It’s not very often that everyday life mirrors Hollywood, but in the little town of Bethlehem 30 miles south of Albuquerque, Belen Police Department Deputy Chief Jose Natividad made it so.
Last July, according to KRQE, Natividad perfectly executed a “desk pop,” the discharge of a firearm inside the police department, as made famous in the 2010 comedy “The Other Guys,” starring Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg.
It was accidental, of course, and Natividad owned up to it—“There was nobody else to blame but me,” he said—but the irony deserves the scrutiny it attracted.
Natividad was a lieutenant at the time (the city has promoted him since the incident), and he was also…wait for it…the department’s firearms instructor.
The investigation by KRQE highlights yet another instance of the City of Belen being less than forthright, denying a request for records detailing the incident.
According to KRQE, “Clearing up what exactly happened is usually as simple as a public records request. The largest police department in the state, APD, routinely releases its internal affairs investigations revealing how an officer violated department policies and was disciplined. However, the City of Belen kept it under wraps.”
KRQE went around the city and obtained the reports from the New Mexico Law Enforcement Academy, whose records showed that Natividad “accidentally shot his gun in the police station, hitting a filing cabinet.”
He was suspended for a day, and if it weren’t for a later altercation outside of Belen, the incident likely would have been forgiven (though not forgotten, at least within the department).
Later that week, while on paid leave, according to KRQE, Natividad got into an argument in Albuquerque with a local business owner for parking in a space clearly marked “no parking.”
The business owner claimed the off-duty Belen officer brandished his firearm. APD handcuffed and detained Natividad as part of an aggravated assault investigation.
“The way he approached me, you know, like barking. You know, we don’t take barking, man. You know what I mean?” Natividad told APD, according to footage obtained by KRQE.
There doesn’t appear to be any charges filed, but Natividad’s “qualification to use the gun he displayed that day was expired,” according to KRQE, and “the investigation found that his behavior was reminiscent of the old school police mentality.”
Natividad was suspended for ten days for the parking spot incident and issued a one-year year suspension as the firearms instructor.
“I owned up to my mistake,” KRQE reported him saying. “I took my punishment. I served it, and we move on and that’s part of life.”
There’s no law against being an a-hole, and everybody makes mistakes, but it’s instances like these that highlight the burden of civil service. Men and women in uniform risk their lives for their communities. They are called to respond to violence and heinous acts polite society could never stomach, and they are scrutinized at a level average Americans will never know. For that they should be revered and respected.
But abusing the power of the badge creates repercussions far greater than temporary suspensions in an officer’s personnel file. On duty or off, peace officers hamper their own mission when they act in ways that undermine their own authority.
Hats off to Natividad for owning his mistakes, and hats off to KRQE Reporter Lysée Mitri for an in-depth analysis of small-town politics run amok.