March 31, 2014 / 9:48 PM / in 5 years

New Mexico governor urges calm after violent protests

ALBUQUERQUE (Reuters) - New Mexico’s governor urged calm on Monday after violent weekend protests over the police shooting of a mentally ill homeless man ended with shots of tear gas into the crowd.

Four people were charged with disorderly conduct as a result of the day-long melee on Sunday, during which the online activist hacker group Anonymous also disrupted the police department’s website, city spokeswoman Breanna Anderson said.

Sunday’s scuffles followed a rally to protest what critics call excessive use of lethal force by the Albuquerque police, an issue the U.S. Department of Justice has been investigating since 2012.

Protesters ended up throwing stones at the police in the rally that seems to have been triggered by the March 16 killing by Albuquerque police of the homeless man, James Boyd.

“Albuquerque is going through a tough time, and they’ll figure it out through the investigation,” Governor Susana Martinez said on Monday. “We want that to be thorough. We want confidence in the investigation, but I just don’t want to see anyone harmed.”

Martinez, a Republican, made her remarks after a news conference in Albuquerque on Monday that had initially been called to discuss wildfire awareness and preparation, according to her spokesman, Enrique Knell.

The remarks came a day after mounted police and others in riot gear, including gas masks, confronted demonstrators near the University of New Mexico, using tear gas when the protesters refused to disperse. The crowd finally dispersed around midnight.

One police officer suffered a minor knee injury that was not caused by the protesters’ actions, Anderson said. She added that the police department website was working properly on Monday.

“There has been excessive force lately, in the last couple of years, and I think something has to be done,” protester Justin Wagner told KOB Channel 4 News.

Some 37 people have been shot by Albuquerque police since 2010, 23 of them fatally, a police spokeswoman said. Protesters contend that is too high for a city of just over half a million people.

Additional reporting by Chris Michaud in New York and Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento; Editing by Mark Heinrich, Lisa Shumaker and Richard Chang

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