Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal
A man fatally wounded by an Albuquerque police officer in a Smith’s parking lot earlier this month yelled that he had a gun before he was shot in the back by an officer just outside the entrance to the store, police said.
Richard Rivera, 47, did not have a gun at the time but left one inside a stolen van he had just crashed before he was shot by officer Jonathan O’Guin, Albuquerque police Lt. Ray Del Greco said during a news briefing Thursday on the June 16 shooting.
Police also said Rivera, during a car chase before the shooting, repeatedly fired at police with a 9mm that he reloaded at least once. And he used the same gun to rob both a Verizon store and its customers of phones, money and jewelry earlier that day. Del Greco said Rivera forced customers to the back of the store and racked his handgun during the robbery, police said.
“The fact that Mr. Rivera had continuously been firing rounds at officers during a vehicle pursuit, had robbed not only Verizon Wireless employees but patrons of the Verizon Wireless at gunpoint, coupled with the fact that he was running through the parking lot of the Smith’s yelling that he has a gun,” Del Greco said, “it led officer O’Guin to believe that the potential harm to innocent civilians in that Smith’s grocery store was so great that the need to utilize the force that he did there was what was needed at the time.”
The shooting is the third fatal shooting by O’Guin in the past three years.
Days after the June 16 shooting, protesters gathered at the Smith’s and a few questioned the officer’s decision to fire a weapon near shopping civilians. On Thursday, APD Forward, a collection of community groups that advocate for police reform, issued a news release saying the group wanted to meet with Police Chief Michael Geier to review lapel camera footage and discuss the department’s use-of-force policy.
The policy is being rewritten as part of an ongoing reform effort to address a pattern of excessive force within APD, which the Department of Justice said it found in 2014 after an investigation.
“This most recent fatal shooting comes at a critical moment in the reform process,” said APD Forward spokeswoman Alice Liu McCoy, a staff attorney for Disability Rights New Mexico. “The city is in the middle of reviewing and rewriting their use-of-force policy, and this incident shows just how important it is that the new policy emphasizes de-escalation and unambiguously mandates using the minimal necessary level of force.”
O’Guin’s shooting, the second by Albuquerque police this year, ended a roughly weeklong series of crimes by Rivera and Jennifer Rael, according to federal court documents.
Rivera and Rael, who was a passenger in the van, had known each other for just about six weeks. But the couple are believed to have been involved in four robberies: at two Albuquerque banks, a gas station and the Verizon store at 2525 San Pedro NE, according to court testimony. Rael has been charged in federal court with bank robbery, use of a firearm in commission of a violent crime and aiding and abetting.
Albuquerque police on Thursday during the news briefing played portions of videos taken during the chase and the shooting of Rivera. Police also released O’Guin’s on-body camera recording he made during the chase and shooting. The video is posted on the Journal’s website.
“We take these incidents very seriously, and we want to be as transparent as possible,” Deputy Chief Harold Medina said.
After the Verizon robbery, police were tracked the van through one of the stolen cellphones to a restaurant at Louisiana and Central, where Rivera started driving the car instead of Rael. Del Greco said Rael told officers that Rivera, when he noticed that police were following him, told her “it’s on” as he pulled the gun from his waist.
“Ms. Rael said … Mr. Rivera fired so many rounds at officers she couldn’t keep count,” Del Greco said.
Albuquerque police used a spike belt that destroyed the van’s front left tire and three Pursuit Intervention Technique maneuvers during the car chase throughout Southeast Albuquerque. After one of those maneuvers, O’Guin fired at the van six times in eight seconds after, he said, he saw Rivera point a gun at a police sergeant, Del Greco said. Lapel camera footage shows the sergeant crash into the van and get out and crouch behind his vehicle, taking cover.
After being brought to a stop on Stanford SE, the van continued driving and the third PIT maneuver brought the chase to an end near the Smith’s grocery store at 320 Yale SE. O’Guin was chasing Rivera on foot through the parking lot when both O’Guin and witnesses heard Rivera say, “I have a gun. I have a gun,” Del Greco said.
That’s when O’Guin fired his weapon six times in two seconds. Rivera was struck in the back, buttocks and legs, Del Greco said. He was pronounced dead at a hospital.
O’Guin, who has been with the department since 2008, in 2016 shot and killed Dennis Humphrey, who was armed with a rifle and was yelling at officers to shoot him. O’Guin shot and killed Robert Savelli, 43, in 2017 during a foot chase after O’Guin stopped Savelli for driving a moped without a license plate. Savelli was armed with a gun.
O’Guin has also appeared in Journal stories during his career for buying a woman groceries and saving a choking puppy.
Rivera has a lengthy criminal history that includes multiple armed robbery and bank robbery convictions.
Rael had no criminal history before the recent federal charges. Del Greco said she told investigators that she met Rivera through her then-boyfriend, who was in prison, according to court testimony and documents in the federal case against her. Rael’s attorney couldn’t be reached for comment.
Del Greco said that Rivera was going to inquire about why she hadn’t delivered methamphetamine to her boyfriend at a New Mexico prison.
Rael said she and Rivera started living together about a month before the shooting and she started using methamphetamine twice daily, according to court documents.
Dolores Rivera, Richard Rivera’s mother, said she had spoken to her son the Thursday before the shooting and didn’t know about his alleged involvement in any robberies. She knew he was friends with Rael but didn’t know the extent of their relationship.
“It’s hard because you are trying to grieve, but it’s hard to grieve with all this ugliness that’s going on,” she said in a brief phone interview.