Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal
Bernalillo County Deputy Joshua Mora feared for his safety and that of his sergeant when he fired seven times into a stolen truck a week and a half ago, killing the driver and the back-seat passenger, according to authorities.
In a news conference Tuesday, Sheriff Manuel Gonzales laid out the details of the Nov. 17 shooting, which occurred after deputies chased the truck from the North Valley area command to Albuquerque’s West Side. The driver, Isaac Padilla, 23, and passenger Martin Jim, 25, were killed.
Two other passengers, a 31-year-old man and a 20-year-old man, exited safely and are not facing charges.
Gonzales said no gun was found in the truck, but Mora — the son of Undersheriff Rudy Mora — still felt threatened.
“The threat was him (Padilla) being in the vehicle, revving it and not complying, driving carelessly and all his reckless actions prior to him getting on the scene,” he said.
Gonzales said Mora has been with the department for a year and five months. This is his first shooting.
Deputy Mora was put on standard administrative leave after the shooting, but he has since returned to duty. His father has recused himself from all investigations into the incident.
Gonzales said that at around 3:45 a.m. on Nov. 17, Albuquerque police spotted a white Dodge pickup truck that had been reported stolen in October and was connected to a burglary. When they stopped the truck in northeast Albuquerque, two people, Mercedez Moraga, 26, and Xavier Wilson, 22, got out and the truck took off.
Wilson, who was armed with a gun, was arrested on a warrant for criminal mischief and damage out of Pennsylvania, and Moraga was arrested on a bench warrant for a failure to appear in a case charging her with being a felon in possession of a firearm, according to court records.
“That vehicle continued to drive periodically with its lights off at a high rate of speed, recklessly through that area of San Mateo and Interstate 40 corridor,” Gonzales said. “Air support began to call out their location and eventually that vehicle started going into the North Valley area.”
That’s where deputies picked up the chase. They then followed the truck out of
the county and into the city, deploying a spike belt unsuccessfully near Unser and Ladera NW and successfully near Ladera and Ouray NW, deflating one tire. They also attempted a pursuit intervention technique but just ended up damaging a deputy’s cruiser. No APD officers were involved in the chase.
“Eventually, the driver of that vehicle, Isaac Padilla, came to the area of Hanover and Coors and proceeded southbound,” Gonzales said. “Another PIT was attempted and it was successful. At this point, the vehicle was spun out and came to rest facing in a southeast direction at Glenrio and Coors.”
A sergeant positioned his cruiser face to face with the truck, and other deputies closed in as well, Gonzales said. He said the sergeant could hear Padilla revving the engine.
“The deputy came out and came up to the vehicle and gave verbal commands,” he said. “He felt an immediate threat to the sergeant’s and to his safety and feared for his safety. Then the deputy subsequently fired his service weapon, firing seven rounds.”
Gonzales said Padilla and Jim — who was sitting in the back seat on the right — were shot to death. After the shooting, the truck reversed and spun around until it came to a rest off the side of Coors.
The two other men got out of the truck uninjured. They have not been charged and their names are not being released at this time.
“According to the deputy’s statement, the only thing that he could see was the driver of the vehicle and that’s where his focus and his target was in terms of firing his rounds,” Gonzales said. “In his field of view, he said he could see no other passengers at that time.”
Gonzales said he sends his condolences to Jim’s family and detectives have been communicating with them since the shooting. He did not mention Padilla’s family.
Padilla had been charged last spring with aggravated fleeing of a law enforcement officer, and possession of a controlled substance in Gallup, according to online court records. That case was still pending. His history also includes a couple of traffic violations and a misdemeanor shoplifting charge.
According to court records, Jim had never been charged with a felony. He was arrested last year for a DWI, which was dismissed.
Sheriff’s department policies
This was the ninth time deputies have opened fire since early July, killing five people, injuring three and missing two others.
The U.S. Department of Justice previously has criticized Albuquerque police officers for firing at vehicles. And after the department began its federally mandated reform in 2014, the police department updated its policy to prohibit officers from “intentionally placing themselves in the path of a vehicle and thereby creating a justification for the use of lethal force.”
APD policy also prohibits officers from discharging “a firearm at or from a moving vehicle unless an occupant of the vehicle is using lethal force, other than the vehicle itself, against the officer or another person, and such action is necessary for self-defense, defense of other officers, or to protect another person, or unless the officer has no reasonable alternative course of action.”
But Gonzales said the sheriff’s department has no such policy.
“If he feels it’s a threat, it’s all covered by our use-of-force policy,” Gonzales said.
BCSO’s Standard Operating Procedure has been criticized by civil rights attorneys as unconstitutional because it relies on a deputy’s perceptions of the situation, rather than an objective set of factors.
Since the Nov. 17 shooting, BCSO has faced mounting concerns from activists and civil rights organizations, and the sheriff has been criticized for not equipping his deputies with body-worn cameras.
Gonzales and the executive director for the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico said they plan to get together this week to discuss their viewpoints.