Police on Tuesday identified the suspect, a man with a criminal history that includes a 2009 conviction for battery on a peace officer.
Albuquerque interim Police Chief Allen Banks said Monday he has no plans to change department policies or procedures in the wake of the fifth APD shooting in six weeks, which left a man dead in an alleyway near the University of New Mexico late Sunday.
According to APD, officers responded to an assault at the 7-Eleven store at University and Central about 9:30 p.m. Sunday, but the suspect took off. Officers followed him into an alley, where police said he charged at them with a weapon. They said they fired a beanbag gun at him before firing the fatal shots.
Albuquerque police spokeswoman Tasia Martinez wouldn’t say what the weapon was, how many shots were fired and how many times the man was struck. Police also did not release the identities of the officers involved or the suspect.
The past month’s officer-involved shootings appear to have been the most highly concentrated since early 2010. Since then, APD officers have fired at 34 suspects.
The Department of Justice opened an investigation into the Albuquerque Police Department’s use of force over a year ago, in part because of the shootings.
Sunday’s incident was APD’s eighth officer-involved shooting of the year.
Banks said in an interview Monday that it is the suspects who are putting officers in a position where police have no choice but to shoot. He said he is “concerned” that something in the system is allowing dangerous suspects on the streets.
“Each case is going to be different,” Banks said. “I look at the subjects who have attacked or put officers in these predicaments. I look at these subjects and say, ‘Why are these people out in the streets? Has the system failed our community somewhere?’ ”
While police have yet to release all of the details on any of the shootings, it appears that two suspects were carrying firearms, one was carrying a pellet gun, and one was carrying a brake pad or knife. The weapon displayed Sunday night has not been disclosed.
Mayor Richard Berry said he can’t explain why there’s been a rash of shootings over the last month or so. There doesn’t appear to be an underlying cause that explains them all, he said.
“You have to understand: This is a two-sided equation,” Berry said in an interview. “There’s the police officer on one side of the equation and there’s an individual on the other side of the equation.”
He said he’s questioned the police chief about whether officers are following the proper procedures and he’s been assured they are. Even with the spate of shootings, he said, Albuquerque hasn’t yet exceeded the city’s average number of officer-involved shootings – eight – for a calendar year.
“We know the reforms we put into place have been effective at keeping officers safe, keeping our community safe,” Berry said.
He said the shootings wouldn’t influence his search for a police chief.
‘We shouldn’t be scared’
Sunday’s shooting left some neighbors so upset they were planning on leaving the university neighborhood, at least temporarily.
“My daughter said, ‘Police shot him in the tummy,’ she had nightmares all night,” said Catherine Davis-Sparks, who lives along the alley where the shooting happened and said her daughter overheard police officers discussing the shooting afterward.
Davis-Sparks said she heard loud voices and then three abrupt shots. Another neighbor, Antonio Downie, said he was playing video games when he heard the shots and heard someone shouting “no” during the confrontation. And another neighbor said before the shots, she heard a verbal exchange: “You stop,” and “No, you stop.”
Davis-Sparks said she is worried about the police department’s use of force.
“It shouldn’t be like this, we shouldn’t be scared of the people who are supposed to protect us,” she said.
Slow release of information
Activists are, once again, calling for change.
“We seem like we’re back in the wild west, all the shooting, it seems out of control,” said Jewel Hall, president of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Center, who started calling for the federal investigation in 2010. “They’re not treasuring life, every life is precious and important. They have to have more ways than just gunning people down.”
Sunday’s shooting came a week after police shot and wounded 34-year-old Shaine Sherrill, who was holding a knife and/or a brake pad, Banks said. That was in the Northeast Heights. On Nov. 15, police shot and wounded 64-year-old Robert Garcia, who they said was trying to commit suicide by cop. Joaquin Ortega was shot and wounded after he allegedly robbed a woman and child and attempted a carjacking near Nob Hill on Oct. 28, and police fired at Christopher Chase Oct. 26 after he went on a shooting spree through much of Albuquerque, apparently targeting officers. Chase was killed near Fourth and Montaño, but police have not yet said if he was hit by police fire.
Beginning with the Chase case in late October, which left four law enforcement officers injured, the department has generally taken longer to brief the media about officer-involved shootings than under Banks’ predecessor. Police have been reluctant to give more than basic information about shootings, often waiting until three or four days afterward to give a full briefing on details.
Banks said he has deliberately slowed the release of information to allow his detectives enough time to gather information. He said it’s his decision on when to release details, and he wants to wait until investigators glean the “best” information from often complicated and fast-moving situations.
Of the 34 APD shootings since 2010, 22 ended in fatalities. But in one of those cases, the suspect was killed by a State Police officer. And in Chase’s case, police have yet to confirm whether the suspect died from police fire.
Journal staff writer Dan McKay contributed to this report.