ACLU Files Free Speech Lawsuit against Albuquerque Police Oversight Commission
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
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ALBUQUERQUE, NM—Today, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Mexico filed a legal complaint in state district court against the Albuquerque Police Oversight Commission (POC) for suppressing the statements of several community members during their meeting held on December 13, 2012. During this meeting, the plaintiffs, Charles Arasim, Kenneth Ellis, Silvio Dell'Angela and Eli Chavez, all planned to criticize the POC for permitting a commissioner who they believed had a conflict of interest to remain on the commission. When the people attempted to voice these criticisms during the public comments section of the meeting, the Commission silenced them and refused to allow any public discussion of the topic.
The plaintiffs in this case are all community advocates against police use of excessive force. They regularly attend POC meetings to monitor the body's investigations of alleged incidents of abuse. A New Mexico jury recently ordered the City of Albuquerque to pay 10.7 million dollars in damages to the family of plaintiff Kenneth Ellis after an Albuquerque police officer wrongfully killed his son, Kenneth Ellis III.
"I have the right and obligation to speak out and do everything in my power to ensure that no other father has to go through what I have," said plaintiff Kenneth Ellis. "The Police Oversight Commission may not like what I have to say, but the First Amendment right to free speech exists for the sole purpose of protecting speech that the Government doesn't like."
The complaint alleges that before the public comment section of the December 13 meeting, Commissioner Martinez stated that all public comments would be limited to one specific agenda item, excluding the concerns the plaintiffs held regarding Martinez's membership in the Fraternal Order of Police Auxiliary—a membership the plaintiffs considered to constitute a conflict of interest due to that organization's opposition to external police oversight bodies. By limiting the discussion, a deviation from standard commission practice, plaintiffs allege that the commission attempted to silence their criticism. When another attendee, Andrés Valdez, attempted to speak on Commissioner Martinez's perceived conflict during his allotted time for public comments, Commissioner Richard Shine interrupted his statement and ultimately directed police officers to forcibly remove him from the room. The commission permitted no further discussion of Commissioner Martinez's perceived conflict of interest during the public comments section of the meeting.
"In our country, every person has the right to engage in political speech and voice their opinion—even if the Government doesn't like what's being said, even if the Government doesn't want to hear it," said ACLU-NM Executive Director Peter Simonson. "Nowhere is this right more important than when speaking out against perceived corruption or misuse of government power. The POC cannot attempt to silence criticism of public officials during the designated public comments period."
The suit seeks punitive and compensatory damages against the POC for violating the plaintiff's First Amendment right to free speech