Chavez claimed that, in the case of the 2014 fatal police shooting of suspected car thief Mary Hawkes, body camera footage of three officers present during the incident was altered or partially deleted.
“Then-officer Dear fatally shot Mary Hawkes in April 2014 after a foot chase. She was suspected of stealing a truck. Controversy has surrounded the case from the beginning. Dear says Hawkes turned to face him, then pointed a gun at him. But a forensics analysis conducted by the Hawkes family’s expert shows that she was turning away from him and falling to the ground when he shot her in the back of the head,” In Depth detailed.
The officer was wearing a functioning body camera during the shooting, but, according to the APD, it did not record. Other officers on the scene had portions of their video footage deleted, or “altered by changing the gradient of the resolution on the video.”
A website called Evidence.com allows for the editing or deletion of body camera video, and Chavez claims that, by using their tools, the department was able to modify footage.
“I was one of a handful of City of Albuquerque administrators instructed on how to edit in Evidence.com. I was able to see, via the Evidence.com audit trail, that people had in fact deleted and/or altered lapel camera video. Videos, other than Taser videos, could be uploaded to Evidence.com. We were able to build cases on Evidence.com. We were able to alter videos by inserting or blurring images on the videos or by removing images from the video,” the affidavit states.
The nine-page affidavit explains that officers in multiple divisions of the APD were instructed not to write reports until after they reviewed their video footage.
“If the videos had no images considered harmful to the department, the officers were permitted to write in their reports that ‘they had recorded a given incident,’” In Depth explains. “But if images deemed ‘problematic’ for the department were found, officers were instructed not to mention a recording in the report or to write ‘the recording equipment had malfunctioned’ or the officer had failed to turn it on.”
If an officer wrote a report, but the recording was deemed damaging to the department, Chavez alleges that “the video would be altered or corrupted.”
Chavez was fired from the department in August 2015, and filed a whistleblower lawsuit in January arguing that his termination occurred because he raised concerns after the department ordered him to deny public-records requests in high-profile cases, a practice that is against the law. Representatives for city deny that this was the reason why his employment was terminated.
The allegations made by Chavez have led to renewed questions in the case of the police shooting of James Boyd, a homeless camper. Two APD officers were charged with murder in the case, but a mistrial was declared last month.
One of the officers claimed that he had turned on his body camera, but no video was recorded. In the Boyd case, Chavez alleges that he was told to “deny, withhold, obstruct, conceal, or even destroy records.”
“These are extremely concerning allegations,” District Attorney Kari Brandenburg has stated. “This throws everything into question. As prosecutors, we have to rely on what we get and the integrity of everyone in the process. These kinds of allegations raise so many questions.”