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Woman hit by APD crossfire in 2017 files suit

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A Santa Fe woman caught in the crossfire when officers shot an attempted carjacker two years ago is suing Albuquerque, alleging the officers were “frenzied and undisciplined” when they fired.

Becky Nottke was shot below her knee.

Nottke and her husband, Dan Nottke, filed the lawsuit against the city and the three officers – James Ortiz, Mel Acata and Paul Bellgardt – in 2nd Judicial District Court on Tuesday.

Their attorney, Ray Vargas, did not return requests for comment.

Gilbert Gallegos, a spokesman for the Albuquerque Police Department, confirmed that Ortiz, Acata and Bellgardt are still with the department. He said there was no discipline related to the shooting.

In February 2017, Nottke, chairwoman of the state’s Manufactured Housing Committee, was at the New Mexico Regulation and Licensing Department, on San Antonio NE, near Interstate 25, for the committee’s bimonthly meeting. As she left the meeting, a suspect fleeing police tried to take her car at gunpoint.

Officers Ortiz, Acata and Bellgardt opened fire, hitting both Nottke and the suspect, 43-year-old Lee Brandenburg. They were both hit in the leg.

Investigators later determined a bullet fired by Ortiz hit Nottke.

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Lee Brandenburg, 41 (Courtesy APD)

A special prosecutor with the District Attorney’s Office found the shooting was justified, and no charges have been filed.

Brandenburg was found guilty last spring of attempted robbery, assault on a peace officer, resisting arrest and burglary of a vehicle. He was sentenced to six years and six months in prison, with three years and six months suspended.

Nottke alleges that negligence on the part of the city and its officers resulted in her injuries and damaged her personal relationships.

According to the lawsuit, Brandenburg was trying to carjack Nottke and she was “half in and half out” of her SUV when Acata, Ortiz and Bellgardt started shooting. They fired a total of 25 times.

“In the frenzy of this rapid, undisciplined firing of bullets, defendants Ortiz, Acata, and/or Bellgardt struck the suspect with several bullets and struck Ms. Nottke in her leg with one bullet,” the complaint says. “Although the suspect had previously brandished a pellet gun, he never fired upon any member of APD or anyone else.”

The complaint alleges the officers were negligent because they did not de-escalate the situation earlier, they did not deploy less-lethal options and they recklessly opened fire on Nottke and Brandenburg, “endangering their lives and the lives of the public on a very busy thoroughfare.”

It further alleges Ortiz and Acata had a “known history of use of force (excessive force) complaints” and the city has not disciplined, supervised or retrained the two. The details of those complaints are not clear.

Nottke is seeking compensation for her medical expenses, emotional distress, lost earnings, pain and suffering and for the damage the incident caused to her relationship with her husband.

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