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Hawkes family seeks default judgment against city in death case

The family of Mary Hawkes, the 19-year-old who was shot down by police in 2014, has filed a civil rights lawsuit against the City of Albuquerque. They claim a series of unlawful searches and seizures, along with Albuquerque Police Department negligence, led to the young woman's wrongful death.

This week, the family asked a judge to issue a default judgment against the city. A default judgment typically occurs when one party fails to respond to a lawsuit, fails to appear at trial, or acts in such a way that it is in the interest of public policy to deny that party further rights in the suit.

Specifically, the main police defendant failed to record the shooting and surrounding events, allegedly due to a camera malfunction. The family says the faulty camera should have been preserved as proof of that claim.

The family hired an on-body camera expert and submitted a signed affidavit by that expert claiming that the other officers' lapel camera recordings had been altered. The city denies that claim and asserts that its own forensic experts examined the recordings and determined they had not been altered. The city explains the missing, allegedly faulty camera by saying it was returned to the manufacturer for analysis. It denies the faulty camera itself was evidence that should have been preserved.

The city's attorney also claimed that the city was not given notice that any evidence needed to be preserved until the lawsuit was filed against it. "Without such notice, city defendant cannot be expected to speculate about what conspiracy theories that plaintiffs would create concerning the cameras and the videos," the attorney wrote in a response to the family's motion.

That said, the city would have been wise to expect a lawsuit after the shooting death of a 19-year-old woman. It would have been smart to preserve all relevant evidence in order to defend itself.

If the videos have been edited, crucial evidence may have been edited out and permanently deleted. The editing could just as easily be the result of a protective conspiracy as the result of an accident or carelessness. In either case, the altered and missing evidence appears to benefit the city.

Should the judge order a default judgment against the city in order to punish it for mishandling the evidence? The family says the default judgment would be an appropriate sanction; the city says it would be extreme. The judge is expected to rule on the issue in upcoming weeks.

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