Albuquerque is a pretty cool name for a city, provided your name isn’t James Boyd. The APD has been under the spotlight for rampant violence, which has been attributed not to a culture of evil, but piss-poor training. It didn’t help that Jack Jones was in total control of training, given his view that:
“Evil has come to the state of New Mexico, evil has come to the Southwest, evil has come to the United States,”
But the culture that allows, that encourages violence and police abuse can be cured, if only the right people are put in positions of leadership, so they may serve as shining beacons of propriety and integrity for all cops to follow. So the Albuquerque Police Department chose to promote Commander Timothy Gonterman to Major Timothy Gonterman.
Perhaps Gonterman is part of the solution now, but 12 years ago, he was part of the problem. As the AP points out, Gonterman and two other officers were found by a federal jury to have used excessive force when arresting a homeless man. A stun gun wielded by Gonterman gave the man second and third-degree burns, which led to him losing part of his ear. The man was awarded $300,000, and Albuquerque changed its Taser policy.
You see, the APD has issues. That’s not a criminal defense lawyer saying so, but the United States Department of Justice.
According to the DOJ’s report, the Albuquerque PD “has engaged in a pattern or practice of excessive force, including deadly force.” That includes Tasers — the DOJ found several instances of unconstitutional use of Tasers since 2009 (that’s after the Taser use policy change inspired by Gonterman), including one when officers Tasered a man who doused himself in gasoline, setting him on fire.
While it may be that Commander Timothy Gonterman recognized the error of his violent and abusive ways, and is now that paragon of virtue the APD desperately needs, the evidence fails to suggest that the APD has shown any improvement, no less inclination to improve, of late. As a commander, it would seem that Gonterman would be in a position to stem the tide of violence if that was his goal. Yet the violence, abuse and violation of constitutional rights appears to have continued unabated. After all, Gonterman was a commander in the Foothills area, which is where James Boyd’s life was taken from him. It does not reflect well on Gonterman.
But then there’s the message.
Promoting a guy accused of police brutality seems like the worst way to prove to the community (and the DOJ) that you take police brutality seriously. Albuquerque PD’s reforms, suffice to say, are not off to a great start.
It would be unfair to say that Gonterman’s promotion was a reward for his brutality, but it would similarly be unfair to say that it precluded his climbing the ladder of success. It’s not that second chances or forgiveness for past wrongs is out of the question, but when the APD is facing a crisis of brutality and violence, couldn’t they find someone to promote who didn’t have their own brutality in their past?
We are constantly asking what becomes of police officers who engage in abuse, the same sort of violence that would place any non-police officer in prison for a healthy period of time to remind them that society frowns upon their conduct. Does society not frown upon what Gonterman did?
Obviously, Gonterman wasn’t fired for tasing off the ear of some guy. He wasn’t prosecuted. Maybe he lost an hour of vacation time, but clearly his punishment wasn’t as harsh as what he inflicted on his victim. But that was a long time ago, right?
In a statement, Gonterman called his actions during the 2002 arrest a mistake and said it took place 12 years ago when the stun gun technology was new and before officers had the training they have now. “It was a mistake, and I have learned from that mistake. I have taken responsibility for it,” Gonterman said. “Since that time, I have become a use of force instructor and a less lethal technology instructor to train officers to use the minimal amount of force necessary to make an arrest. I am also trained in crisis intervention.”
Really? As in the “minimal amount of force” used on James Boyd? Or is it an acceptable excuse to profess ignorance in the use of a new weapon that just happens to cost a guy an ear. Sure, he’s sorry now. Yes, it was most definitely a mistake. But whether Gonterman has taken responsibility for it can’t be discerned from anything that’s happened since.
Nor is it easy to buy the claim that because he’s now a “less lethal technology instructor,” it means that he’s not still part of the entrenched culture of violence that permeates the APD. What does that mean, “less lethal” and “minimal use of force”? Don’t beat them, tase them, shoot them unless they really, really piss you off? Or do nothing to deserve to die, like James Boyd?
Just in case you’ve forgotten what an execution on video looks like, here’s the short version of Boyd’s killing in the Foothills.
Less lethal may mean something different in Albuquerque.