Las Cruces Settles Lawsuit in Police-Involved Shooting - Albuquerque Journal

Las Cruces Settles Lawsuit in Police-Involved Shooting

Family of man shot and killed by police officers in 2006 had sued the city, alleging the officers used excessive force

LAS CRUCES — The city has settled a federal lawsuit that alleged three police officers used excessive force when they fatally shot a despondent man whose family called police out of concern he would harm himself with a knife.

The settlement calls for the city to pay $75,000 to the estate of the victim, 38-year-old Michael Molina, and $25,000 to the victim’s mother and an aunt who were present when the shooting occurred, according to the plaintiffs’ attorney G. Greg Valdez.

In addition, Valdez said, the city agreed to three other provisions: to pursue a federal Justice Department grant to pay for the installation of video cameras in all patrol cars; to form a committee to study the feasibility of requiring officers to wear pocket cameras to record interactions with the public; and to outfit all police officers with digital voice recorders.

Three police officers who shot at Molina were not carrying audio recorders to document their interaction during the deadly encounter on Dec. 26, 2006, Valdez said. A city police spokesman said the practice is standard now.

“The family was not really interested in money. They were interested in something that would lead to more transparency, more integrity in the investigative process, and the weeding out of bad officers,” Valdez said. “Basically, that’s what they wanted.”

The case was settled in late March, according to federal court documents, but final settlement documents are due May 1 and have not been filed by attorney, Matthew Holt, representing the city. Holt was not available Monday, and interim city attorney Harry “Pete” Connelly declined to comment.

Following an argument with his mother at her home in late 2006, Molina became despondent, picked up a kitchen knife and said he should kill himself, according to the lawsuit.

After three officers arrived at the house, Molina came out the front door carrying a knife and holding his hands above his head. Molina never left the porch when he was shot, and the family contended he had dropped the knife and was trying to duck behind a pillar when officers, advancing toward him, fired a volley of shots at a distance of about 20 feet. Molina was struck six times. The city contended the officers believed Molina posed an imminent threat to their safety.

Valdez said Molina’s family filed the lawsuit in early 2009 with the goal of forcing the city to establish a police oversight board. Since then, however, the city has begun the process of hiring an outside consultant to act as an independent auditor of the police department.

A Maryland-based consultant, Justice & Security Strategies Inc., urged the City Council last June to hire an auditor after finding that not a single one of 74 excessive force complaints filed against Las Cruces police during a three-year period had been confirmed after departmental review. Between 8 to 10 percent of excessive force complaints are sustained by police departments nationwide, the consultant said.


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