ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — New Mexico’s largest city is asking for a court hearing regarding the neutrality of the independent monitor who is charged with overseeing federally-mandated reforms of the Albuquerque police force.
The city in a motion filed Tuesday raised questions about whether monitor James Ginger is being fair. The motion points to recorded comments made by Ginger in 2016 about the police command staff as well as a comment made by one of his staffers that the monitor “has an ax to grind.”
If a hearing is granted, the city’s legal staff plans to call witnesses and present evidence so a judge can decide if there’s a problem.
The police department has been undergoing an overhaul since the U.S. Justice Department in 2014 found a pattern of excessive force. Ginger is paid to review the police department’s progress and report back periodically to a federal judge.
The Albuquerque Journal reported Wednesday that according to Ginger’s latest findings, progress is being made with the police force’s specialized units, crisis intervention programs and recruiting efforts. However, the findings suggest use-of-force oversight within the department and police administration continues to fall below expectations.
According to the city, officials decided to file the motion following a recent conversation between a member of Ginger’s team and a police employee. The team member allegedly said his draft portion of the latest report had positive information about the department’s compliance but Ginger made changes so the final version would be more critical, the motion stated.
The team member then said “it is clear that Dr. Ginger has an ax to grind,” according to the motion. The police employee then reported the conversation to police officials.
The city also cited a tense conversation between Ginger, City Attorney Jessica Hernandez and police officials. That 2016 conversation was recorded by Assistant Police Chief Robert Huntsman’s lapel camera.
According to the motion, Ginger expressed frustration with an appearance by Hernandez before the City Council during which she answered questions about the reform process and at times disagreed with the monitor’s findings.
“It’s fine. I can play the game, Jessica. I know how, and we can play it,” Ginger said, according to the recording.
Huntsman said in an affidavit that he decided to record the conversation because he was concerned about Ginger’s behavior.
Ginger is prohibited by the Justice Department settlement agreement from making public comments about the reform efforts. Officials with the U.S. attorney’s office declined to comment, citing department policy.
Watchdog groups that have been critical of the police force suggested Wednesday that the city was raising questions about Ginger because his reports have included unfavorable findings.
“Rather than focusing their energy on reforming their troubled police department, APD’s leadership is instead choosing to discredit the messenger responsible for documenting APD’s compliance status,” Steven Robert Allen, director of public policy of the American Civil Liberties Union in New Mexico, said in a statement.
In an affidavit, Police Chief Gorden Eden said officials have been concerned about Ginger’s bias since early 2016 but were reluctant to raise the issue for fear of retaliation by the monitor.