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Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
For the fourth year in a row, New Mexico placed either first or second in the nation for its rate of deadly shootings by law enforcement officers, according to the Fatal Force database created by The Washington Post.
In 2018, New Mexico ranked first in the nation, finishing the year with 20 fatal shootings by police officers around the state, a rate of 9.59 per 1 million people.
Alaska – with 7 total fatal police shootings – was a close second, with a rate of 9.5 fatal police shootings per 1 million people. Connecticut had the smallest number of fatal police shootings – 0.
Over the past four years – dating back to 2015, when the Post began keeping a database of fatal police shootings – New Mexico has either been first or second in the nation, with a rate between nine and 11 people killed per million.
In 2017, the state came in as No. 2, behind Alaska, but it was first in the nation in 2016. In 2015 New Mexico was in second place, behind Wyoming.
A total of 995 fatal police shootings were reported across the country in 2018, according to The Washington Post. The numbers have changed little over the past four years.
Allison Goldberg, a policy adviser at the Institute for Innovation in Prosecution at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said it’s hard to pinpoint exactly why some states have higher rates of shootings by law enforcement than others.
“The researchers that we’ve been working with would say it’s really hard to draw causation rather than correlation, but what we do know is that higher number of stops for lower-level offenses can contribute,” Goldberg said in an interview this week. “Stemming from that, lower … trust between law enforcement and communities can heighten tension when there are these interactions.”
Maj. Tim Johnson, head of the New Mexico State Police investigations bureau, said he believes the high rates of crime here have a lot to do with it. For the past several years, New Mexico has experienced increases in violent and property crime, and it was first or second for crime rates in 2016 and 2017.
“The public becomes alarmed, and they have an expectation on their servants – law enforcement – to figure out ways to slow that down,” Johnson said. “As we attempt to slow that down by effecting an arrest or serving a warrant, investigating cases, we are coming into contact with violent people on a more regular basis than we have in the past.”
More than half of the police shootings in the state occurred in larger cities last year.
Law enforcement officers during 2018 shot and killed nine people in Albuquerque, three people in Las Cruces, and the rest in small towns and cities around the state.
In March, in the small town of Fort Sumner, southeast of Santa Rosa, State Police officers fatally shot a man who they said had tried to break into his ex-girlfriend’s house, then shot her friend and set his car on fire.
In June, a Quay County Sheriff’s deputy shot through a bedroom window, killing a 55-year-old man they say was pressing a knife against another man’s throat.
And in August, a Valencia County Sheriff’s deputy shot and killed a woman who they said stole a police cruiser – with her alleged accomplice to a Los Lunas burglary inside – and tried to flee the scene.
State Police role
State Police investigates the “vast majority” of shootings involving law enforcement across the state.
Small rural agencies typically turn their investigations of shootings involving officers over to State Police, which has more resources and experience, Johnson said.
And departments in some urban areas – Albuquerque, Las Cruces, Roswell and Clovis – have set up task forces made up of surrounding agencies, including NMSP, to investigate.
State Police detectives even investigate shootings by their own officers, Johnson said. The agency was involved in seven shootings last year.
He said that while New Mexico has had 20 fatal shootings, it’s important to remember the nonfatal shootings as well – of which there have been 27. The 47 officer-involved shootings last year took up a lot of the State Police investigators’ time.
Johnson said one of the biggest challenges has to do with how large and how rural the state is. Sometimes, officers are unable to communicate with one another by radio, it can be hard for them to find remote locations, and investigators have to figure out what policies and procedures the smaller agencies have in place.
“Those are some of the challenges for the New Mexico State Police and, frankly, the volume,” Johnson said. “We have a lot of officer-involved shootings in this state, and we’re primary on the vast majority of them. It takes a lot of time, it takes a lot of money and it takes a lot of our resources.”
He said it typically takes three to four months to wrap up an investigation and turn it over to a district attorney’s office for possible prosecution.
Goldberg, of the Institute for Innovation in Prosecution, said that, while some police shootings are clearly justified – such as during a hostage situation or a shootout – departments can still learn from each incident.
“What we’ve seen is police departments can adapt their training and their policies to ensure that there is proper de-escalation training and protocol to reduce risk to anyone involved,” she said. “After the incidents, it is really critical to provide mental health support to the officer involved, because it’s a traumatizing event for anyone to go through. That can help reduce future risk of harm to the officers or future community members.”
Data collection critical
Both Goldberg and Johnson stressed the importance of collecting data on police shootings.
The Washington Post began tracking police shootings around the country after the high-profile death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., in 2014. The team gathers data – including details about each killing – from local news reports, law enforcement agency websites, social media and independent databases and then does additional reporting in many cases.
Last fall, the FBI announced it is launching a National Use-of-Force Data Collection for the first time this year.
“The goal of the collection is not to provide insight into specific use-of-force incidents, but instead to offer a comprehensive view of the circumstances, subjects, and officers involved in such incidents nationwide,” according to the FBI’s website. Law enforcement agencies will not be required to participate.
Johnson said State Police officials discussed the undertaking and decided they would submit data about the shootings their officers had been involved in, but not the data from the other agencies they investigate.
“I think the public is demanding that of law enforcement,” he said. “They want to know and understand what’s happening and how things happen. I think that’s going to give the public, our legislators, and reporters in the media the data that they’ve been looking for.”
Fatal police shootings in New Mexico
Jan. 6, 2018: John Bailon, 40, was shot and killed in Los Lunas by a Valencia County Sheriff’s deputy. Police say they were conducting a stolen vehicle investigation and an altercation occurred. A deputy opened fire.
Jan. 7, 2018: Daniel Saavedra-Arreola, 24, was shot and killed in Albuquerque by Albuquerque Police Department officers. Police who were searching a vacant apartment said Saavedra-Arreola jumped out of the closet at them, waving a knife. Four officers opened fire.
Feb. 17, 2018: Nathaniel Montoya, 23, was shot and killed in Las Cruces by a Las Cruces Police Department officer. He was the suspect in a homicide the previous day. When police found him, he led them on a high-speed chase, and then police say he crashed into a pedestrian. The officer opened fire.
March 5, 2018: Andrew Rossi, 25, was shot and killed in Farmington by a Farmington Police Department officer who was trying to arrest him for a warrant out of Colorado. Police say when they found him in a hotel room he was armed with a knife and tried to stab an officer, who then opened fire.
March 11, 2018: Andy Lucero, 48, was shot and killed in Fort Sumner by New Mexico State Police officers who were investigating him for violating a his ex-girlfriend’s restraining order and shooting her friend. Police found him about 20 miles away and “for reasons that are still under investigation, shots were fired.”
June 7, 2018: Wes Allen, 32, was shot and killed in Albuquerque by members of the US Marshals Southwest Investigative Fugitive Team task force who was looking for him in connection to an armed robbery in Los Lunas. Police found him at a Motel 6 and there was a shootout.
June 16, 2018: Richard Rivera, 47, was shot and killed in Albuquerque by an Albuquerque Police Department officers as he fled into a grocery store. Police say he had committed an armed robbery, fled from officers in a stolen vehicle and was yelling “I have a gun” when an officer opened fire.
June 19, 2018: Robert Roybal, 55, was shot and killed in Tucumcari by a Quay County Sheriff’s deputy responding to reports that he was holding a man hostage with a knife. Police say Roybal had a knife up to the man’s neck and the deputy opened fire through a bedroom window.
July 15, 2018: Jonathan Molina, 23, was shot and killed in Albuquerque by a New Mexico State Police officer who pulled over the vehicle he was a passenger in on Interstate 25. Police say he shot the officer in the leg and the officer returned fire.
July 18, 2018: Arthur Lujan, 30, was shot and killed in Albuquerque by Albuquerque Police Department officers and New Mexico State Police officers after he shot and killed his girlfriend’s ex-husband. After a lengthy SWAT standoff police say Lujan emerged from the home, shot at officers, and two officers returned fire.
Aug. 3, 2018: James Bishop, 29, was shot and killed in Las Cruces by a Las Cruces Police Department officer responding to a disturbance at a home. Police say he struck an officer with an aluminum baseball bat and as he swung it again another officer opened fire.
Aug. 23, 2018: Virginia Romero, 34, was shot and killed in Los Lunas by a Valencia County Sheriff’s deputy responding to reports of a burglary. Police say she tried to steal a patrol vehicle, with her alleged accomplice inside, and the deputy opened fire on her as she drove away.
Sept. 3, 2018: Fernand “Fred” Lete, 70, was shot in Bernalillo by Bernalillo Police Department officers at his mobile home at a KOA campground. Police say he killed his estranged wife’s boyfriend and pointed a gun at officers responding to reports of the shooting. Officers opened fire, and Lete returned into his mobile home, where police say he killed himself.
Sept. 27, 2018: Juan Angel Pinedo, 32, was shot and killed in Las Cruces by Las Cruces Police Department Officers. Police say he fled from officers trying to arrest him on a warrant. They say as he ran away he dropped a handgun. Then, police say, he lunged at it and they opened fire.
Oct. 8, 2018: Aaron Joseph Chavez, 22, was shot in Clovis by a Clovis Police Department officer. Police say Chavez fled on foot after they stopped a stolen vehicle. They say as an officer was running toward Chavez he started to pull what looked like a knife out of his pocket, so the officer opened fire. It was a “chain saw blade fashioned into a weapon.”
Oct. 14, 2018: Gregory Allen Tilly, 55, was shot in Alamogordo by a New Mexico State Police Officer in his mobile home. Police were responding to reports of a shooting and said he pointed a shotgun at an officer, who then opened fire.
Nov. 4, 2018: Anthony David Chavez, 18, was shot and killed in Albuquerque by Albuquerque Police Department officers in the parking lot of a southeast apartment complex. Officers were responding to reports of a shooting and found Chavez in the parking lot. Police say he pointed a gun at the officers and they opened fire.
Dec. 12, 2018: Gabriel Romero, 19, was shot and killed in Albuquerque by Albuquerque Police Department officers after police say he tried to rob a woman at gunpoint and then killed a dog in a backyard as he ran away. Police found him in a backyard and say he pointed a gun at an officer, who then opened fire.
Dec. 23, 2018: Jason Delgado Perez, 36, was shot and killed in Albuquerque by Albuquerque Police Department officers after he was pulled over in a stolen vehicle. Police say he shot at officers and they returned fire.
Dec. 24, 2018: Abdias Flores, 35, was shot and killed in Albuquerque by Albuquerque Police Department officers and New Mexico State Police officers after police say he shot a rifle into a Motel 6 hotel room and at the front office. Police say he shot at officers and they returned fire.