Police promote commander in ‘excessive force’ case

 Albuquerque police promoted a commander who was accused in a lawsuit of burning off part a homeless man’s ear with a stun gun, officials announced Thursday.

In a statement, Albuquerque Police Department Chief Gorden Eden said he was promoting two Albuquerque commanders to the newly created rank of major in response to a harsh U.S. Justice Department report critical of Albuquerque police’s use of force.

Foothills Area Commander Timothy Gonterman and Criminal Investigations Commander Anthony Montano will now oversee the East and West Side Field Services Divisions respectively, Eden said.

In 2006, a federal jury awarded a former homeless man $300,000 and found that Gonterman and two other officers used “excessive force” in the man’s 2002 arrest.

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Gonterman gave the man second and third-degree burns with his stun gun, the lawsuit said. The man’s lawyer says he lost part of his ear from burns.

But Eden did not mention the lawsuit involving Gonterman. Instead, he said the promotions address deficiencies cited in the recent Department of Justice scathing review of the Albuquerque Police Department related to proper supervision of officers.

“With this change we are now intensifying supervision and increasing accountability by splitting the Field Services Division into two sections,” Eden said in a statement. “We have chosen Commanders Gonterman and Montano because they have demonstrated the strong leadership skills necessary for us to move ahead with DOJ reform requirements.”

The Albuquerque Police Department has been under scrutiny over 39 police shootings in the city since 2010, prompting a harsh report earlier last month from the Justice Department that highlighted excessive use of force.

A spokeswoman for Albuquerque police did not return an email from The Associated Press about Gonterman’s promotion.

Eden was hired in February to bring reform to the troubled department, which recently implemented changes such as lapel-mounted cameras on officers to lead to more transparency about police actions.

David Correia, a critic of the police and an American Studies professor at the University of New Mexico, said Gonterman’s new position was “really troubling” and showed that protesters have to put more pressure on the city for reforms.

“I think the promotion of Gonterman and his troubled history is the real evidence of what Albuquerque police is about,” Correia said.