By RUSSELL CONTRERAS
2014-04-10 11:42 PM
ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico (AP) -- When Albuquerque police fatally shot a homeless camper in the foothills of the Sandia Mountains on March 16, the long-simmering anger at the police force in New Mexico's largest city finally coalesced into violent protest.
Demonstrators on March 30 pelted officers with rocks and doughnuts, tried to block freeway ramps and marched on busy streets. Advocates from around Albuquerque called for massive reforms of the police department.
The unrest led Mayor Richard Berry to urge the U.S. Department of Justice to wrap up its pending investigation into allegations of excessive use of force and civil rights violations by Albuquerque police. He also asked the federal agency to help overhaul the police department. New Police Chief Gorden Eden supported the request.
After months of conducting interviews, scouring videos and reviewing hundreds of pages of documents, the Justice Department says it's finally ready to release details of its inquiry on Thursday.
The more than yearlong probe follows 37 police shootings by officers since 2010. City officials estimate that up to 75 percent of the suspects in the shootings suffered from some mental illness.
By comparison, police in the similarly sized cities of Denver and Oakland have been involved in fatal and non-fatal shootings totaling 27 and 23, respectively.
Albuquerque officials say they expect a federal monitor to be appointed and a number of reforms will be suggested. The Justice Department can mandate oversight and changes or issue suggestions. Either way, the federal government will negotiate with the city.
But it remains unclear what reforms federal officials will demand -- if any. The Justice Department has said it sent some Albuquerque cases to its criminal division but hasn't released details on those cases. The exception is the shooting death of James Boyd, 38, the homeless camper who threatened to kill officers but was gathering his belongings and turning away when police opened fire.
The FBI said it has opened an investigation into the shooting.
If a federal monitor is appointed and the city agrees on terms, Albuquerque would join cities such as Detroit, Los Angeles, New Orleans and Seattle that are subject to federal oversight.
"Such a plan will help bring about any necessary system improvements and accountability measures," Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry told the Justice Department in a letter last week urging completion of the investigation.
Reforms could cost the city millions of dollars, as they did for police departments in New Orleans and Portland, Oregon, which were scrutinized by federal officials.
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