ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A top city official on Monday backed off statements he made over the weekend about the relationship between a homeowner and a man who police say shot himself after a SWAT standoff, but he continued to dispute the family’s claim that it hasn’t had access to the residence.
Rob Perry, the city’s chief administrative officer, told The Associated Press over the weekend that Kathy Wujick, who owns a home on the 400 block of 67th SW, was not related to Santiago Chavez, who police say killed himself after the SWAT standoff last month.
Perry made the same claim in an email to the Journal on Saturday, asking for a correction to a story published on Friday that said Chavez’s grandmother had received a notice from the city’s Criminal Nuisance Abatement Unit stating she had 30 days to repair damages to the home or face a lien against the property.
Perry said in his email that the letter was sent to “James and Kathy Wujick, who … as far as we can determine have no connection to the family …”
“That’s ridiculous,” Wujick said in a telephone interview Monday. “I am Santiago’s biological grandmother. He was our first-born. I helped raise him.”
She said that if anyone from the city had “bothered to go the memorial, they would’ve had the chance to see pictures of me with him from the day he was born.”
Chavez, 20, died early on June 21 after a 15-hour standoff with the SWAT team. The standoff included an exchange of gunfire between Chavez and SWAT officer Drew Bader — which APD did not disclose until asked about it by the Journal the following week — and ended when police say Chavez fatally shot himself.
In an email to the Journal on Monday, Perry said he had since received information from the family’s attorney that Wujick was, indeed, Chavez’s grandmother.
“ … We have no reason to dispute that,” he said in the Monday email.
Kari Morrissey, the family’s attorney, said last week the city’s actions were “disrespectful” and “unreasonable.” She said not only had the city required the family to make repairs, but had done so without allowing them access to the home.
But city officials say the family did have access to the home and pointed to a video taken by an officer on June 21 that shows him agreeing to use a padlock provided by the family to secure the back door of the home and giving family members advice on how to air out the smell of tear gas.
A city official from the Nuisance Abatement Unit told Morrissey last week she could call APD’s attorney if she needed access to the home.
Perry said the city attached a piece of plywood to an aluminum door frame at the back of the home and secured it with the family’s padlock. He said the door could be opened and closed simply by removing the padlock.
But Morrissey said when Rachel Hernandez, Chavez’s mother, arrived at the home days after the standoff, she found the plywood screwed into the exterior wall of the home and a two-by-four screwed across the plywood.
To get inside the home to fix a leak, Morrissey said Hernandez unscrewed the wood with power tools and reattached it exactly as it had been when she left.
Perry said Monday that the city’s Risk Management Division would consider reimbursing Wujick for repairs to the home if Wujick made a claim. However, he said, New Mexico law states that property owners are responsible for damages that make structures unsafe if police were acting lawfully when the damage was done.
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 before the standoff, according to APD documents: once for a disturbance and once for a report of gunshots. Both calls involved Chavez.
Police Chief Ray Schultz 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.