Albuquerque police promote officer accused of burning off part of man's ear with Taser

Albuquerque police have promoted a commander accused of burning off part of a homeless man’s ear with a stun gun.

Timothy Gonterman will oversee the East Side Field Services Division as part of the police department’s response to a harsh report from the U.S. Justice Department that criticized Albuquerque police use of excessive force, reported the Associated Press.

Gonterman and another officer, Anthony Montaño, were each promoted to the newly created rank of major and assigned to oversee field services divisions. Montaño will head the West Side Field Services Division, police said.

A federal jury awarded $300,000 in 2006 to a former homeless man, Jerome Hall, after finding that Gonterman and two other officers used “excessive force” in his 2002 arrest on public nuisance and disorderly conduct charges.

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

Hall was found slain the day after the jury awarded him the money, but no one has ever been arrested in connection with his death.

Gonterman said in a statement that his actions during the arrest were a mistake, and he said stun gun technology has improved in the intervening 12 years.

"It was a mistake, and I have learned from that mistake. I have taken responsibility for it," Gonterman said in the statement. "Since that time, I have become a use of force instructor and a less lethal technology instructor to train officers to use the minimal amount of force necessary to make an arrest. I am also trained in crisis intervention."

Police Chief Gorden Eden, who was hired in February, did not mention the lawsuit when he announced Gonterman’s promotion.

"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 Montaño because they have demonstrated the strong leadership skills necessary for us to move ahead with DOJ reform requirements."

The Albuquerque police department has fallen under scrutiny for the officer-involved shootings of more than 39 people since 2010, and federal authorities issued a report last month that harshly criticized the department’s use of excessive force.

Gonterman was commander of the Foothills area patrol in March, when officers shot and killed James Boyd, a 38-year-old homeless man camping at the base of a mountain.

That case prompted a variety of protests and an investigation by the FBI, although it remains unclear whether Gonterman or anyone under his command was involved in the fatal shooting.

David Correia, a University of New Mexico professor who has been critical of the police department, said Gonterman’s promotion was “really troubling.”

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

Watch this video report posted online by KRQE-TV: