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Justice Department: Albuquerque police use excessive force

A Justice Department report faults Albuquerque police for being too quick with both deadly and non-lethal force.

By Frances Burns

WASHINGTON, April 10 (UPI) -- The Albuquerque Police Department appears to use excessive force against people who pose "minimal threat," the U.S. Justice Department said Thursday.

Federal investigators released the results of an investigation that began because of the large number of police-involved shootings in recent years. The investigation was conducted by the civil rights division and the U.S. Attorney for New Mexico. "APD officers too frequently use deadly force against people who pose a minimal threat and in situations where the conduct of the officers heightens the danger and contributes to the need to use force," the department said.

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Police also use non-lethal weapons like Tasers too frequently, the report said, aiming them at people who are not resisting or engaged in passive resistance. The department also has a problem in its encounters with the mentally ill.

In one recent case, police killed James Boyd, a homeless man who was camping on the outskirts of the city. Video of the shooting suggested that Boyd, who had a small knife, was surrendering as he was shot.

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In a letter Thursday to Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry, the Justice Department cited another case involving the use of non-lethal force.

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"Officers fired Tasers numerous times at a man who had poured gasoline on himself," Justice Department officials said. "The Taser discharges set the man on fire, requiring another officer to extinguish the flames. This endangered all present."

The report found problems with the culture and administration of the police department. It said training is inadequate, and incidents not properly investigated.

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But the Justice Department did not suggest naming a federal monitor, instead saying its officials hope to work with the city and police. Officials also said the investigation was not aimed at determining whether specific officers had engaged in criminal conduct, although cases would be referred to other agencies for investigation.

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