ALBUQUERQUE, NM—Yesterday, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Mexico and the City of Albuquerque settled a lawsuit claiming that the Police Oversight Commission unconstitutionally suppressed the speech of several citizens during a meeting last December. The plaintiffs in this case, Charles Arasim, Kenneth Ellis, Silvio Dell’Angela and Eli Chavez, are all community advocates against police use of excessive force. The settlement raises several procedural reforms to the Commission’s rules designed to promote the right to free speech and citizen involvement and a sum of $14,000 in damages and attorneys’ fees.
“We are very pleased that our rights to Free Speech were affirmed through this settlement,” said plaintiff Kenneth Ellis Jr. “As the father of a son who was wrongfully killed by Albuquerque police, I must speak out about the problems with the police and the Police Oversight Commission—even when the government doesn’t like what I have to say. No other family should have to go through what ours did.”
In addition to damages, the City of Albuquerque has agreed in the settlement to raise several procedural reforms of the Police Oversight Commission public comments processes:
- A motion to increase the public comment limit from two to three minutes will be introduced and voted on by the Police Oversight Commission.
- A motion to permit up to three people who have signed up to give public comments to the commission may donate their time to another commenter to allow for a longer presentation of complex subject matter.
- The city will set up an official email for the commission so that citizens can directly contact commissioners.
- Apart from the settlement, the City of Albuquerque also voluntarily implemented several remedies that the plaintiffs requested in the legal complaint:
- The city now validates parking for citizens who wish to speak during the public comments period of the commission, removing a financial obstacle to citizen participation in government.
- The public may now discuss any agenda issue during the public comments period.
- The public may now use law enforcement officers’ names when discussing complaints.
- “The terms of this settlement constitute a big win for Free Speech,” said ACLU-NM Executive Director Peter Simonson. “In a healthy democracy, the public must be able to criticize their government without fear of suppression or retaliation. This settlement not only affirms that right, but expands the public’s ability to communicate with this commission.”
Read a copy of the settlement here.
Read a copy of the legal complaint here.
ACLU-NM Staff Attorney Alexandra Freedman Smith and ACLU-NM Cooperating Attorney Josh Ewing of Ewing & Ewing PC represented plaintiffs in this case.