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June 22, 2014

Protesters put chief ‘on trial’

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Protesters advocating for drastic changes within a police agency criticized by the U.S. Justice Department over its use of force put the embattled police chief “on trial” during a rally Saturday.

Dozens of protesters, including some who brought children, marched from Roosevelt Park with signs and a makeshift coffin inscribed with names of people killed by Albuquerque officers in recent years.

The Police Department is under scrutiny for over 40 police shootings — 26 of them fatal — since 2010, and the Justice Department has issued a harsh report over the agency’s use of force.

The protesters marched peacefully Saturday before returning to the park to continue the rally.

The mock trial outlined how police Chief Gorden Eden has failed to stop his officers from using excessive force, said David Correia, one of the protest’s organizers.

“He has to answer to these charges,” Correia said. “They’ll all be read before the public.”

Eden, who took the job four months ago while the Justice Department was wrapping up its investigation into the department, said in a statement that police talked to protest organizers and officers would provide traffic escorts for the marchers.

“We acknowledge their First Amendment rights to voice their concerns,” Eden said. “Our job will be to protect public safety during the time they are in Roosevelt Park and while they are marching. Additional officers will be on call in case they are needed.”

Previous demonstrations have roiled New Mexico’s largest city. At one protest, riot police deployed tear gas toward a violent crowd. Another demonstration prompted city councilors to abruptly end a scheduled meeting.

Albuquerque and Justice Department officials are negotiating over reforms that federal authorities are expected to order in the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, the Police Department has announced a number of new changes to training and has ordered officers to stop shooting at moving vehicles.

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