Whistleblowers outline allegations of nepotism and retaliation within Albuquerque's police academy

whistleblowers outline allegations of nepotism and retaliation within albuquerque's police academy

FILE -Albuquerque Police Chief Harold Medina answers questions about an ongoing investigation into possible corruption within the department’s DWI unit during a news conference at police headquarters in Albuquerque, N.M. on Friday, Feb. 2, 2024. Several members of the Albuquerque police academy’s training staff who were dismissed from their duties last summer filed a lawsuit Wednesday, April 17, 2024 outlining allegations of nepotism and retaliation by leadership within the force. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan, File)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Several members of the Albuquerque police academy’s training staff who were dismissed from their duties last summer filed a lawsuit Wednesday outlining allegations of nepotism and retaliation by leadership within the force.

The whistleblower complaint centers on a requirement that male cadets shave their heads with a razor daily. One cadet — the son of a police commander — was found to have violated the policy and wasn’t initially truthful with training staff when asked whether he was following through with the practice.

The cadet was dismissed from the academy last August following an internal investigation, but the lawsuit states the decision was reversed in less than 24 hours. The plaintiffs deduced that the commander had intervened on behalf of his son and that they were dismissed from the academy and reassigned to other positions in the field because they reported the violation.

In a letter to Police Chief Harold Medina, the plaintiffs described an abuse of authority and suggested that the commander’s intervention was inappropriate and nepotistic.

“We have done nothing wrong,” they stated in the letter, which was submitted as part of the complaint. “We have acted to report ethical violations and to protect the public interest in ethically trained law enforcement officials, and we should not suffer retaliation for doing so.”

It wasn’t until a month later that the department responded with a notice that an internal investigation would be initiated and it would include possible hazing of a cadet. According to the lawsuit, it was the academy commander who had instructed the training staff to reinstitute “old school” policies and a more “military” style of training at the academy.

Gilbert Gallegos, a spokesperson for the Albuquerque Police Department, told The Associated Press that the city takes hazing allegations very seriously.

“Those allegations, as well as the allegations in this lawsuit, will be addressed in court,” he said.

It’s unclear whether the shaving policy is still part of the cadet handbook.

The beleaguered police department has been grappling with other recent internal investigations, including the mishandling of DWI cases by some officers over a period of years and a traffic crash involving the police chief that seriously injured another driver.

The seven plaintiffs who brought the whistleblower complaint made up the academy’s entire training staff and had more than 100 years of combined experience, said their attorney Levi Monagle. They are seeking damages for lost wages, emotional distress and harm to their reputations.

The lawsuit stated that the findings of the internal investigation that followed the cadet being reinstated have yet to be shared with the plaintiffs. It was completed by a third party in December. While the plaintiffs believe it found no evidence of hazing, they were issued reprimands for “unspecified violations” of city policies.

The training staff had said they were given no explanation for their removal from the academy or explanation for their reassignments. They stated that the removal of officers from positions for which they apply and are tested — without explanation or notice or opportunity to be heard — is “highly unusual” and a violation of the police department’s collective bargaining agreement.

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