Albuquerque police officers and supervisors altered and even deleted footage captured by Taser-manufactured body cameras from a controversial fatal police shooting in 2014. In an affidavit obtained by investigative news site New Mexico In Depth, former employee Reynaldo Chavez testified that he witnessed officers and supervisors discussed erasing or altering footage and said, according to NM In Depth, that
officers in multiple [Albuquerque Police Department] divisions, including those involved in police shootings and those assigned to specialized units, were instructed to not write reports until a review of their videos. If the videos had no images considered harmful to the department, the officers were permitted to write in their reports that “they had recorded a given incident.” But if images deemed “problematic” for the department were found, officers were instructed not to mention a recording in the report or to write “the recording equipment had malfunctioned” or the officer had failed to turn it on.
When officers already had written reports that described recordings, “the video would be altered or corrupted if it was damaging to the police department.”
Chavez, who used to handle public records requests for the department, was fired last year in what he calls retaliation for raising concerns about the missing body-cam footage. In a whistleblower lawsuit he filed soon after, he alleged that that department instructed him “to overproduce materials to requesters,” and “to spend time consuming hours sifting through boxes of irrelevant materials when no such responsive records were produced.” He argues this illegally prevented the release of otherwise public documents.
A manual for the evidence-storing service provided by Taser, the largest marketer of body cams for police forces, confirms the ability to edit and delete footage. And Chavez claims that videos recorded of the fatal police shooting of 19-year-old Mary Hawkes after a foot chase were never made public, even after records requests. This is the second such evidence-deleting scandal to hit the Albuquerque Police Department in as many years.
Sam Stecklow is the Weekend Editor for Fusion.