ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — This year’s fourth Albuquerque police shooting followed an ongoing drug dispute and a man shouldering an assault rifle in the direction of an APD officer in an area of the Southeast Heights that has seen its share of violence recently, officials said.
Dennis Aragon, 41, was shot shortly after 2 p.m. outside an apartment complex in the 400 block of Española SE. Police released Aragon’s name late Thursday night and said he was in critical condition but expected to survive. (View video from the scene below)
Earlier Thursday, Police Chief Ray Schultz said Aragon has spent “three or four years in prison” on drug and assault on a police officer charges. Aragon was released from county jail a few days ago and may have ties to a powerful Mexican gang, Schultz said.
The tactical officer who shot him is a veteran member of the APD Repeat Offender Project — an elite group of officers who often work undercover and who track the worst of the worst criminals in Albuquerque, the chief said.
Because of the suspected gang ties, Schultz declined to name the officer but said he has not been involved in any previous shootings.
Thursday’s incident was the fourth police shooting this year and 24th since the beginning of 2010. It happened less than two miles from where 2012’s second officer-involved shooting took place last month.
Police began receiving 911 calls around 2:10 p.m., Schultz said. Callers were reporting that a man with a “long rifle” was walking around a balcony outside the apartments at the southwest corner of Zuni and Española.
ROP team members were already in the area working on a tactical operation, the chief said, and responded within minutes to the complex.
There, they found three men, he said, one of them armed. The officers ordered the men to show their hands and get down on the ground. Two of them complied.
Schultz said the third man, later identified as Aragon, began to walk south along Española and away from officers. At one point, he stopped, turned toward the officers and began to shoulder the rifle.
That’s when one of the ROP team officers fired three shots from his own rifle, striking Aragon in the stomach, he said.
The officers were armed at the time of the shooting with less-than-lethal weapons, including Tasers, Schultz said.
As many as 15 neighbors witnessed at least parts of the incident, the chief said. Several of them told police that Aragon was in the area looking for a man who had “ripped him off” in a heroin deal.
Schultz said witnesses told investigators Aragon had been at the complex the night before as well and had fired several shots. No one was injured Wednesday night, he said.
Police had eight people in custody in the hours after the shooting, Schultz said. Investigators were trying to determine which of them had been with Aragon. It was unclear whether anyone would face charges.
The Southeast Heights has seen a rash of violence this year, including two homicides — at least one of which police say was drug-related — in as many days early last month.
And on March 19, APD officer Martin Smith fatally shot 31-year-old Daniel Tillison after Tillison rammed into Smith’s police vehicle at an apartment complex in the 8200 block of Marquette NE.
For one area resident, Thursday’s shooting was almost a case of déjà vu.
“The first thing that went through my mind was: Here we go again,” said Orlando Paisano, who heard the shots on Thursday and came over to the scene to see what happened.
He had been shot June 26 by APD officer Damian Lujan after a domestic violence incident involving Paisano’s girlfriend.
Paisano, who was armed with a bayonet he refused to drop before being shocked with a Taser and then shot multiple times, pleaded guilty to aggravated assault on a police officer with a deadly weapon and is on probation.
He said he heard the shots Thursday and came to the scene.
He didn’t see the incident, but said many in the neighborhood have come to fear police because of the high number of officer-involved shootings the past two-plus years.
“This is getting out of control,” Paisano said. “The (U.S. Department of Justice) really needs to get in here and do a complete investigation of APD and all these shootings.”
The Justice Department has been considering since August an investigation into whether APD has a pattern or practice of violating civil rights. Angry citizens and members of advocacy groups have written letters and crowded into City Hall meetings demanding the investigation.