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Editorial: Wake up, BCSO, police shooting validates cameras

There’s been a long-simmering debate in Albuquerque about whether on-body cameras are worthwhile or just another gigantic waste of taxpayer money.

Critics of cameras, including Bernalillo County Sheriff Manuel Gonzales III – who is running for re-election – need only look at the June 16 Albuquerque Police Department’s officer-involved shooting to see why they’re valuable tools for the officers who wear them and the public they protect.

While Bernalillo County sheriff’s deputies don’t wear cameras, APD officers are required to, and that turned out to be a good thing for APD and officer Jonathan O’Guin.

O’Guin fatally shot Richard Rivera, 47, in a Smith’s parking lot earlier this month.

On its face, the fact pattern in the case would have presented a scenario that raised lots of questions: Shooting an unarmed man in the back outside an Albuquerque grocery store. Add to that this was O’Guin’s third fatal shooting, and the public could easily have been left with the impression this was an out-of-control officer using excessive force and infringing on someone’s civil rights.

But the video shows the dangerous situation O’Guin was confronted with and makes it clear, at least in our minds, that things were not that black and white. It shows the dangerous pursuit leading up to the shooting in which officers repeatedly tried to stop a van. It shows van driver Rivera – who had already allegedly fired at officers, and robbed a Verizon store and its customers – making a dash for the Smith’s supermarket. And it shows the officer, who by this point was pursuing Rivera on foot, yelling a warning: “Albuquerque police, Stop. Stop or you’re going to get shot.” Rivera yells “I have a gun,” ignores the warning and is shot six times just outside the entrance to the grocery.

Police say Rivera, who was pronounced dead at a hospital, had left a gun in the van before making a run for the grocery store. But the officers pursuing him had no way of knowing that at the time of the shooting.

Obviously there will be an investigation – but the video captured and preserved how the shooting unfolded better than any eyewitness could. And it bolsters O’Guin’s contention he feared innocent civilians inside the Smith’s grocery store could be harmed if Rivera made it inside.

The bottom line is that O’Guin’s video provides an important, independent account of what happened up to and then in that parking lot. And with nine deputy-involved shootings in less than five months last year – resulting in five deaths and three injuries – Bernalillo County should have the same type of video for both the public and the deputies’ sakes.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.