery and child abuse.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Zap! You're on APD's new Taser camera

By Christopher Sanchez, Albuquerque Tribune

The Albuquerque Police Department is getting more cameras, but they're not to catch people running red lights.

The department will evaluate 20 Tasers with video cameras attached to them starting next week, city officials said Thursday. The cameras are intended to document incidents when the stun guns are fired.

Though Tasers are an important alternative to lethal force, they can be deadly, Mayor Martin Chavez said at a news conference. The cameras will increase accountability for officers and for people getting arrested, Chavez said.

"So there are no questions at the end of the day," he said. "It simply gives us a record."

Stun-gun usage has become a nationwide issue in recent years. According to a 2006 report by Amnesty International, 152 people died in the United States since 2001 after being shocked by the devices.

There haven't been any Taser-related deaths or lawsuits related to their use in Albuquerque this year, Albuquerque police spokeswoman Trish Hoffman said.

In May 2005, a 40-year-old Albuquerque man died after officers used Tasers to subdue him. Police said he suffered a heart attack and that his behavior suggested he had taken some kind of drug.

The Taser cameras cost about $850 each and can record 75 minutes of footage.

Once the Taser is charged and ready to fire, the camera records audio and video. Infrared technology allows the device to record at night.

Albuquerque police will be one of the first agencies in the state to try the device, Chief Ray Schultz said.

Schultz said the department will evaluate the technology for three to six months.

"If we see good results, we'll go forward with ordering more," he said.

The department has more than 400 Tasers, Schultz said.