Police May Face Class-Action Suit in New Mexico


The Albuquerque Police Department is in serious hot water over a disturbing trend in their conduct towards mentally ill civilians. Although police approach to mentally ill people is a challenge across the country, the problems in Albuquerque stand out. Early this month, James Boyd, a homeless man with a history of mental illness, was shot and killed by APD–and it was all caught on camera. The disturbing video not only went viral and prompted FBI investigation, but was very much a tipping point for APD’s recent history with mental disabled persons:

Since 2010, 37 people have been shot by the APD. 23 fatally. According to a report by the New Mexico Public Defender, 75% of persons shot between 2010-2011 were mentally ill.  The Treatment Advocacy Center and the National Sheriff’s Association estimated, based on informal studies and accounts, that half the number of people shot and killed by the police nationally have mental health problems.

Nationally, police departments have varying programs and approaches in how to deal with mentally ill people, who make up approximately 6% of the populations (1 in 17 Americans). Many of them teach how to “defuse potentially volatile situations and treat people who suffer from psychiatric illnesses with respect.” According the the NY Times, part of the safe response issue is that “officers can sometimes make a crisis worse, either out of fear or in a reflexive effort to control the situation and enforce compliance.”

Those in defense of the police department say that the problem is far greater than what training efforts can solve, citing a significant increase in contact  of mentally ill  persons and police due to weak mental health care system and lack of treatment. The families of victims and people of Albuquerque are clearly upset with the APD, word of a class-action lawsuit is catching strength. Stephen Torres, father of victim Christopher Torres, feels that even if there is a “very-well-drafted, very well-thought-out” protocol for dealing with mentally ill persons, it isn’t being followed. This week, Albuquerque mayor, R.J. Berry, published his new budget, which include $1 million to better train APD officers in dealing with tense situations and mentally ill people. With emotions high and the death toll now higher, many say it is too late–litigation and investigation will continue. Notably, however, the class-action suit may likely not include a financial settlement, but a court order to make sure the APD follows through.

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