Roswellâ€™s police chief expressed his frustration Monday with city officialsâ€™ decision to recently settle a $1.25 million lawsuit, brought by the family of a mentally ill man who died in police custody in March 2008.
Interim Chief Dennis Kintigh told reporters he didnâ€™t think â€œjustice (was) achievedâ€ by settling after the city and its Police Department were sued by the family of Javier Aguilar, who died in his home following a physical altercation with officers. â€œI have been on a slow burn, as I say, for weeks on this whole thing because I felt it was a grave injustice,â€ he said. â€œWhat has happened to the officers of this Police Department and this community has not been justice. The officers of the Roswell Police Department have been vilified (and) the public treasury has been looted as result of this settlement.â€
The familyâ€™s civil [auth] rights suit claims police used excessive force by attempting to subdue him by employing pepper spray, a Taser, leg shackles and by hitting him with retractable batons. Aguilarâ€™s cause of death was ruled as result of â€œpositional asphyxia,â€ according to the Office of the Medical Investigator, which listed obesity and hypertensive cardiac disease as â€œsignificantâ€ contributing factors.
The suit was brought by Miguel Aguilar, Javier Aguilar’s brother and a New Mexico State Police officer. The familyâ€™s attorney â€” Esteban Aguilar, no relation â€” says the RPD failed to follow proper procedures and improperly handled the situation. â€œThese officers were not properly trained in how to respond to and handle calls involving its citizens with mental disabilities,â€ Esteban Aguilar stated in a release following the settlement agreement.
â€œ(They) did not follow appropriate and nationally recognized procedures for dealing with Javier, who simply called 911 for help.â€ City officials announced the settlement on Nov. 15, after a federal court judgeâ€™s gag order was lifted on the case. At the time, Mayor Del Jurney told reporters that the cityâ€™s decision â€œis not an indictment of our officers or our Police Department.â€ Kintigh, who called the decision not to go to trial â€œprofoundly wrong,â€ told reporters that he disagreed with the mayor.
â€œI believe the perception is the opposite,â€ he said. â€œI know where (the mayorâ€™s) heart lies … but, I donâ€™t think thereâ€™s any way you can avoid this being perceived as that very thing.â€ The chief, who is slated to leave the department in January to resume his role as a lawmaker in the state House of Representatives, also highlighted during his press conference that the New Mexico State Police played a heavy role in the entire investigation following Javier Aguilarâ€™s death. â€œ(Itâ€™s) the agency of the brother who is the personal representative of the family,â€ Kintigh said.
â€œSo, the question in my mind, is he alleging that his fellow state police officers failed to do their job? Because, they were in the middle of this from the beginning.
â€œThey were called within 25 minutes after the arrival of the ambulance,â€ he said. Kintigh also cited the state policeâ€™s report that listed Javier Aguilarâ€™s former case manager, Anna Dowdy, as his only emergency contact. â€œI think that speaks volumes,â€ he said. Roswellâ€™s insurance is paying $900,000 of the settlement.
The remaining $350,000 was taken from the cityâ€™s general fund. City police officers are also required to seek certification and training through the New Mexico Municipal League as part of the settlement agreement.