Albuquerque, NM – Nineteen members of the Albuquerque Police Department’s (APD) Emergency Response Team (ERT) pulled out of the specialized protest response unit this week due to an alleged lack of support from their department.
The resignations from the ERT came after the unit responded to a protest on Civic Plaza over the weekend, KOB reported.
“They’re damned if they do, and they’re damned if they don’t,” Albuquerque Police Officers’ Association (APOA) President Shaun Willoughby told the news outlet.
“They don’t feel supported here, and they don’t feel trust,” Willoughby said. “They feel second-guessed, and they don’t feel that they can do their job, no matter how perfect they do their job, without getting in trouble.”
One lieutenant, two sergeants, and 17 officers resigned from the ERT as a show of solidarity after the APD placed a team member on administrative leave in connection with an investigation into an armed protester who was detained during the weekend demonstration, KOB reported.
APD later said the investigation into the officer was needed because there had been “a breakdown in communication” over whether or not the armed man would be charged.
“[APD] Chief [Harold] Medina made it clear that we cannot have a breakdown in communication during critical incidents,” the department said in a statement to KOB. “We have worked hard to earn back the public’s trust. We will lose that trust if we resist accountability and culture change.”
The protester at the center of the issue allegedly showed up amid a rumored Proud Boys rally that was supposedly going to be held at Civic Plaza but never materialized, KOB reported.
The protester, Deyontae Williams, was armed with a rifle and had a child with him.
He claimed he was wanting to express his position on the Second Amendment, and said he was not a member of the Proud Boys, KRQE reported.
Counterprotesters gathered at the park to voice their opposition to the supposed Proud Boys rally and got into an argument with Williams, footage from the scene showed.
At some point, the APD ended up escorting Williams into the convention center, KOB reported.
“There was a lot of concern throughout because this gentleman did have a child with him,” APD spokesperson Gilbert Gallegos told the news outlet.
Police told Williams he was being detained for having a rifle “in a place to cause civil unrest,” bodycam footage showed.
The department later said there was a “breakdown in communication” regarding whether or not Williams would be criminally charged, KOB reported.
They placed the ERT officer on administrative leave while they sorted it out.
“It wasn’t based on opinions or what should happen or should not happen,” Gallegos told KOB. “It was just actions were taken and the chain of command wasn’t aware why these decisions were being made at the time, so they put him on leave just while they investigated.”
“They quickly looked through the situation. The concerns were addressed, so they put him back on duty,” he added.
APD said they have mailed Williams a summons for child endangerment.
The department told KOB it is changing up who it sends to protests, and noted that they will also have detectives on scene to pursue criminal charges so officers can focus their attention on safety and crowd control issues.
APD said the resignation of the 19 ERT members will have no impact on the agency’s ability to handle crowd control operations moving forward.
“I think Mayor [Tim] Keller needs to make a serious decision of what this police department’s priority structure is,” Willoughby told KOB. “I think that he needs to carry that sentiment down to the police chief, so that your police officers feel supported.”
Although all of the ERT members who resigned from the unit remain on the force, approximately 20 other officers have left the APD altogether over the past two months alone, Willoughby said.
“We are seeing a dramatic increase of Albuquerque police officers applying to go to other departments,” he told KOB. “Morale? Let’s not even talk about it because it doesn’t exist. There is no morale. Your Albuquerque police officers are absolutely miserable at work— nobody’s happy.”