Here’s a completely unsurprising story. The police in Albuquerque, New Mexico have an absolutely terrible record of misconduct and abuse and the county prosecutor who finally decided to charge two officers who murdered a homeless man is now being harassed by that department in retaliation.
But this isn’t the only way Brandenburg may have paid for her decision to file murder charges. Buried deep in an expansive New Yorker report on Albuquerque’s investigation of police shootings, reporter Rachel Aviv lays out how Brandenburg may have faced other personal pressures aimed at intimidating her out of using her enforcement powers.
As the nation grapples to figure out why cops are so rarely punished for using deadly force, the story of Albuquerque is a window into what can happen when local officials do try to punish their own police for perceived wrongdoing.
Last October, Brandenburg told an attorney for the police union that she was considering filing charges against the cops who killed James Boyd, a homeless schizophrenic man approached by the officers for sleeping in the Albuquerque foothills. “Within weeks, Brandenburg found herself the target of an investigation by the Albuquerque Police Department,” Aviv explains.
The investigation related to theft by Brandenburg’s son, who had stolen money from friends to feed his heroin addiction. Brandenburg had offered to pay back the victims of the theft, and somewhere along the way, police developed a claim that Brandenburg had bribed witnesses related to the case.
A detective working on the case admitted in a recording that the claims were “super-weak — it’s probably not gonna go anywhere,” but “it’s gonna destroy her career.”
I’ve interviewed police officers off the record who were terrified of ever blowing the whistle on other cops. They’ve told me that they know there are officers in their department who routinely engage in misconduct — violating the rights of suspects, planting evidence (usually drugs) on them, physically abusing them — but that they’re too afraid to say anything because they’ll be seen as a traitor and become a target. The thin blue line is real and it covers up an enormous amount of abuse and misconduct.