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A policeman’s fatal January 2007 shooting of a civilian he had chased on and off the interstate in his cruiser is the focus of a civil trial alleging excessive force that began Monday in U.S. District Court.
Albuquerque Police officer Angelo Lovato began following the truck driven by Carlos Archuleta, 35, after seeing activity he thought was suspicious at the U-Haul rental across from Love’s truck stop at Sixth Street near Interstate 40 on Jan. 29, 2007.
Lovato didn’t engage his lights or sirens, except for a few moments to warn motorists when he saw the pickup he was chasing go the wrong way up an interstate off-ramp. Then he turned them off again.
Archuleta crashed his vehicle through a chain-link fence at a construction site near Rio Grande and Indian School NW.
Lovato, who had called for backup, briefly chased a person he saw emerge from the truck and run, and then he approached the vehicle. He said he shot Archuleta six times after he said Archuleta lunged at him with a screwdriver.
Among the first exhibits was a photo of Archuleta slumped back in the driver’s seat, dead, causing an instant and visceral reaction from family members in the audience.
In his opening statement to the eight-person civil jury, Archuleta family attorney James E. Riley Jr. suggested Archuleta’s death was the result of a pattern by the Albuquerque Police Department of failing to adequately train officers.
He probed inconsistencies in statements Lovato had given after the fatal shooting. Lovato had said “yes” after the investigating officer asked whether Archuleta was in the driver’s seat and if he was lunging at him.
Lovato said on the witness stand Monday that his affirmative response referred to the lunging, and that it was a mistake about Archuleta being in the driver’s seat. Lovato said Archuleta in fact had been “crouched” in the passenger seat. He said he fired initially when Archuleta lunged at him and then fired again when he perceived Archuleta was reaching behind for a gun.
Deputy City Attorney Kathryn Levy said the evidence will show Lovato took the actions to protect the community and himself.
What happened was a tragedy, she said, but it was Archuleta’s poor choice that caused it.
Lovato was then a four-year veteran of APD, but he already had been involved in another fatal shooting in 2004 near Coors and Arenal SW.
Jurors are unlikely to hear about that incident, which U.S. Magistrate Judge Daniel Schneider ruled too prejudicial. Schneider likewise has excluded testimony about Archuleta’s past run-ins with the law, including the stolen vehicle he allegedly was driving at the time.
The proceedings were delayed while Lovato was deployed in Afghanistan with the Army National Guard.
— This article appeared on page C1 of the Albuquerque Journal