ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Copyright © 2014 Albuquerque Journal
The two Albuquerque police officers involved in the department’s most-recent fatal shooting did not capture video of the shooting itself, but an audio recording by one of the officers and video captured by a sergeant as she arrived on the scene show the officers gave ground to a man wielding a knife before they fired.
One officer’s raincoat obscured his shoulder-mounted video and the second officer, Brian Fuchs, failed to turn on his camera, which APD Deputy Chief William Roseman said will become part of an ongoing Internal Affairs investigation.
Officer Ryan Graves, whose raincoat obscured his video camera, did capture audio of the shooting. In the audio, he is heard shouting repeatedly to suspect Ralph Chavez that he didn’t want to shoot him and ordering him to drop his knife.
Chavez, who had beaten a woman and slashed a man in the throat who came to her defense, continued to advance toward the officers, screaming, “Shoot me! Shoot me!”
The recordings were released by APD Friday afternoon.
The officers fired seven times, and three of the bullets struck Chavez. The bullets entered Chavez’s chest, left arm and right leg, Roseman said.
The shooting happened around 9:37 p.m. on May 22 near Second Street and the Interstate 40 frontage road during a light rain. Officers arrived in response to a report of a woman being attacked and, shortly afterward, of a man being stabbed.
Roseman said the two officers backed up between 20 and 24 feet as Chavez advanced on them in an effort to “de-escalate” the situation. He said Graves shot at Chavez from 20 feet away and that officer Brian Fuchs shot at Chavez from 15 feet away.
Roseman said Graves had crisis intervention training, which he said Graves used in trying to prevent shooting Chavez. For example, he said, Graves tried to start a dialogue by asking Chavez his name.
The deputy chief said Chavez posed a threat to the officers by “steadily walking toward them” with a box cutter, which he had used to critically injure a man just before police arrived. The officers were also backing up against Third Street late at night as it was raining, so he said they might have been concerned about backing up into traffic when they fired.
Roseman released two videos from the APD sergeant who arrived at the scene just as shots rang out. It shows her exiting her vehicle and then going back to retrieve her keys. She then walks around the back of her police vehicle and turns to face the officers just as they shoot Chavez.
The sergeant had less-lethal options, though Roseman did not know if Fuchs and Graves knew that at the time.
Roseman also said the two officers who shot Chavez did not try to use less-lethal options based on their knowledge that Chavez was armed with a knife and had attacked a man moments before they arrived. He made that assessment based on “the totality of the circumstances” facing officers and not from interviews with the officers themselves, he said.
“When they get there, they have this same male subject, with the knife and blood on him, yelling at them to shoot him,” Roseman said. “…They’re facing an imminent threat of an armed individual coming toward them.”
The video goes on to show the sergeant trying to resuscitate Chavez with chest compressions before paramedics arrive. Chavez later died. The second video shows the sergeant’s arrival slowed down and enhanced to show the officers backing up.
Graves recently returned to the force, and Fuchs is “in the process of being cleared to return to duty,” APD spokeswoman Tasia Martinez said in a text message.
The man Chavez attacked was released from the hospital about two days ago. He suffered five slash wounds, including three to his neck, exposing his trachea, one across his chest and one to his leg that nearly struck an artery, Roseman said.
APD’s family advocacy center is working to get the victim, who is homeless, a place to stay to prevent infection to his wounds, Roseman said.
As for Graves’ lapel camera video, Roseman said officer Graves had put his raincoat on earlier but that he had the camera rolling throughout the day. The video released by APD shows brief glimpses of lights and other abstract shapes but only after the shooting has happened. Roseman said the camera was obscured unintentionally.
Roseman also provided additional information about the attack and slashing that prompted the police callout.
He said investigators interviewed the woman Chavez attacked and she said Chavez took an “unknown substance” from a man on the street, possibly muscle relaxers, and returned to the bench in front of the store where the woman was. Roseman said Chavez threw a can at her and then shoved her against the wall and continued to beat her.
The male victim, who knew Chavez and the woman, approached Chavez thinking he could calm him down, Roseman said.
Chavez turned toward the male victim and slammed into him, he said. When the victim shoved Chavez away, he discovered that he had been badly cut. The victim then went across the street to a liquor store, which is when a clerk called police.
The woman was treated at the hospital and released, Roseman said.
Roseman said the attack demonstrates the danger of knives and also shows how vulnerable Albuquerque’s homeless are and how badly they are in need of services.
As for the officers, he said, it’s clear from the audio that the officers did what they could to avoid shooting Chavez.
“This is these officers’ worst nightmare come true,” Roseman said. “No officer wants to be involved in a deadly force encounter.”