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New Mexico rights commission reconsiders immunity for police

August 21, 2020 GMT
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ADDS FIRST NAME MICAELA - Rep. Micaela Lara Cadena, of Doña Ana County, debates a fellow Democrat about a police body camera bill she sponsored during a special session Monday, June 22, 2020, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The bill passed, and if signed by the governor would require police departments to retain body camera video for 120 days or face the possibility of being sued for withholding evidence. (AP Photo/Cedar Attanasio)
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ADDS FIRST NAME MICAELA - Rep. Micaela Lara Cadena, of Doña Ana County, debates a fellow Democrat about a police body camera bill she sponsored during a special session Monday, June 22, 2020, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The bill passed, and if signed by the governor would require police departments to retain body camera video for 120 days or face the possibility of being sued for withholding evidence. (AP Photo/Cedar Attanasio)

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — An effort to reform immunity provisions that protect police officers from lawsuits against misconduct got underway in New Mexico, with the first meeting Friday of a newly appointed civil rights commission.

The nine-member commission has until Nov. 15 to present findings and recommendations to the Legislature and governor, leaving two additional months for lawmaker to craft legislation before the next regular legislative session.

The commission is being led by Supreme Court Justice Richard Bosson as chairman and former federal prosecutor Mark Baker, both of Santa Fe. The commissioners voted unanimously to conduct meetings in public view.

The commission is consulting with the Legislature’s legal affairs office and state risk management officials who provide the legal defense for state employees accused of civil rights violations.

Protests over racial injustice and police brutality have prompted several states to pass significant policing reforms at a quick pace, often with bipartisan support and mixed reactions from law enforcement.

New Mexico’s Democrat-led Legislature and allied Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham approved policing reforms during a special session in June that include the mandatory use of police body cameras and the creation of a civil rights commission.

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In Colorado, a new law has eliminated the qualified immunity defense that generally protects government workers from lawsuits — over strong opposition by some police. New Mexico is taking a more gradual approach to immunity issues by convening a commission.

Other members of the commission include Belen Police Chief Victor Rodriguez, Republican state Sen. Steve Neville of Aztec and Dona Ana County Sheriff Kim Stewart. Democrats outnumber Republicans 4-3, with two unaffiliated members.

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A previous version of this story misstated the November 2020 deadline for commission recommendations.