- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 27, 2018

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - A law firm that has represented multiple New Mexico law enforcement officers in misconduct cases and other litigation has been tapped by the sheriff in New Mexico’s largest county to review his department’s use-of-force and pursuit policies.

Bernalillo County Sheriff Manuel Gonzales told county commissioners Tuesday evening that he and the county attorney have selected the Albuquerque firm Robles, Rael & Anaya for the review. Gonzales‘ announcement came in the same meeting in which the five-member commission called for him to hire a third-party evaluator to review the policies and possibly recommend changes.

Ahead of the vote, he defended his office’s transparency, saying that it routinely conducts its own reviews of the rules that dictate when deputies can use lethal force or pursue vehicles.

“We’ll continue to work hard in the spirit of transparency,” Gonzales said. “I don’t believe there’s a more transparent agency in the state.”

The review will be conducted as the sheriff’s department contends with lawsuits and the fallout of litigation stemming from deadly force cases.

Earlier this year, for example, sheriff’s department documents disclosed the agency had agreed to settle a lawsuit for nearly $1.5 million with the family of 88-year-old Fidencio Duran, of Albuquerque. He had died from pneumonia as a result of injuries suffered in September 2015, when deputies fired pepper balls at him and a police dog knocked him down.

Authorities said Duran had been carrying a knife in his neighborhood the day after his wife’s death when he came into contact with deputies.

In December, another wrongful death lawsuit was filed in connection with the shooting of Martin Jim. The 25-year-old had been a passenger in a truck that deputies were pursuing, and hadn’t posed a danger, according to the lawsuit filed by his girlfriend.

Jim and the driver of the stolen vehicle died in the shooting. Gonzales said the deputy had feared for his safety when he opened fire.

Attorney Luis Robles is representing the deputy named in the lawsuit. He also is a partner in the law firm selected by Gonzales and the county manager to conduct the policy audit.

County officials said they had turned to the local firm, rather than a national one, to help speed the process, which is what the proposal for the audit sponsored by Commissioner Maggie Hart-Stebbins had urged.

She has described the proposal as uncontroversial, given the sheriff had said earlier this year that he has been searching for a third-party firm to evaluate policies.

The sheriff will have final say on whether policies are changed as a result of the audit or how they are acted upon.

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