Russell Contreras/AP

Albuquerque officer fatally shoots woman

Death is third in a month; federal probe found cops too often used deadly force on people posing minimal threat

Albuquerque police said an officer shot and killed an auto theft suspect early Monday, the third shooting by officers in the troubled department in just over a month and the first after a federal investigation faulted the department for excessive force and a culture of abuse and aggression.

Gordon Eden, police chief of the New Mexico city, said the shooting occurred Monday morning during a chase.

"An officer pursued on foot when the suspect stopped, turned and pointed a handgun at close range," Eden said.

Police identified the woman as Mary Hawkes, the daughter of Danny Hawkes, a retired magistrate judge in Valencia County, south of Albuquerque.

Court records show Mary Hawkes had two previous run-ins with the law as an adult, one for drinking in public and another for shoplifting, according to the Albuquerque Journal. As a juvenile, she was charged in 2011 with attempted criminal sexual contact of a child under 13. She was convicted of a lesser battery offense and sentenced to two years of probation.

No further details about the shooting were immediately available. Phone calls and e-mails to the Albuquerque Police Department were not returned.

The shooting comes just weeks after a series of sometimes violent protests against Albuquerque police, who have shot at 38 people since 2010, killing 24.

Citizens and civil rights group have repeatedly expressed concerns that the department is using excessive force, particularly with the city’s mentally ill and homeless populations.

Tension over the department's use of force escalated last month after police shot and killed James Boyd, a mentally ill homeless camper in the foothills of the Sandia Mountains. Video from an officer's lapel camera showed police fired on Boyd, 38, as he appeared to be preparing to surrender. Just over a week later, police shot and killed Alfred Redwine, 30, after a standoff.

The video from the officer’s lapel camera was posted on YouTube by local TV news station KQRE, and has drawn more than 1 million views. That sparked a protest by local residents and civil rights activists on Sunday, which also turned violent when police in riot gear clashed with demonstrators in the street.

Earlier this month, the Department of Justice (DOJ) released the results of a more than yearlong investigation of the department, which said officers too frequently used deadly force on people who posed a minimal threat and used a higher level of force too often on those with mental illness, often violating their constitutional rights.

In response, the mayor has hired a team to help implement reforms.

Peter Simonson, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Albuquerque division, told Al Jazeera the shootings, excessive use of Tasers and other violent tactics only further prove the officers are using undue force.

Simonson noted that the DOJ report showed the police department has "institutional deficiencies" with their systems and accountability process, and despite officers being required to wear lapel cameras to record their interactions with the public, they regularly flout the rule and there is scant enforcement.

"An independent investigator has reported over and over again that officers failed to turn on their cameras, the device was reported as malfunctioned, and it’s a running joke among the civil rights community that you’ll never get them to wear those cameras," Simonson said.

Simonson said the video from Monday’s shooting has not been released, so he could not confirm if the suspect actually pulled out a weapon. Simonson said this would not be the first time police alleged a suspect had a weapon before fatally shooting them.

"We have been told in previous shootings that officers believed the person either drew a weapon or their hand moved towards their waist to draw a weapon and it was later revealed that there was no weapon," Simonson said.

"This just reveals the need for body-worn cameras."

Al Jazeera and wire services

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