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Ousted Albuquerque police chief files whistleblower lawsuit

July 15, 2021 GMT
FILE - In this Nov. 13, 2018, file photo, then-Albuquerque Police Chief Mike Geier, center, speaks during a news conference in Albuquerque, N.M. Albuquerque's former police chief is accusing top city officials of violating open record laws and a state statute meant to protect whistleblowers. Geier and his former assistant, Paulette Diaz, filed their complaint against the city in state district court on Wednesday, July 14, 2021. (AP Photo/Mary Hudetz, File)
FILE - In this Nov. 13, 2018, file photo, then-Albuquerque Police Chief Mike Geier, center, speaks during a news conference in Albuquerque, N.M. Albuquerque's former police chief is accusing top city officials of violating open record laws and a state statute meant to protect whistleblowers. Geier and his former assistant, Paulette Diaz, filed their complaint against the city in state district court on Wednesday, July 14, 2021. (AP Photo/Mary Hudetz, File)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Albuquerque’s former police chief is accusing top city officials of violating open record laws and a state statute meant to protect whistleblowers.

Michael Geier and his former assistant, Paulette Diaz, filed a complaint against the city in state district court late Wednesday. It specifically references Mayor Tim Keller and Chief Administrative Officer Sarita Nair, saying they micromanaged the police department and undermined Geier’s efforts to address crime and comply with federal mandates related to police reforms.

After Geier was forced to resign last September, Keller’s administration defended the decision, saying the chief wasn’t doing his job.

Geier disputed that claim and leveled his own accusations in an interview with the Albuquerque Journal weeks after he was dismissed. Many of those concerns were outlined in the lawsuit, which seeks damages that include back pay as well as lost wages and benefits.

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The mayor’s office issued a statement Thursday, saying previous internal investigations had debunked the “wild accusations” made during Geier’s final months as chief and that the complaint amounted to “nothing more than sour grapes.”

“While we haven’t seen this lawsuit, it appears he’s turning to the courts to re-litigate false claims,” the mayor’s office said.

The complaint comes as Keller faces growing criticism for the city’s crime problem. The Democrat is running for reelection.

Albuquerque was pushed into the national spotlight in 2020 when then-President Donald Trump announced the city would be one of several across the U.S. where federal agents would be sent to help tackle violent crime. Although auto thefts and other property crimes have decreased in the last couple years, homicides and violent crimes have remained high.

Albuquerque had 80 homicides in 2019, which was more than any other year in memory. There were almost as many in 2020. This year, the city is on track to shatter that record, having logged more than 60 in just the first six months of 2021.

It’s a trend elsewhere too, as dozens of other cities have reported increases in their homicide rates over the last year.

During a recent online town hall, members of the Albuquerque Police Department’s command staff said the nexus for homicides, particularly shootings, seems to involve drugs as well as parties where there’s drinking involved.

Geier’s lawsuit says he had instituted several programs aimed at reducing the city’s crime rate and that he had tried to increase the department’s compliance as it worked with a federal monitor on sweeping reforms that were part of a 2014 consent decree with the U.S. Justice Department. The agreement stemmed from a string of excessive force cases that predated Geier’s tenure.

Geier also tried to recruit more officers to the understaffed department, but the lawsuit mentions misconduct at the police academy, incidents of discrimination against some cadets and resistance to implementing the reforms.

According to the lawsuit, Geier said his efforts were stymied by Keller and Nair’s interference. The complaint states that the two had personal involvement with the selection of personnel for police department positions, tactical operations, crowd control measures, and social media posts published in Geier’s name without his consent.

Nair denied that the Keller administration was making tactical decisions for the department when asked by reporters last year.

The lawsuit also talks about conversations with Keller and Nair in which they told Geier he needed to resign.

“The fruits of Keller and Nair’s actions are echoed upon the city of Albuquerque with unprecedented violent crime rates and a police department on the verge of actual collapse,” the lawsuit states.