Chavez, former records supervisor for the APD, has alleged in a sworn affidavit that the police department for New Mexico’s largest city was “erasing, altering, corrupting and/or encrypting” some of its most contentious videos, and ordering employees to indefinitely delay requests for their release.
Officer Jeremy Dear shot 19-year-old Mary Hawkes, a suspected car thief in 2014, allegedly operating a stolen truck. The question has been if and why he turned off his bodycam during the incident. The former records keeper for APD alludes to official cover up in the case
In addition to the shooting of Mary Hawkes, those videos included clips of the fatal shootings of Jeremy Robertson, a law enforcement informant who ran away from detectives after a failed arrest attempt in 2014. It is alleged that surveillance camera video from a salon showing APD officers shooting Robertson, a suspected probation violator, in June 2014 bore “the tell-tale signs that it has been altered and images that had been captured are now deleted. One of the deleted images captured the officers shooting Jeremy Robertson.”
‘SD cards’ from cameras were easy to make disappear, Chavez said in the affidavit. He claims that on one occasion he witnessed Assistant Chief Robert Huntsman say ‘we can make this disappear’ when discussing a particular police camera with an SD card in it.
The affidavit, obtained by New Mexico In Depth, emerged last week as part of a civil rights lawsuit file by Hawkes’ family against the city of Albuquerque, APD and Jeremy Dear, the officer who shot her.
The family also has sued the city under the Inspection of Public Records Act for access to audit logs that would purportedly show who altered or deleted videos. So far, the city has refused to turn those records over, that could confirm if and any changes made to the recordings of shooting that resulted in her death.
The family’s attorneys attached Chavez’s affidavit to a motion to compel release of the logs filed in state District Court on Thursday.
Former APD records supervisor Reynaldo Chavez in a sworn affidavit, has accused Albuquerque Police Department officials of having altered and, in some cases, deleted videos that showed several controversial incidents, including at least two police shootings.
Reynaldo Chavez who joined the department in 2011 and eventually became the supervisor of its records department, was placed on leave last year while APD investigated unprofessional conduct in the records division, which he led, ultimately he was fired.
In the whistleblower lawsuit against the city in January, Chavez said he was kicked out for voicing concerns about his boss’ orders to tamper with footage, which was illegal. According to Chavez he lost his job after he spoke up about department higher-ups’ giving unlawful orders that forced him to deny public records requests in high-profile cases.
According to the affidavit, Chavez learned that the head of the department’s Criminal Forensic Unit, Frank Pezzano, was erasing or editing body cam footage from some of the city’s most scrutinized cases, including the Hawkes shootings. Chavez reported Pezzano, but soon learned that others in his chain of command did the same things. The department’s public information offices and forensic workers were being trained to edit videos “so that they were either not usable or altered,” Chavez said.
The cameras from three officers captured the fatal shootings of Hawkes. But Chavez said one of the videos had been “altered by changing the gradient of the resolution on the video.” The second video had been rendered “blurry or unclear.” Twenty seconds of the third officers’ video were deleted.
Chavez also alleges that surveillance footage from a salon showing the shooting of Robertson had been deleted: “I can see the salon video has the tell-tale signs that it has been altered and images that had been captured are now deleted,” Chavez said in the affidavit.
“One of the deleted images captured the officers shooting Jeremy Robertson.”
Ultimately he was fired. One of the allegations mentioned in his lawsuit sates a concern with department higher-ups’ giving unlawful orders that forced him to deny public records requests in high-profile cases.
The city denies those claims, and the case is pending. Still, his new allegations have spurred fresh inquiries in a police shooting that led to murder charges against two former APD officers, Keith Sandy and Dominique Perez, who shot homeless camper James Boyd, in March 2014. The case ended in a mistrial last month.
Sandy testified at trial that he believed he had turned on his Scorpion brand body camera before the shooting, only to learn later that no video was recorded.
However, Chavez claims in his affidavit that Memory cards from Scorpion cameras were often “bleached,” deleted or altered. He mentions the Boyd shooting and alleges that he was ordered to “deny, withhold, obstruct, conceal, or even destroy records” related to that case and others. But he does not mention video from Sandy’s camera specifically.
Special prosecutor Randi McGinn offered Sandy a deal after the mistrial: plead guilty to a fourth-degree felony count of conspiracy to commit aggravated battery and agree never to work as a police officer again, and charges would be dismissed against Perez.
McGinn wrote a letter to Sandy’s lawyer, early in November which mentions new discoveries in the case :
“In evaluating this plea offer, please be advised that we have been informed of some disturbing allegations about APD erasing, altering and corrupting lapel camera video in police shooting cases, particularly those involving Scorpion lapel camera SD cards. Investigation of these new allegations will be part of any ongoing prosecution in this case.”