The Journal obtained a letter from Paul Kennedy, Civil Guard attorney, outlining the group’s intent to file a civil lawsuit against the city in response to the June 2020 protest at the Juan de Onate statue.
The group was there to protect the statue and no member of it was charged.
Kennedy requests $750,000 in settlement and the response of the city to negotiate instead of facing a lawsuit.
These negotiations ended Thursday morning.
The office of Mayor Tim Keller wouldn’t comment but stated that it tried to resolve the dispute through mediation without resorting to litigation. However, they were unable to reach an agreement.
A spokesperson for the Mayor’s Office stated that “We won’t being bullied by hate groups,”
Bryce Provance was a former member of the Civil Guard. He said Keller and the Albuquerque Police Department had targeted the group before the protest, and then wrongfully arrested them.
Keller and APD knew that the group was not associated with the shooter. However, he said that they classified Civil Guard members as criminals.
Kennedy didn’t respond to our requests for comment.
New Mexico Civil Guard is a group made up of civilians who train together to practice military exercises. It was criticized by local leaders for being present at the protest with a large number of guns. Tensions rose among protesters and members of the group before Steven Baca, a counterprotester, shot Scott Williams following a scuffle.
Williams also threatens to sue the city and APD for negligence in handling the protest and subsequent investigation.
According to the Civil Guard’s demand letters, its members claim that they were targeted by police before the shooting. They are wrongfully held for several hours and labeled by Keller (then-Police Chief Michael Geier) as possible criminal suspects and potential “federal hatred group” via Twitter.
Raul Torrez, 2nd Judicial District Attorney filed a lawsuit against Civil Guard shortly after the incident. He argued that civil militias can only be activated by the governor of the state and that the Civil Guard was acting as law enforcement without any legal authority. This case is still pending.
“These seven arrests were the result of a series of decisions made by the City’s highest policymakers, with the apparent purpose to penalize these individuals for their political association with Civil Guard,” Kennedy’s demand note states. Kennedy also stated that the highest-ranking members of the police department knew that the shooter wasn’t a member or associated with the Civil Guard.
The letter mentions APD then-Deputy Chief Harold Medina Commander Arturo Sanchez, and Sgt. Albert Sandoval was aware that the group would attend the protest, so he placed officers near the scene to wait and see “if they could capture NMCG doing any illegal activity.”
APD was kept informed by undercover officers at the protest about the events leading to the shooting. According to the letter, Civil Guard members were leaving the area as Civil Guard officers appeared to be departing. Following the shooting, Civil Guard members “secured” Baca’s gun, and APD stormed in to detain “anyone who was armed.”
The letter states that members were seized by the police and taken into custody. They were then placed in a street stall, where they were attacked with rocks and bottles.
The letter stated that police had identified Baca as the shooter through video evidence from social media, a detective on the scene, and Baca’s statements.
However, Civil Guard members were not released.
Guard, ABQ fail to settle over allegations
According to the letter, one of the men urinated due to inability to use a toilet and another was diagnosed as having post-traumatic osteoarthritis from long-term handcuffing.
The letter states that “while they were suffering these injuries, indignities and were being arrested, the policy-makers responsible for their arrests were misleading and suggesting that they were criminals”
According to the letter, these officials never revealed to the public that “vigilantes” were being held as witnesses and not suspects.
The letter stated that the witnesses couldn’t defend themselves as they were held in handcuffs without lawyers and without any means to communicate with their families and friends, as prisoners.
Kennedy wrote to Civil Guard members that the city attorney, upon receiving the demand letters, asked Kennedy to not file any civil complaints and to “enter into negotiations process”.
He wrote that “This is a positive sign because it signifies the city recognizes its liability and probably wants to settle the case rather than litigate it.” “Whether they will be able to pay enough money is a different question.”