District attorney defends review of officer-involved shootings

Posted at: 04/10/2014 6:46 PM
Updated at: 04/10/2014 11:04 PM
By: Ryan Luby, KOB Eyewitness News 4

The Bernalillo County District Attorney's office faces mounting criticism even though it was not a subject of the investigation by the Department of Justice.

District Attorney Kari Brandenburg defended her staff and how they determined each officer-involved shooting was justified.

She said her staff did not find any indication that officers violated state criminal laws in the shootings despite settlements amounting to $24 million.

"When we are looking at these cases, we're not making a determination regarding civil rights violations.  We don't have any civil rights statute in the state of New Mexico.  We're looking at criminal law," she said.

She said New Mexico's Human Rights Act would not apply to the process.

Brandenburg said she regularly communicates with federal authorities, the people who do prosecute potential violations of civil rights.  But she would not say if she ever contacted them about the specific cases mentioned by the DOJ in its report

"That's not a communication that I could even reveal to you," she said.

Brandenburg said the report was "damning" and said she was not surprised by the findings.  When her staff reviewed officer-involved shooting cases, she said they would sometimes find things that officers could have done differently.

Although the DOJ did not investigate Brandenburg's office, Jocelyn Samuels, Acting Assistant Attorney General of the Civil Rights Division of the DOJ, addressed any potential shortcomings in the office.

"My hope would be that to the extent that there were identified problems there, those would also be remedied over time," Samuels said.

Indeed, Brandenburg said she has already instituted changes in her office.  She no longer turns to investigative grand juries to review officer-involved shootings after the courts said the process lacked statutory authority.  Her staff now reviews the shootings on their own and posts their findings, and all of the supporting documentation, on the district attorney's website.

While Brandenburg said she appreciates the overriding concerns the community has about Albuquerque police officers, she said her office is doing its job.

"For anyone to say that the DA's office forever -- for the last 30 or 40 years -- is responsible for the state of APD is giving the DA's office power that it doesn't have," she said.

Although the lion's share of the DOJ investigation is over, the criminal section of the Civil Rights Division is reviewing an unspecified number of shootings.  It could determine that officers criminally violated federal laws.