- Associated Press - Monday, December 12, 2016

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - The policies and procedures governing the investigation and prosecution of deadly shootings by law enforcement officers in New Mexico must be improved, state Attorney General Hector Balderas said Monday.

Balderas said he and a group of district attorneys will develop a procedure for handling the cases with options for prosecution when conflicts of interest emerge. It’s the latest part of an initiative aimed at instilling more transparency and consistency for an issue that has rocked Albuquerque police and other departments across the nation.

“There are solutions that just haven’t been built into the law,” he said in an interview. “New Mexico has an antiquated model and clearly that’s what we’re to do - bring stakeholders together to improve the process.”

The trial of two former Albuquerque officers charged in the shooting death of a mentally ill homeless man ended in a hung jury in October.

Defense lawyers called the outcome justice, but the case highlighted a system fraught with conflicts of interest and sparked questions about the ability of the justice system to weigh whether a police shooting has veered from negligence to a crime.

A review by The New Mexican and New Mexico In Depth media outlets turned up a patchwork of policies in how police and prosecutors investigate such shootings.

Following the review, Balderas announced last week that he was appointing a subcommittee made up of members of the state Law Enforcement Academy Board to study the policies of more than 190 police departments, sheriff’s offices and state law enforcement agencies and report back with recommendations by next summer.

State Police Chief Pete Kassetas, a committee member, told The New Mexican (https://bit.ly/2hfwTsW ) he stands by his agency’s ability to investigate fatal shootings by its own officers.

Kassetas said he’s open to changing state police procedures, but argued that independent reviews are not necessary.

“I don’t think I should have to give my officer-involved shooting investigations up to any other agency because I feel that we can do them with the utmost ability,” Kassetas said.

While other agencies have investigated shootings by state police officers in the past, he said few have the expertise or resources to take on such cases.

Kassetas criticized a proposal by Albuquerque City Councilor Pat Davis that would require an outside agency to investigate each fatal shooting by city police. The city has the resources to investigate through various task forces and that residents should trust the police department to investigate itself, Kassetas said.

Balderas said Monday the review is in its infancy so it is unclear what changes should be made. The goal is to restore community confidence when it comes to dealing with “the most difficult and critical cases,” he said.

The attorney general also said he and the district attorneys plan to push the Legislature for adequate funding that would include covering the cost of independent prosecutors when needed.


Information from: The Santa Fe New Mexican, https://www.sfnewmexican.com

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