Try Surviving These Cops
By the AbolishAPD Coalition
Nicky’s got a birthday coming up next month. She’ll probably celebrate it in a cage if the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) and Metro court judges have anything to say about it. Police cited or arrested Nicky ten times and the Metro court judges issued four bench warrants against her in 2020. Police eventually arrested her on all of those warrants and each time they hauled her into court, the judges dismissed the charges. But they jailed her anyway because she couldn’t pay the fine for missing her court date. Toward the end of 2020, it finally dawned on a judge that maybe Nicky needed help from doctors rather than arrests by cops. The court ordered an evaluation to determine if Nicky was competent to stand trial. But Nicky’s not a priority to the court so the evaluation is still pending. Meanwhile, Nicky is a priority at APD, whose cops continue to cite her for something one day and arrest her on a warrant the next.
Her real name isn’t Nicky. We’ve changed it to protect her from police. And she definitely needs protection, because none of the charges Nicky draws from APD makes any sense at all. In late January, an APD cop who’d recently killed a man in a traffic stop turned his attention to Nicky. He rolled up on her outside a convenience store and cited her for criminal trespass because she was “present at the Circle K gas station” in the Northeast heights. They scheduled her court date for Valentine’s Day, but she skipped it.
Four days later, on January 28, 2020, a different APD cop watched Nicky walk out of a coffee shop near her mom’s house. “As I pulled behind the shop I saw Nicky walking towards the doors to the business from the inside. She left the establishment and then stood outside for several minutes.” This was their evidence of criminal activity. Nicky didn’t know that the shop had a no trespassing order against her on file with APD.
In the criminal trespass that a third APD cop gave Nicky in early February 2020, he identified the year as 2022, which might be a promise or a prediction, but more likely a typo. With cops though you never know. The criminal complaints that cops write are littered with typos, grammatical errors, weird neologisms, oddly incoherent sentences and, of course, outright lies. Keep reading, we saved the biggest lies for the end of the story.
They might have arrested her in “2022” but she went to jail for it in 2020. The cops and courts keep lousy records so it’s hard to know what happens between when a judge issues a bench warrant and a person gets put in a cage because of it. Nicky found herself in front of a judge in early March 2020. She pleaded no contest to the criminal trespass charge. The Judge declared her guilty and then sentenced her to two days in jail, which she’d already served, likely while waiting to go before the judge, but it’s hard to tell from their paperwork. We can’t figure out who the judge was because their signature appears as though carefully designed to hide their identity. Whoever it was gave Nicky credit for two days served but then sentenced her to another two days for missing the original court date. The judge then gave her credit for those days too, which means Nicky spent four days in a cage waiting to go before a judge so that the judge could declare her guilty of being “present at the Circle K gas station.” Or maybe she spent four days in jail for walking out of a coffee shop. It’s one or the other; always hard to tell.
Nicky’s whole life is cops, jailers, and judges. A few days after standing before a judge, Nicky found herself standing before an APD cop who (and we checked) made more than $110,000 a year in 2019. Nicky makes no money, so he arrested her for shoplifting and “possession of drug paraphernalia.”
Let’s not skip past the drug charge here as though it were a legitimate thing for cops to do. One of the arguments for legalizing medical marijuana was that it would end the practice of cops putting people in jail for non-violent drug charges, something cops have been doing with enthusiasm for generations. Most of the people they’ve been arresting are people of color, like Nicky. Legalizing marijuana and ending the war on drugs is a social justice issue, legalization proponents argued, and legalizing medical marijuana helps get us there. But the war on drugs rages on in Albuquerque. Nicky’s the proof. The cops keep arresting her and the courts keep jailing her on non-violent drug charges. Meanwhile, it’s been the cops who’ve cashed in. A former deputy sheriff named David Linthicum once put people in cages for smoking pot, but now he sells it to them. And one of the largest marijuana dealers in the state is a belligerent former cop named Darren White. Here’s a really bad picture of White from 1991 when he sang for an APD cop band called “The Force.” They sang drugs-are-bad songs to elementary school kids during all-school DARE assemblies. White sells drugs now, probably to some of the same kids he tried to convince to snitch on their parents in those stupid APD DARE “concerts” he gave. Maybe Nicky sat through one of White’s “concerts” when she was in elementary school. Former cops like White now make bank selling drugs to the same kids they once threatened to arrest if they had drugs, while current cops like the ones constantly arresting Nicky make bank sending people to jail for buying drugs.
March 2020 sucked for everyone, but it sucked more for Nicky. Jailed for four days on a nothing charge in early March, then cited for shoplifting a thing of literally no value and also for possession of drug paraphernalia in mid-March. And then, just to make sure she had as bad a month as possible, the same cop who cited her for the possession charge in early March cited her again in late March for criminal trespass for walking into a 7-11.
Cops in Albuquerque give out a lot of criminal trespass charges. It’s like a gateway drug for them. Once a cop gets a taste, they move on to the heavier stuff. By May it became clear that the charges of being “present at the Circle K gas station” and “walking out of a coffee shop” were just a prelude to the more serious charges to come. In late May, a manager at an Albuquerque motel saw Nicky walking through the parking lot. She came out of her office and yelled at Nicky to leave. If you’ve been to a rundown motel in Albuquerque, any of them, you know it’s more of a makeshift shelter than a motel, which makes sense since Albuquerque has so few shelters. Rundown motels all over town function as last-ditch places for people who can’t afford a deposit on an apartment but have enough cash for a week or two in a motel. The motel manager called police. She told them “a prostitute is wandering the parking lot offering sex for money.” That’s what the cop wrote in the criminal complaint, at least. When the cop showed up he found Nicky walking on a sidewalk nowhere near the motel. He told her she was “not wanted on the property and should not return.” She told him to fuck off. This is a theme with Nicky. Cops tell her to get lost, Nicky tells them to fuck off. Even though she wasn’t on the property, the cop arrested Nicky and took her to jail. Just like at the Circle K and the coffee shop and all the other arrests, the charges always have something to do with property—property she took that ain’t hers, property she has but law says she can’t, property she’s on but not welcome at. With police, everything’s always about property, and Nicky has none of her own.
A man named Jimmy McClendon sued the Metro jail years ago after they arrested him on some ridiculous charge like the kind Nicky gets. The case became a class action suit and eventually APD became a defendant because it’s the cops who bring the people to jail. APD agreed to a settlement that prohibited police from arresting people on petty misdemeanor charges like the ones Nicky gets. They can only give citations. No arrests. Most cops don’t know the law, however, and those that do don’t really care, so the cop put Nicky in cuffs despite McClendon because a motel manager said Nicky walked across a parking lot, and then the cop got mad because Nicky told him to fuck off. The McClendon agreement requires exigent circumstances before a cop can make a misdemeanor arrest. As if that’ll stop them. Cops always come up with something. “Let it be known,” the cop wrote in his complaint, laying out the fake exigency for his arrest of Nicky, “that Nicky created multiple disturbances in the area over a 30-minute timeframe.” Sufficiently vague. It’s code for: “Nicky’s rude and impolite.” And also for: “private property exists to exclude people like Nicky.”
The property charges continued in late May when Nicky was standing in front of an apartment building on the Southeast side when the landlord came out and hollered at her to leave. People who own private property are always hollering at Nicky to leave their property. Nicky had enough of it. “Fuck you,” she yelled at the landlord. She was just walking across a parking lot. The landlord went back to his office and called police. Nicky, maybe looking for a place to hide from the cops, climbed through a broken window of an empty apartment and locked herself inside. The cop showed up, hauled Nicky out of the apartment, cuffed her, and put her in his cruiser.
Nicky wasn’t done with that landlord. A week later she showed back up at the same apartment, walked through the same parking lot, and the same landlord came out and started up again with the same hollering. She’d had enough. “Fuck you. What are you, a douchebag?” she yelled back. The same cop showed up and issued the same citation for criminal trespass. If the cop were being honest about it, he’d admit that he was citing her for “criminal walking across a parking lot and being rude to a landlord,” because that’s what she did.
A little more than a week later, in early June, Nicky walked into a 7-11, but before she could even make it past the threshold the manager told her that she had to “leave the 7-11 because she steals from us all the time,” which is not true because some days she’s in jail because store managers and landlords call the cops on her. But of course the cop added that quote into his criminal complaint. When the cop arrived at the 7-11 Nicky was gone so the clerk showed the cop the surveillance footage. There’s the clerk in the middle of the video. There’s Nicky opening the door and walking into the store. There’s no sound but you can tell the clerk’s yelling at Nicky. She ignores him and walks past him, opens the cooler door at the back of the store and takes out two tallboys. Then she turns to leave. She stops briefly in front of the clerk. Maybe to pay, but the clerk’s still yelling at her so whatever, she just walks out.
The cop found Nicky around the corner. In his criminal complaint, he wrote that he found her “in distress” but doesn’t explain what that means. The cop never writes anything about the clerk telling him Nicky’s “in distress.” The cop writes that he and his partner grab Nicky and double lock their cuffs around her wrists and behind her back. If a cop has ever cuffed you this way, you know it’s painful. That’s the point. They force her to sit in the hot sun directly on the hot pavement of a parking lot next to a busy intersection with her hands cuffed behind her back and only a pair of shorts covering her.
The cop writes that she started yelling at him at that point started struggling to get out of the cuffs. Who wouldn’t? But he finds this behavior unreasonable. He gets angry at her for using what he calls “rude language directed at peace officers.” Cops really hate it when people yell at them. The word “police” comes from the Latin word politia, which means civil administration, but it might as well mean polite because that’s what cops demand. But that’s also what Nicky absolutely refuses to be, on that day and every day.
Cops lie a lot when they write their criminal complaints. We’ve read them and talked to people on the street about them, so we know. They also don’t know the law, which is why every criminal complaint they write about Nicky includes “evidence”of her rudeness, as though that’s a crime. It’s true of course. She is rude to them. Nicky does not like cops and she always lets them know. And just as frequently, they point that out in their complaints, as though her rudeness requires her incarceration. But there’s no law against being an asshole. And that’s good for cops because if it were against the law to be an asshole there’d be a lot of cops in jail. No, their obsession with Nicky’s behavior is not evidence of her “criminality,” as the cops apparently think it is. It’s evidence that policing is not about law enforcement or public safety. It’s about imposing order. An order in which young people don’t talk back, authority is respected, and people who don’t agree with all that get what’s coming to them. In one criminal complaint, the cop pointed out that Nick called a landlord a fucking cocksucker. That was the only “evidence” he provided in his criminal complaint.
Police, as an institution, exists to enforce private property’s exclusions. That’s why they’re quick to respond when a landlord calls. Without cops, the social relations that make private property possible don’t exist. But in the street, folks like Nicky don’t confront an institution hell bent to defend private property, they confront a cop hell bent on getting some respect while giving none. To individual cops, it’s not about property, it’s about politeness. If you’re rude to a cop, they’ll let you know in all kinds of ways.
The arresting cop who found Nicky “in distress” wrote that Nicky asked for a doctor “because mace had been sprayed in her face.” The cop didn’t say who sprayed mace in Nicky’s face because, of course, the cops sprayed mace in Nicky’s face. But APD cops rarely report their use of force. And when they do, they always use the passive voice (suspect was sprayed in face with mace), or they use that special cop version of passive voice (officer-involved mace), but usually they just vaguely note that somehow someone got hit in the face, or someone got tackled by someone else, or someone got Tasered by a different someone. After the Department of Justice investigated APD and concluded in 2014 that they engaged in “a pattern and practice of unconstitutional policing,” the federal court appointed a monitor to evaluate the reforms imposed on APD. He’s still doing it six years later and he issues regular reports on the “progress” and nearly all of these reports raise this very issue. In a recent report, the monitor noted that police officers routinely fail to report their use of violence. Police supervisors frequently “lose” reports of force, and equally as often reclassify the use of violence by police as something else. A cop punches a person in the face but doesn’t mention it in their criminal complaint. A cop Tasers someone but doesn’t mention it in an after-action report. APD uses euphemisms that only they know. They call a punch a “distraction” technique, which APD supervisors classify as something other than violence. The monitoring team wrote that, “we believe these ‘minor errors’ are direct, intentional, and purposely crafted roadblocks intended to obstruct potential discipline.” The court should appoint Nicky as the federal monitor. She knows better than most.
This profile ends predictably. After the cops maced Nicky in the face and then pretended like they didn’t know who maced Nicky in the face, Nicky started flailing her legs because her wrists and shoulders hurt from the cuffs and her eyes burned from the mace. That was what she was yelling. The cop, like cops frequently do, played it up in his criminal complaint as though Nicky was being unreasonable. “Nicky then tried to kick me with her right leg, and tried to spit on my assisting officer. My assisting officer told her to stop kicking him. Nicky then turned toward me and spit but she did not have enough saliva to reach me. She attempted this several times… While my assisting officer was escorting Nicky to my patrol vehicle, Nicky spit in our direction again.” At this point the cops grabbed her, held her down, and pulled a spit hood over her head. They cinched it tight around her neck, just like Rochester, NY cops would do four months later when they pulled the same kind of spit hood over the head of Daniel Prude, just before they suffocated him to death. Nicky’s alive, but who can survive these cops?
Had Prude lived, no doubt the cops would have charged him with “felony battery against a police officer,” which is what they charged Nicky with. Everything you need to know about policing can be found in this one arrest. They harass an unsheltered woman month after month for walking into and out of stores. They cage her for missing court dates on charges judges quickly drop. They mace her in the face when she steals $6 worth of shitty alcohol that, let’s be honest, nobody in their right mind would actually buy and then they pretend like they didn’t do it even though everyone knows they did. They attempt to suffocate her with a “spit hood,” a tool that police reformers introduced into policing years ago as a “reform” measure they promised would make policing safer. And then they charge her with a felony for, if they’re being honest, “being maced in the face after being really rude.”
Nicky doesn’t live where the jail thinks she does. We rang the doorbell because we wanted to talk to her. We can read between the lines of the cops’ criminal complaints, but Nicky’s the only one with the real story, but no one answered. She probably doesn’t even live there. She just gave the jailers that address to shut them up. We went to her mom’s house. Her address is on a lot of the complaints. We didn’t find anyone there either. Maybe they saw us and didn’t answer the door. That would make sense. Living in a world full of cops puts people on edge. Police is a hunting institution so it’s always best to stay low. Don’t answer the door. We quickly left. The coffee shop where they keep arresting her is right around the corner from her mom’s house. We imagined her walking back from the coffee shop on a day she hasn’t been arrested. Maybe she bought her mom a coffee. That’d be a better day than some of the others. But there’s one of those huge, electronic billboards on the main road just off her mom’s street. The kind that changes every couple minutes. As we were walking by it, it flashed to a grainy image of a woman, and then above the image the blinking words “FBI’s Most Wanted” appeared in bright red. A cruel reminder to Nicky that even on the good days there’s no escape from police.
AbolishAPD is a research, writing, and mutual aid collective in Albuquerque, New Mexico. You can reach them at AbolishAPD@protonmail.com and you can find all of their research at abolishapd.org