ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Copyright © 2014 Albuquerque Journal
The family of Jacob Mitschelen, who was shot in the back after a traffic stop in 2011, is set to receive a $300,000 settlement under a tentative agreement reached with the city of Albuquerque.
Mitschelen, 29, was carrying an unloaded handgun at the time, according to documents released by prosecutors who reviewed the shooting and decided not to charge the police officer who shot and killed him.
But detective Byron “Trey” Economidy did face discipline after reporters discovered that he had listed his occupation as “human waste disposal” on Facebook. The post resulted in a four-day suspension and become a rallying cry for activists pushing to overhaul Albuquerque Police Department and the city’s Police Oversight Commission.
Mitschelen’s family later filed a wrongful death and civil rights suit against Economidy and the city. It was scheduled for trial in federal court next month.
But the city and the family reached a preliminary agreement to settle the case for $300,000, or about the amount the city expected to pay a private attorney to defend the case, the Journal has learned.
The settlement comes as the U.S. Department of Justice wraps up a massive investigation into whether APD has a pattern and practice of violating people’s civil rights, specifically through the use of force.
Albuquerque police officers have fired at 35 suspects since early 2010. Of the 35 shootings, 22 ended in fatalities. But in one of those cases, the suspect was killed by a State Police officer, and police haven’t confirmed whether a suspect died from police fire in another case.
The latest settlement brings the potential tab for police misconduct cases since 2010 to more than $26 million.
That includes a $10.3 million jury award last spring in a lawsuit filed by the family of Iraq war veteran Kenneth Ellis III. The city has appealed.
Attorney Paul Kennedy, whose firm represents Mitschelen’s family, wouldn’t disclose the settlement amount late Monday. But he said any settlement money would be designated for Mitschelen’s 6-year-old daughter.
In April, state prosecutors said they found no probable cause to believe Economidy committed a crime when he shot Mitschelen. According to documents released at time:
- The shooting happened after Economidy stopped Mitschelen’s vehicle in southeast Albuquerque for an expired license plate.
- Mitschelen ran, and at one point, a .40 caliber handgun fell out of his pants. It wasn’t loaded.
- Economidy told investigators that he ordered Mitschelen not to touch the gun and to get on the ground. Instead, the officer reported, Mitschelen picked up the gun and began turning toward him.
- Three bullets struck Mitschelen to the left of the center of his back.
Mitschelen’s family has described his death as an execution. They say Economidy’s account of what happened is “outrageous.”
The family’s lawsuit points out Economidy’s posting about “human waste disposal” and alleges his use of deadly force was excessive, unreasonable and unnecessary to seize Mitschelen and “did not serve any legitimate law-enforcement objective under the circumstances.”
Also, in a letter released by prosecutors last year, a Mitschelen family member said Jacob “was doing nothing more than driving a friend’s car that had an expired license on it. … How can all these shootings be so hastily justified? We are not anti-police, but we are anti-lies and corruption.”
The city’s Police Oversight Commission found that Economidy hadn’t violated APD’s use-of-force policy during the encounter.
The commission and an independent review officer did, however, determine that Economidy had violated city policy by using his personally owned .45-caliber Kimber handgun. Officers are allowed to use personal weapons on duty, but they have to pass a shooting qualification test.
Economidy also was named in another civil lawsuit against Albuquerque police involving the fatal shooting of Ellis, the Iraq war veteran. Economidy was not the shooter in that case.