ABQ Police Culture: Abuse & Disdain

Today is a guest post from Jeff Haas and Mariel Nanasi, two much appreciated Santa Fe civil rights and environmental justice attorneys. Their revelations about the ABQ police culture are revealing.

Before turning this over to Mariel and Jeff, one reminder and a link to two other pieces on police violence and vigilantism that are worth your review. At the end of the post is a link to a Truthout piece that offers more on the ABQ case and offers an excellent summary of the US history of vigilantism. Finally, we close with a moving video. As most have read, on Sunday a noose was found in the garage of the only black NASCAR driver, Bubba Wallace. He had led the successful effort to have NASCAR remove all Confederate flags from the race tracks. Well, today was racing day and the tribute and the support for Wallace from drivers and crew members was powerful.

Game Changing Opportunity for NM: A State Public Bank

Tuesday, June 23, 6:30 – 8pm. Conversation About the Enormous Benefits of Forming a NM State Public Bank with Public Banking Advocate Leadership & Experts in public banking. 

I’ve been writing about this all the past week, but TONIGHT is our Public Banking panel with Elaine Sullivan, Board President of New Mexico’s Alliance for Local Economic Prosperity (NM AFLEP), Angela Merkert, the Executive Director of NM AFLEP and Melissa Pickett, Outreach Coordinator for NM AFLEP. Joining them will be Paul Stull, from the NM Credit Union Association, who will describe why the Association has endorsed the public banking initiative. Walt McRee will also be on the zoom. He is an expert from New Jersey and very involved in the national public banking movement.

Legislation will be introduced in January to create a state public bank. It is not an easy concept to grasp and so we need to make sure our base is well-educated and motivated to advocate strongly on its behalf. This Zoominar will inform and inspire. Click here to register. You must pre-register to guarantee a seat in the Zoom Room.

Kentucky Style Justice

The Kentucky state Supreme Court approved a plan to cut the number of polling stations for today’s primary by 95%. Not a typo. What’s worse, this plan will result in just one polling station for a district with half of the state’s black voters. From Independent, “It’s gonna be an angry mob:”

“Voting rights expert Ari Berman wrote in a tweet: “There will be one polling place for 616,000 registered voters in Louisville’s Jefferson County, where half state’s black voters live.”

Independent: “It’s gonna be a an angry mob.”

In addition to a high profile primary between moderate Democrat and vet, Amy McGrath, and Rep. Charles Booker a far more progressive candidate. For months McGrath enjoyed a strong lead, but in the past month, Booker has gained significant momentum from prominent endorsements from Bernie Sanders, AOC, and others. Also, in NY the Working Families Party is continuing to do its work in fixing the NM State Senate. So there are races to watch there, as well. In particular, watch the race between incumbent Democrat and House Foreign Affairs Chair, Rep. Engel and progressive challenger Jamaal Bowman. For more on the NY and Kentucky primaries, click here,

From the Paris Review:
A Powerful First Person Reflection on Whiteness

Trust me. You need to read this beautifully written, insightful view on white culture. Written by Sara Bellamy, a highly regarded African American theater director from Minneapolis. She analyzes video and photos of acts of police and vigilante violence to examine how body language and facial expressions offer insights into the cultural context in which racism and white supremacy emerge. Very, very well written piece. Click here.

Police Culture & Practice in ABQ

A Guest Post from Mariel Nanasi and Jeff Haas

Prosecutors Usually Overcharge Arrestees, but If you shoot an unarmed political  protester repeatedly on video you may not be charged at all.

Overcharging in a criminal case is a tactic regularly used by law enforcement in which the police and prosecutor add additional charges against an arrestee that they may or may not be able to prove if the case went to trial. Overcharging is used by law enforcement to strong-arm defendants into a plea bargain.

Charging is discretionary, which means that a prosecutor has tremendous amount of power to singlehandedly determine a punishment by deciding what crimes they wish to charge a defendant with.  Overchargingoften creates a climate of fear, and leads to higher rates of (at least temporary) incarceration. Overcharging often means a defendant must raise more money for bail to get out of jail; if s/he can’t make bail then the defendant often spends a longer time in jail awaiting trial.

Overcharging often mischaracterizes the arrestees’ activities. From a systemic standpoint, overcharging benefits the prosecutor, who knows that a defendant is likely to plead to a lesser offense rather than take a case to trial. As a result, more than 95% of criminal cases nation-wide result in a plea bargain and law enforcement considers this success. Black and Brown people are systematically disadvantaged at every step of the criminal justice system, and it often starts with the arrest process, including overcharging.

Most recently in the aftermath of Standing Rock water protectors, legislators in many states have greatly increased the potential criminal penalties for peaceful demonstrators opposing pipeline construction.

In Albuquerque, on Monday, June 15th, at a demonstration to remove the statue of Oñate, a brutal colonialist and plunderer, Steven Ray Baca shot demonstrator Scott Williams, four times. It was captured by multiple videos.  Baca was arrested by Albuquerque Police Department (APD). Baca stated immediately upon his arrest, “my father is in the BCSO (Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office).”

Not charging Steven Baca with the shooting because he might raise “self-defense?”

Why isn’t Baca charged with attempted murder?[1] It is undisputed that Baca brought a pistol and can of mace to the protest, that he immediately started intimidating and threatening demonstrators, that he violently struck three women, body slamming one to the ground, that he used mace on protesters and that he pulled his gun out and shot Scott Williams repeatedly. Why does the prosecutor shy away from charging Baca with the shooting and the crime of attempted murder? The prosecutor says he needs to investigate whether Baca has a self-defense defense claim because the demonstrators confronted Baca as he retreated and pulled out his gun. Since when does a prosecutor shy away from the “toughest” charge against a defendant? In every case a defendant might raise a defense.

Some important facts:

  • APD police reports critically omit the fact that Baca was seen on video body-slamming women to the ground and violently assaulting them on three different occasions without any provocation prior to the shooting. Instigating the violence would negate a self-defense claim by Baca.
  • APD “lost” Baca’s cell-phone, which he was using right after the shooting. Who was Baca talking with when he was seen using his cell phone?
  • APD’s confiscation and chain of custody of Baca’s gun is also uncertain – this is highly unprofessional and incompetent. Was this special treatment for the vigilante?
  • On police scanners APD referred to the armed militia also present at the scene as the “armed friendlies.”
  • District Attorney, Raúl Torrez, criticized the APD for failing to “collect critical evidence,” failing to properly identify witnesses and report information, and accused the APD of not being objective. Torrez called for accountability and requested that they preserve any and all evidence, and transfer the investigation to the NM State Police.
  • 13 firearms and 34 magazines were recovered between 5 members of the New Mexico Civil Guard, and Steven Baca, but Baca’s weapon was not specifically designated.
  • When police finally responded to the scene they deployed smoke canisters and shot demonstrators with 7 rounds of 40mm sponges.

In a statement, Williams’ family said, “Scott has devoted his life to seeking equality and justice for all. When Steven Baca repeatedly attacked peaceful protestors in Albuquerque last night, Scott took bullets for the community he cares about. While he did, the Albuquerque Police Department hid behind the Albuquerque museum, refused to respond to multiple requests for help, and only sent officers in once shots were fired.”

By underprosecuting, in this case, the State is affirming Baca’s right wing actions and violent behavior, silencing dissent and deterring people from attending demonstrations.

There is a long history in the United States of under-prosecutions but just for a small minority of people: police, white supremacists and their friends, and super rich white people (think Jeffrey Epstein). There is systemic selective justice.

For years it has been known that white supremacists have infiltrated police departments and other law enforcement agencies all across the country, from Florida to D.C. to Oregon and San Francisco. White supremacists actively recruit college students and former members of the military to join law enforcement. Their recruitment efforts have been successful as an alarming number of police officers are reported to be members of hate groups or expressing racist vitriol in texts, emails, on their clothing, and on social media. This is not just rank and file members but many who hold leadership roles within the force: sergeants, lieutenants, captains, and chiefs as well.

This is especially terrifying to people of color. We are facing an epidemic of systemic racism within law enforcement, meaning that there are racially disparate effects for people of color including the use of policies like stop and frisk and a disparate rate of traffic stops, marijuana arrests, unequal treatment for white versus black victims, disparate rates of prosecution, overcharging, sentencing and more.  Additionally, and particularly over the last decade, police have been militarized with weapons of war. We have seen some of this weaponry deployed in the last few months; police wantonly use excessive force with tear gas, rubber bullets, use of cars driven into crowds, and gun-fire against protesters.

For the police, the rate of discipline for misconduct and sustained penalties is very low. The police unions, who have never seen a case of brutality they did not support, have great power. They negotiate contracts on behalf of their members that make discipline nearly impossible. “Oversight” by cities has been futile and has most often led to no actual change.

Baca’s actions were vicious and frightening.  Unfortunately, to date, the prosecution  response is woefully inadequate and indicates no improvement as a result of recent cries for liberation. The State’s failure to act meaningfully (or competently) to arrest, collect evidence, and appropriately charge (which doesn’t bode well for an effective prosecution) sends a loud signal to the people: white supremacists and their police friends and politicians’ impotent response (actions matter) will continue unabated until our society seriously grapples with them.

This also sends a chilling message to non-violent demonstrators: that they will not be protected while exercising their First Amendment Rights of freedom of speech and their right to peaceably assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Steven Baca is currently (6/19) in custody on the aggravated assault charges but is seeking to be released at a custody hearing scheduled for Monday.  Despite the prosecution arguing Baca is a danger to the community and a flight risk, the absence of the most serious charges for shooting Williams, will make this unlikely.

This update was co-prepared by Mariel Nanasi and Jeffrey Haas, civil rights attorneys, and members of the National Lawyers Guild. We can be reached at 505.469.0714.


[1] Baca is charged with aggravated assault, a felony, against three protesters, and unlawfully carrying of a deadly weapon without a concealed carry permit, a misdemeanor.

Thank you to Mariel and Jeff for this insightful post.

If you would like to learn more about this event and about the history of US vigilantism, click here for an excellent Truthout piece.

In solidarity,

Paul and Roxanne



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2 replies

  1. Add to the bullet-pointed entries above raising questions about APD’s response, and questions about being compromised, this: two APD officers put on leave for social media posts, apparently in the days after June 15 protest. No facts. https://www.abqjournal.com/1468101/2-apd-officers-on-leave-over-social-media-posts.html

  2. The “simple” fact that Baca went to a “peaceful rally” with an “unpermitted” gun clearly demonstrates INTENT to harm…and possibly worse, “kill”…not “self-defense.” That’s the smoking gun…the “slam-dunk”, if you will, to prosecute that predator!

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