The Prophet of Police

You never had a Christmas like the Prophet had in 2019. Two Albuquerque Police Department (APD) cops responded to a disturbance call at a rundown Albuquerque motel the day after Christmas. A man locked himself in the lobby bathroom and wouldn’t come out. The first shift clerk came to work at 7:00 a.m. and the guy was already there, the door was already locked. She knew immediately it was the Prophet. The criminal complaint said that she called the police. Dwight Porlas arrived along with another cop. The clerk unlocked the door and the Prophet, as Porlas wrote in his criminal complaint, “exited the bathroom. I placed him under arrest for the listed charge [criminal trespass] and escorted him to my police unit. I advised [the Prophet] he was under arrest.”

Retailers in Albuquerque work closely with police and some are quick to ‘trespass’ people, as it’s called. If you’re unsheltered or look unsheltered or you’re caught shoplifting from a store or store security suspects you of shoplifting or the cops “know” you or you’re hanging out in front of a store, particularly a convenience store or a big box retailer, you’re bound to be permanently banned from the store. Cops keep a file of people “trespassed” and when these folks return to the store, or even to a different location of the same store, a clerk or a security guard will call APD and the cops will arrive, and they will arrest the person for criminal trespass. In the Prophet’s case, no one needs to call the cops on him. The cops are always nearby.

Porlas took the Prophet to jail. “Due to [the Prophet’s] behavior and past refusals by the Metropolitan Detention Center, he was transported to the University of New Mexico Hospital for Evaluation. After [he] was cleared he was transported to the Metropolitan Detention Center for booking.” The cops booked him on December 26, 2019 on a misdemeanor. The Prophet spent eight days in a cage. The jail released him on January 4, 2020. That’s how the holidays go for the Prophet, year after year.

The Albuquerque Police Department, Metropolitan Detention Center, District Attorney’s office, and Metropolitan Court make every year a rough year for the Prophet. He’s spent the last two Christmases in a cage and New Year’s too. In 2018, he went to jail in mid-December and didn’t get out until mid-February 2019—possession charges and the usual criminal trespass.

And then APD did it again, arresting the Prophet in early March 2019 on the same charges and this time the jail held him in a cage for a month. And then more of the same, a familiar pattern:

+ Misdemeanor criminal trespass arrest in early June. No bail. Three weeks in a cage.

+ Misdemeanor criminal trespass arrest in late June. No bail. One week in a cage.

+ Misdemeanor criminal trespass arrest in the first week of July. No bail. Three days in a cage.

+ Misdemeanor criminal trespass arrest in the second week of July. No bail. Two days in a cage.

+ Misdemeanor criminal trespass arrest in the third week of July. No bail. Four days in a cage.

+ Misdemeanor criminal trespass arrest on the last day of July. No bail. Nine days in a cage.

You get the idea. Four more in August, six days spent in a cage. Two more in September, eighteen days in a cage. After his last September 2019 arrest and before he locked himself in that motel bathroom in December 2018, Albuquerque cops arrested him five more times. Each for criminal trespass, each without bail, eight days in jail.

What a year. The Albuquerque police arrested the Prophet 29 times in 2019, charged him with criminal trespass 21 times. The Prophet walks into a store and then he goes to jail for walking into a store. There aren’t many stores left in Albuquerque that the Prophet can enter without getting arrested for entering a store. He spent five months in a cage in 2019, all for criminal store entering.

The Prophet needs help but not the help offered by the cops, the courts, the jail, or the DA, because that ain’t help. The cops claim that the Prophet sometimes exposes himself when he walks down the street. Once, they claim, he walked into a motel room and startled the cleaning woman. He’s a tall, slim man. He carries drugs on him sometimes, sure, but who doesn’t. Sometimes the cops hit him with a disorderly conduct charge or an aggravated indecent exposure charge or a possession of a controlled substance charge. If you check out his booking history he looks like a crime boss, a major drug trafficker, a real menace. He’s none of these things. He’s an unsheltered Black man diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder who can’t get or stay on medication because he’s in and out of jail on misdemeanors so much. He needs housing, health care, and mental health services, but instead he’s on the street or in jail because all he gets are cops and cages.

We found him where the cops always find him. You need anything?, we asked him. “You got money?” No, we said. “Sour Patch and a Sprite then,” he said.

We talked to the clerk at the motel where Porlas arrested him. “He’s harmless,” the clerk told us. He grew up with my brother. He knows him really well, well, not anymore.” We ask if people are ever frightened by the Prophet. “No, he’s one of us. He’s never hurt anyone.” He’s constantly getting arrested, I say. “Yeah, all the time.” Cops in cruisers circle us while we talk. They’re everywhere. Even when the Prophet’s not in jail, he’s in jail.

The most serious charges, the ones that kept the Prophet in jail over Christmas 2018 and New Year’s 2019, and another for a month in February 2019, included not only the usual criminal trespass charges but also possession with the intent to distribute. The Assistant District Attorney, Nancy Cortesi, convened a grand jury in December 2018 and indicted the Prophet on a fourth-degree felony possession charge, along with the usual misdemeanor criminal trespass. According to Cortesi and the grand jury, he “had in his possession methamphetamine, its salts, isomers, salts of isomers or an analog of such, knowing or believing it to be methamphetamine or believing it to be some drug or other substance the possession of which is regulated or prohibited by law.” And also “knowing that consent to enter or remain had been denied or withdrawn by the owner of occupant thereof” he was indicted on a criminal trespass charge of walking onto the property of a motel.

Cortesi’s grand jury indictment rested not on whether the Prophet actually possessed meth., but rather whether he believed he possessed meth. In other words, Cortesi told the grand jury that she could prove in court that the Prophet believed he was carrying meth with intent to distribute. But she knew this wasn’t true. Over the past few years, Metropolitan Court judges in Albuquerque have ordered dozens of competency evaluations on the Prophet. These are examinations, according to the law, by “qualified mental health professionals, appointed by and acting on behalf of the court, limited to determining whether the defendant is competent to stand trial.” Every time they evaluate the Prophet they declare him incompetent to stand trial. The court ordered 20 competency evaluations for the Prophet in 2020. Each time the court-appointed mental health professionals concluded he was not competent to stand trial. Twenty evaluations, twenty incompetency determinations.

The cops know all of this too. Every time they arrest him or cite him, they know the charges will be dropped. In lapel camera video from a September 2019 arrest, the Prophet sits on a curb in a gas station parking lot. A cop shows up. “I served you with a trespass notification on Tuesday, and I made it clear to you that you were not to be here, okay? So, go ahead and stand up,” says APD Sgt. Louis Armijo. “You’re under arrest. You’re under arrest for criminal trespass.” The Prophet argues with the cop. “I’m always in court,” he tells the cop. “I’m always in court. It is always that I’m found, you know, innocent. For real.” No, says Armijo, “you’re not found innocent,” which is a very cop thing to say because the Prophet has never even stood trial.

“I’m never found guilty,” the Prophet corrects him. Cops hate to be corrected, of course, so Armijo shoots back: “It’s not because of innocence or guilt,” he says, “and if you think that’s a free card to keep you from going to jail, you’re wrong.”

On that point, Armijo’s right. It’s not about innocence or guilt, it’s about punishment, and to the cops the Prophet deserves it. What a thing to admit. The Prophet does not belong in jail because he can’t be fairly tried in a court of law. And yet, week after week, Armijo and his fellow cops arrest the Prophet and bring him to jail. Week after week, judges send him to jail, despite his incompetency status, week after week, the jailers take his mugshot and cage him.

If he can’t stand trial, why do police constantly arrest him and why do judges constantly sentence him and why does the jail constantly cage him? The Prophet can explain it to you. Cops arrest him because they’re always in the area. They book him. Always no bail. The DA always presses charges. The court always orders a competency evaluation. A court-appointed mental health professional always declares the Prophet incompetent to stand trial. The judge always drops the charges but then, every time, jails him anyway for “violating the conditions of his release” from the last time they threw him in jail for violating the conditions from the last time they released him from a cage. This is what Armijo meant. They dropped the charges the last time because he was incompetent to stand trial. But, of course, he’d “violated the conditions of his [previous] release” and so the judge orders him back into a cage. This is the logic of law and police, and it’s why the cops keep arresting him. The court may declare him incompetent, but the cops make sure he spends his life in a cage. The law requires all of this “in the interests of justice” (N.M. R. Mun. Ct. P. 8-507.1).

The pandemic that started in March 2020 changed the pattern, but not by much. Now, instead of arresting the Prophet, they issue a summons. In April 2020, when the pandemic-related closures began, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidelines that recommended police avoid making arrests on misdemeanors to avoid crowded conditions in jail. APD’s current acting police chief, Harold Medina, announced that APD would begin issuing summonses rather than arresting people on misdemeanors. Instead of booking people into the Metropolitan Detention Center, the police hand people a summons, a receipt, that has a phone number on it that they can call to find out when their court date has been scheduled. In some cases, APD cops physically give these summonses to people they cite for misdemeanor charges but in some cases, including many for the Prophet, the cops give these out in absentia. This is what they say they do but we’ve read all their summonses and criminal complaints and we know they still make arrests even though they say they don’t. On July 23, 2020, in fact, an APD cop named Mario Perez arrested the Prophet at a gas station on a criminal trespass charge. He added a disorderly conduct charge just for the hell of it after Williams yelled at someone in the parking lot who’d yelled at him. Perez brought the Prophet to the prisoner transport unit and booked him. So much for the promises that cops make.

And so much for last year being any different for the Prophet than the year before. On January 20, 2020 an APD cop named Reece Scott arrested the Prophet for criminal trespass. Armijo arrested him nine days later for criminal trespass and shoplifting. And they kept doing it. Between the two of them, they would arrest Williams eight times between early January and the start of the pandemic in mid-March. When the summonses began in mid-March, they often listed his address as “transient” on their summonses. In other words, they know he doesn’t get mail, and they know he’ll miss the court date, and they know the court will issue a bench warrant, and they know this always leads to jail for the Prophet. But they cite him anyway because this isn’t about justice. Never has been.

Albuquerque police did make fewer misdemeanor arrests in 2020. That’s true. But the point of ending the practice of misdemeanor arrest was to reduce the jail population during a pandemic. Look closely and you’ll see that this so-called policy shift did not result in any meaningful reduction in the jail population.

Following the Prophet’s July arrest, APD officers did begin issuing the Prophet summonses instead of arresting him. Three summonses in July, another in September. The Prophet was not present on any of these occasions. APD cops kept issuing criminal summonses against the Prophet without even bothering to give him a copy of the citation. The only way he could have known that APD had cited him for criminal trespass would have been if he’d received the notice in the mail, which can’t happen because he’s arrested and cited so often that all he does is go in and out of jail. He missed every court date in 2020. The Metropolitan Court, as it always does, issued an arrest warrant for each one of them. Again, it’s important to point out that the court knows the arrest that will follow from their bench warrant will not conclude with a trial. The judges all know the Prophet is not considered legally competent to stand trial. And yet, despite this, judge after judge issues bench warrant after bench warrant against the Prophet.

The cops hit the Prophet with a flurry of criminal trespass summonses in the summer of 2020. He missed all the court dates. The court issued bench warrants for his arrest every time. Now, every time Armijo or any other APD cop wants to remind the Prophet he doesn’t have “a free card to keep [him] from going to jail” they run the Prophet’s name, find a bench warrant, and arrest him. The Prophet spent four days in jail in late August 2020 after missing four court dates.

The court, of course, dropped the charges after the Prophet received another determination of incompetency. The jail released him from a cage at the beginning of September at which point it all started up again. They cited him three times each in October, November, and December. All told, Albuquerque police arrested and jailed him eight times in 2020 despite claiming they wouldn’t. The court issued 20 summonses for misdemeanor charges and issued 20 warrants for his arrest for failure to appear. Police arrested and booked him multiple times on those warrants. The court jailed the Prophet 12 times in 2020.

Now’s the time to remind you that the Prophet has never been prosecuted for a crime, much less convicted of a crime. The scores of criminal trespass charges have always been dropped. Every charge, every time. They don’t send the Prophet to jail again and again because he breaks the law, they send the Prophet to jail again and again because he misses court dates, is charged fees and fines because of it, can’t pay those fees and fines, and is sent to jail for two days “in lieu of fee.” The Prophet knows something about debtor’s prison.

New Mexico enacted bail reform in 2016 that largely eliminated cash bail. But the reforms included a gray area that cops and courts manipulate in order to still hold people in jail who live on the street like the Prophet. When a defendant misses a court date, like the Prophet always does, and the court issues a bench warrant, as it always does, and when cops arrest that person later, as they always do, the judge has a choice of penalties. A judge can impose fines and fines, usually $150, or order the defendant to perform community service. But according to the “Rules of Criminal Procedure for the Metropolitan Court, there is a third option: “If the court finds that the defendant is financially unable to pay and is unable to perform community service, the court may waive the bench warrant fee, revoke any unpaid portion of a fine, or grant other appropriate relief. If the court finds that the defendant has willfully refused to pay or to perform community service, the court may order the defendant committed to jail under Section 33-3-11 NMSA 1978.”

That’s how the Prophet spends so much time in jail. He never gets “appropriate relief,” he gets jail. One moment, he’s incompetent to stand trial so the charges are dropped. The next moment, he’s competent to “willfully refuse” to pay a fine or so he’s sent to a cage for days, sometimes weeks, every now and then more than a month. The whole point of bail reform was supposed to be to keep people like the Prophet out of jail. To get him the help he needs, not the cops he has. But criminal justice reform has always been a way to expand the criminal justice system, not fix it.

When Medina promised that APD wouldn’t arrest people on minor charges during the pandemic, he knew that most summonses end in a bench warrant, a subsequent arrest, and then, through the magic of ‘bail reform,’ two days in a cage, at a minimum, usually longer for the Prophet. Was Medina lying then when he said they’d keep people out of jail? Yes, of course he was lying. Police know the court won’t allow people like the Prophet to stand trial. Police know that people like the Prophet have no permanent address where they can receive notices from the court. And the cops know that when they book people like the Prophet on warrants they always end up in jail. Reform is a trick law and police use to turn lies into “truth.”

If you aren’t forced to live a life like the Prophet is forced to live, it’s because you don’t deal with police like the Prophet. We didn’t spend much time with the Prophet. There were cops in the area and we got nervous we were bringing attention to him. We only talked briefly. We asked why he goes by the name the Prophet, but he didn’t feel like telling us. He didn’t feel like talking much at all. He just wanted to wait in the parking lot while we bought him Sour Patch and Sprite. When we gave it to him, he walked away just like he does when the cops show up.

Law and police use things like procedure and policy to disguise their deep sadism. They hide the witnesses to their cruelty in prisons and graveyards and homeless shelters. This is the lesson the Prophet teaches us; this is his prophecy: there would be no Prophet if there were no police. Without cops and courts and cages, he would get the help he needs. But this will never happen because he lives in a world full of cops and courts and cages and reformers and so the Prophet suffers through a life made unlivable by police and judges and jailers. That’s the prophecy of police.