Members of the Albuquerque Police Department were not justified in shooting and killing an unarmed suspect in a busy Walmart parking lot four years ago, according to a lawsuit filed by civil rights attorney Shannon Kennedy.
It was an unnecessary killing, Kennedy said, that left the three young children of 26-year-old Mickey Owings fatherless. And a recent Department of Justice report stating APD unconstitutionally uses force supports her claims, which are outlined in a civil lawsuit filed Thursday in state district court on behalf of Owings’ children that names former police chief Ray Schultz, shooting officer Kevin Sanchez and the city as defendants.
Owings was suspected in an armed robbery when he pulled his car into the bustling Walmart parking lot at around 11 a.m. March 29, 2010. He parked next to a car under police surveillance because it had been identified by police hours earlier as being involved in the robbery.
Walmart surveillance video shows someone get out of the car, approach the surveilled car, then get back in the other car, before trying to back out.
That’s when unmarked police cars quickly drive behind Owings; he collides into them, and officer Sanchez walks up and fires toward the passenger side. Owings rammed the car in front of him and escaped the parking lot, but police were able to force him off a nearby road, where he died.
“They created a very frightening situation for anyone, let alone someone who they suspect has been involved in criminal activity,” Kennedy said Friday. “Because they’re officers, they can act in this grossly reckless way and get away with it.”
A statement from the City Attorney’s Office, which handles suits against APD, said the complaint would be reviewed and responded to, but there was no further comment on the allegations.
“We will review and evaluate the complaint once it is served and file an answer to the complaint within the time frame required by the court,” wrote City Attorney David Tourek in the statement.
Sanchez was found to be justified in the shooting by a grand jury and, at the time of the shooting, Schultz said, “The actions of the suspect were very violent. This is also a very complex crime scene we’re dealing with.”
Owings had a long criminal history, according to previous news reports.
The Department of Justice criticized the way police handled the shooting, saying “Owings did not pose a threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or anyone else; he was driving straight into unoccupied, parked cars when he was shot. This damage to property, as serious as it was, did not justify taking Owings’ life.”
The DOJ scolded APD for allowing officers to shoot at vehicles and Kennedy also blasted the practice in the complaint. APD changed its policy after the DOJ report.
Kennedy said any monetary gain that comes from the suit will go to the three children.
“Children who lose a parent through a violent act … it leaves a huge gaping hole in their hearts,” Kennedy said. “It’s such a unique kind of harm when a police officer kills a parent, because children see police as the good people, so it’s difficult for them to wrap their heads around it, it’s damaging and confusing for them.”