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New Mexico ACLU Renews Call for Cameras on Deputies

Days after a 28-year-old woman reportedly in the throes of a mental health crisis was shot and killed by Bernalillo County, N.M., sheriff’s deputies, the ACLU of New Mexico renewed a call to equip deputies with cameras.

by Elise Kaplan, Albuquerque Journal / July 25, 2019

(TNS) — Days after a 28-year-old woman reportedly in the throes of a mental health crisis was shot and killed by Bernalillo County, N.M., sheriff’s deputies, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico renewed its call for the department to equip deputies with cameras.

“The public has a right to a complete, objective account of what happened,” Peter Simonson, executive director of the ACLU of New Mexico, said in a statement. “But we may never know the full truth about the circumstances that led to Ms. (Elisha) Lucero’s death because BSCO has steadfastly refused to adopt body-worn camera technology, despite evidence that it has dramatically reduced complaints against officers and officer-involved shootings in a number of departments around the country.”

In the run-up to his election, Sheriff Manuel Gonzales opposed lapel cameras as “ambiguous and costly,” but he said he would be open to dashboard cameras.

And the department could buy dashboard cameras for its vehicles if it wanted to.

The fiscal year 2020 budget passed by the Bernalillo County Commission in April includes $500,000 earmarked specifically for dashboard cameras.

Commissioner Debbie O’Malley said the $500,000 was approved unanimously and cannot be used for anything else.

She said there is no indication that the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office will purchase cameras for its cruisers.

But just 20 days after the budget was approved, Undersheriff Larry Koren asked for part of the allocated money to be used for a high-definition aircraft camera instead, according to an email provided to the Journal.

O’Malley said no.

“This is the first that I have heard of your department’s need for an HD FLIR (a high-tech camera developed for law enforcement),” she wrote in an email to Koren. “I asked Manager (Julie Morgas) Baca if there was a request from you for this equipment during the budget hearings, and she said (she) did not receive a request. Of course, I am available to talk with you at any time about the needs for your department; however, the $500k that is set aside in the County’s budget for dash cams is restricted for that purpose.”

In response to questions about the cameras and whether the department has any plans to buy them, deputy Felicia Maggard, a BCSO spokeswoman, said: “I do not have any additional information available for release.”

Maggard has previously said that eight cruisers are equipped with dashboard cameras and that there are about 300 sworn deputies. She would not answer questions Wednesday about whether any of the deputies involved in the Sunday night shooting had dashboard cameras or whether their audio belt recorders were recording.

O’Malley said she has heard from her constituents and other county residents who were concerned about the sheriff’s deputies not wearing body cameras. She said she had proposed the dashboard cameras as a compromise if the sheriff didn’t want lapel cameras.

“This is not something I’m an expert in at all,” O’Malley told the Journal. “But I thought we should, as a commission, make a statement that we think it’s important and here’s the money. That’s basically what the commission did but other than that, we don’t have any authority to require that (the sheriff) install anything or that he implement the use of body cameras.”

The Sunday night shooting unfolded after family members called 911 to say the 4-foot-11 Elisha Lucero was fighting with them and needed help. They said they told deputies she was not armed.

When deputies arrived at the South Valley home, Lucero initially refused to come out of the RV trailer where she lived, according to Undersheriff Rudy Mora.

Then, Mora said, she came out of the trailer and approached them aggressively, and she had some sort of weapon. Mora would not say what that weapon was.

Deputies opened fire, killing Lucero.

In his statement, Simonson, the ACLU director, said her death is a senseless tragedy that should have been avoided.

“The public needs to be assured that it can call upon law enforcement to help in these situations without running the risk that their loved ones are going to be gunned down for acting erratically,” he wrote. “If we are to prevent future tragedies like this from occurring, we must ensure that mental health professionals are the ones responding to mental health emergencies, not police.”

©2019 the Albuquerque Journal (Albuquerque, N.M.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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