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Family Ordered To Fix SWAT Shootout Damage

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A South Valley family has been given 30 days to repair extensive damage done to their home during a standoff and shootout between the Albuquerque Police Department SWAT team and 20-year-old Santiago Chavez.

Police fired bullets and tear gas canisters during the June 20 standoff, which they say ended when Chavez fatally shot himself.

The Safe City Strike Force and the city’s Criminal Nuisance Abatement Unit sent a letter dated the following day to Chavez’s grandmother, who owns the home in the 400 block of 67th SW.

It said she needed to replace the windows and doors, have the power reconnected and repair damage to stucco on the exterior of the home by July 21 or the city would file a lien against the property.

Attorney Kari Morrissey inspects the home Thursday where a 15-hour SWAT standoff took place on June 20.

A city lawyer told the Journal late Thursday that it is possible the city would reimburse the family for repairs.

An inspection of the home this week revealed all three doors had been pulled off and replaced with boards, every window was broken out, dozens of large holes appeared on the interior and exterior walls, and the home still reeked of tear gas.

A large red notice was pasted to the side of the home saying: “Substandard building. Do not enter. Unsafe to occupy.”

“The citizens of this community deserve some more respect from their civil servants than to destroy a home like this and then in addition to that, give the homeowners 30 days to clean it up without being able to enter,” said attorney Kari Morrissey, who has been retained by Chavez’s family. “As usual, (APD’s) behavior seems to be unreasonable and at times certainly disrespectful. This family lost their son. He was a young man. And for APD to now put them in such an impossible position of cleaning up this property just isn’t right.”

Even entering the home to begin repairs would be impossible because of the overwhelming presence of tear gas inside, Morrissey said during a tour of the home Thursday.

Common practice?

Joe Martinez, director of the Safe City Strike Force, said it is “common practice” for the city to require property owners to pay for damage caused by the SWAT team.

Assistant City Attorney Greg Wheeler called the Journal several hours later to say Martinez had “misunderstood” a reporter’s question. He said he could only remember two such instances and said the “idea that we pile on” is untrue.

Joe Martinez, director of the Safe City Strike Force, said it is “common practice” for the city to require property owners to pay for damages done by the APD SWAT team. A city attorney said that’s not accurate.

In the case of the home on 67th, Martinez and Wheeler said, the city was simply trying to “secure the property” by boarding up the doors and windows, posting the residence substandard and issuing the letter to Chavez’s grandmother.

Moreover, the city’s Risk Management division could reimburse the family for repairs to damage caused by the SWAT team, Wheeler said. That is “also common practice,” he said.

Martinez arrived at the residence Thursday morning while Morrissey and a Journal reporter and photographer were touring the property and told Morrissey that Deputy City Attorney Kathy Levy, who represents APD, had offered to give Morrissey access to the home.

Morrissey said she doesn’t know yet whether Chavez’s family has any legal recourse against the city because there are many unanswered questions about the SWAT call and its aftermath.

For example, APD did not disclose that SWAT officer Drew Bader had exchanged gunfire with Chavez during the incident until the week after, when the Journal asked about the exchange.

Chavez fired at least one shot at officers, Police Chief Ray Schultz said, and Bader shot eight rounds in return.

Chavez fired his gun as many as four more times during the standoff, the chief said, although it is unclear whether he was shooting at officers. No one was hit during the exchange of gunfire, but police say Chavez ultimately shot and killed himself.

Schultz said APD didn’t volunteer the information about the gunfire because “no one asked.”

Incident unfolds

Police initially came to the home around 9 a.m. after someone called 911 to say Chavez had kicked over a trash can, thrown a rock at a car and was seen near the home with a gun.

Police had been to the home twice before in the two weeks prior to the standoff, according to APD documents: once for a disturbance and once for a report of gunshots. Both calls involved Chavez.

The chief said SWAT officers began approaching the home around 5:30 p.m. on June 20 because Chavez, who was inside alone, was refusing attempts at crisis negotiation. He said the SWAT team decided to use tear gas after the exchange of gunfire because Chavez no longer posed a threat to officers or neighbors.

Morrissey said the amount of gas APD put in the house was “over the top” and was “not something someone would have an easy time surviving in and of itself.”

She said she is waiting for toxicology and autopsy reports from the Office of the Medical Investigator to determine whether to proceed with legal action.

“Obviously, we’re trying to figure out exactly what happened to Santiago Chavez,” she said. “That’s not easy when you’re dealing with APD. The fact that they didn’t tell the whole story up front certainly leads to some trust issues we’re dealing with now.”

— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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