The training, which was "long overdue," was a direct result of the internal affairs investigation that looked into two officers' response to Vincent Kee, a 22-year-old man with developmental disabilities whose arm was branded with a swastika symbol, Chief Jim Runnels said.
Jesse Sanford, 24, William Hatch, 28, and Paul Beebe, 26, all face first-degree felony kidnapping, second-degree felony conspiracy to commit kidnapping, third-degree felony aggravated battery causing great bodily harm and fourth-degree felony conspiracy to commit aggravated battery for their alleged part in the incident. Beebe also faces fourth-degree felony tampering with evidence. The men face 54 years in prison if convicted on all counts.
The incident in which the three suspects also are accused of shaving a swastika in Kee's hair and drawing degrading pictures on his body, sparked national attention and brought light to race relations in the Farmington area.
It also shed light on the need for additional training in the department when assisting people with mental disabilities.
When Officers Virgil Todacheeney and Jeremy Hall first responded at 6:30 a.m. to the 7 to 11 convenience store on North Butler and 30th Street in Farmington, they did not immediately recognize Kee as an individual with a mental disability, but initially believed he was intoxicated, according to the in-car camera footage.
Despite Kee's consistently answering the officers' questions about his name and the specifics of the incident, they also believed he was lying.
Todacheeney, after about 25 minutes, realized he was not intoxicated, but mentally challenged, at which point Todacheeney decided to bring Kee to San Juan Regional Medical Center, according to the in-car camera footage.
People with developmental disabilities are disproportionately at high risk for violent victimization, abuse and neglect, yet police officers who often are called to respond to assist receive little training in the area, said Scott Modell, director of the Autism Center for Excellence at California State University in Sacramento.
Males with developmental disabilities are twice as likely as those without to be victimized and more than 80 percent of females with developmental disabilities are victims of sexual assault, Modell said.
Training from officers is described as "minimal" or "vague," he said.
The May branding incident and police officers' initial response was a "classic example," of the lack of understanding people have toward individuals with mental disabilities, said Marcie Davis, project director for the New Mexico Coalition of Sexual Assault Services in Albuquerque.
More than 50 million Americans have a disability and it is not a matter "of if an officer will come into contact with an individual, but when," Davis said. "It happens all the time."
The training, which consisted of four, four-hour sessions to reach the entire department, were designed to teach officers how to better communicate with individuals with disabilities. Suggestions such as how to pose questions or using yes-no questions to communicate were presented.
Because a person who has difficulty speaking does not necessarily mean that person doesn't have the capacity to understand what is going on, Modell said.
Statistics also show many people who commit violence against people with disabilities go unpunished because of the high number of under reporting, he said.
People with a disability "may not understand what constitutes what is abuse," Modell said. "They make good victims, but not good reporters."
When Kee first arrived at the convenience store after leaving Beebe's apartment, he showed his branding to other people in the store and questioned whether he should tell the police, according to audio from the in-car camera footage.
Runnels said the officers also did not recognize the nature of Kee's injury.
Runnels said he has tried for years to get significant training to teach officers how to recognize and respond to individuals with disabilities.
"It's hard to find," he said.
All officials hope this week's training will help officers to more quickly recognize signs of a disability and offer the knowledge to best respond.
"Hopefully this will help us recognize the differences in people with disabilities and someone impaired by drugs and alcohol," Farmington Sgt. Pat Cordell said. "Hopefully this will give us the tools and skills to work with people with disabilities."
Elizabeth Piazza: firstname.lastname@example.org