Possible Police Misconduct Leads to End of One Citizen’s Volunteer Work

Mark Riensche gave up his volunteer efforts at the Juan Tabo Hills Open Space because he said he was unfairly issued a misdemeanor citation and harassed by Albuquerque police on more than one occasion.

The Open Space is private property that does not allow motorized vehicles. Along the perimeter of the property, signs are posted warning readers not to drive or park past the signs. Some of the signs are missing or have been moved and no physical barriers were present at the time Riensche was working there.

On the morning of February 6, 2009, Riensche was issued criminal misdemeanor citation by an Albuquerque police officer. He had parked his car where he normally did, apparently outside of the sign perimeter. There was a sign posted approximately 50 or 60 feet in front of where he parked.

Riensche was working about a quarter-mile from where his vehicle was parked when he noticed another vehicle had pulled up beside it. Because of the distance and the morning sun, Riensche could not identify the vehicle or the driver. He said the driver got out of his vehicle and began to examine Riensche’s car and look in the windows.

“I used my car remote to set off the alarm to let him know I was around and was watching him,” Riensche said.

He then was able to see that the driver was a police officer and the vehicle was an police department SUV. He said the officer then got on his bullhorn and called Riensche back to the vehicle.

“It took me a little bit to get there since I was a quarter-mile out,” Riensche said.

When he got there, the officer told Riensche that he was illegally parked. Riensche told him that he was parked in front of the sign and had not violated any laws. He admitted that he used profanities toward the officer. The officer requested backup and told Riensche he was going to write him a citation.

A few days later, Riensche received a citation in the mail. He was surprised to find that he was charged with a misdemeanor and issued summons to criminal court. The officer dismissed the citation a few days later.

Police Oversight Commission

Riensche filed a compliant with the City of Albuquerque Police Oversight Commission regarding the incident because he felt that the officer had issued the citation merely because he had cursed at him. The report that came back stated, “The officer has the discretion over issuing any citation in this case,” and the issue was exonerated.

Riensche also contacted Mayor Martin Chavez and Councilor Dan Lewis. He said the mayor never got back to him but Councilor Lewis told Riensche that he was familiar with the area and that the signing was a problem. Since then, a physical barrier has been placed on the Open Space property boundary line to keep motorized vehicles out.

After seeing the same officer who issued the citation in the Open Space again and feeling he was being stalked and harassed, Riensche decided to stop his voluntarily cleanup project.

Riensche had volunteered at the Juan Tabo Hills Open Space located in the Tijeras Arroyo, east of Juan Tabo Blvd. The Open Space is not far from his house and he frequently went there to pick up trash and debris. He pulled tumbleweeds and other bothersome plants and took them, along with the trash, to a location where the city could pick it up.

During the time he worked at Open Space, Riensche got to know the people who frequent that area: joggers, people walking their dogs and bicyclists. He enjoyed working outside and making a difference in the community.

“It was like a drug to me…I miss it,” he said.

Knowing Rights Can Make a Difference

After the first incident, Riensche began to familiarize himself with Albuquerque law regarding police officers.

“When he called me on that bullhorn, I technically did not have to answer him,” he said.

Riensche said he feels that the APD use their badges to be bullies and intimidate citizens. He thinks the police department needs more accountability.

“What a joke that thing is!” he said concerning the Police Oversight Commission. He felt that the Commission did nothing to meet his complaints and requests.

Since the incidents, Riensche has become involved in Albuquerque Copwatch, a blog that was created to “document and publicize police brutality in New Mexico and struggles for accountability, justice, and community control.” He frequently comments on posts on this sight. He also wrote about his own experiences on his personal blog, Albuquerque (APD) Police “Behaving Badly” Cop Watch. He also keeps a camera and recorder in his car so he is prepared for any instance where he would encounter the APD.

Advice to Albuquerque Citizens

Riensche said people who find themselves in similar situations need to collect details: get the vehicle number and badge number from the officer. Citizens who feel they have been treated wrongly should file a complaint with the Police Oversight Commission.

Riensche an average citizen: retired army with a wife and two grown daughters. He is from Alamogordo, N.M., and has lived in Albuquerque for six years. His experience with the Albuquerque Police Department caused him to harbor negative feelings towards the city. He refuses to purchase big ticket items such as a vehicle in the city limits and he will not park his car on city land. Because of these situations, Albuquerque has lost a dedicated volunteer who enjoyed improving public lands.

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