Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
On a Sunday afternoon in early October, Pauline Vallejos and her husband stopped for lunch at the sprawling Lin’s Grand Buffet Chinese restaurant on Montgomery near San Mateo NE.
The couple from Belen had come to town to see their grandson, who had been born the day before.
“We go in and whatever and are standing in line,” she said. “The guy walks in real abrupt, he walks behind the counter. At first we just thought that he worked there because he was interacting with the manager, the hostess, we didn’t think anything other than that he was an employee, maybe a cook or something.”
The man wasn’t an employee.
His name was Joe Pacheco-Romero, and more than 45 minutes later Albuquerque Police Department SWAT teams stormed the restaurant and shot and injured him following what they have called a hostage situation.
In response to several emails, APD spokesman Gilbert Gallegos answered some questions about the two officers who fired their weapons, identifying them as Justin Jones and Nathan Cadroy.
He said all information about how the shooting unfolded and the suspect’s injuries would have to be answered by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which is prosecuting Pacheco-Romero.
However, recently released computer-aided dispatch logs and 911 calls do fill in some of the blanks.
Both Vallejos and another diner stayed on the phone for about 45 minutes describing Pacheco-Romero sitting behind the host stand armed with a gun, at times getting up and waving it around, until APD officers entered the building and shot him.
It’s unclear how badly Pacheco-Romero was injured, but he was not indicted in federal court until April 9.
The 32-year-old is charged with allegedly robbing a Batteries Plus Bulbs store and an attempted carjacking about half an hour before he entered Lin’s buffet. He was indicted in U.S. District Court on counts of interference with commerce by threats or violence, attempted carjacking and using, carrying and brandishing a firearm during a crime of violence.
On April 16, a judge ordered Pacheco-Romero to be held in custody until trial. However at a hearing a couple of days later it was determined the Cibola County Detention Center was not equipped to care for him, and a long-term care facility refused to have him return, according to court documents.
Pacheco-Romero is staying with his sister, who has home health care experience.
His attorney did not return multiple requests for comment.
‘Get down, get down!’
The 911 calls started around 12:50 p.m. when an employee of Batteries Plus Bulbs, a cellphone and tablet repair shop, reported a man with a gun had robbed them and took off.
About four minutes later the man entered a nearby home and asked for the resident’s car keys.
It doesn’t appear he was successful, because five minutes after that he walked into the middle of the road, pointed his gun at a man and a woman in a vehicle and fired at them, according to the criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico.
The driver drove away and no one was injured.
At approximately 1:12 p.m. the man, identified as Pacheco-Romero, arrived at Lin’s Grand Buffet.
Vallejos told the Journal her husband, an off-duty Belen police officer, noticed him acting strangely and left the restaurant to alert APD officers who were in the parking lot.
She said that’s when she noticed Pacheco-Romero had a gun in his pocket. She said as her husband returned Pacheco-Romero became irate and pointed a gun at her husband.
“(Pacheco-Romero) starts screaming at me, telling me to get back, all he wanted to do was see his daughter one last time,” Vallejos said. “I’m screaming, telling him, ‘Please, please.’ ”
Vallejos said she was able to take cover behind a wall and call 911.
Dispatchers stayed on the line with Vallejos and another caller as the situation unfolded. The women mainly remained calm as they described Pacheco-Romero pacing back and forth, then sitting behind the counter with the gun in his lap. The restaurant’s manager stayed with him the whole time.
Inside the restaurant’s dining room, some customers continued eating lunch while others who realized what was going on snuck out through the back.
Then, 35 minutes into the call, Vallejos began swearing, and saying, “Oh my god, no, no, no, no, no” as about eight officers on the SWAT team swarmed the area.
“Get down, get down, get down,” she screams, crying as the dispatcher asks her again and again what happened and if they shot him. “I got to go. I got to go.”
Vallejos told the Journal she had ducked down so she didn’t see the shooting but she heard at least two gunshots.
“I’m very thankful that they were able to take care of the situation,” she said. “It felt like a lifetime. My phone said 46 minutes or something crazy like that. It all worked out for the best.”
Few details released
Pacheco-Romero was one of 10 people shot by Albuquerque police in 2018.
APD spokesman Gallegos said officers Jones and Cadroy had each been involved in one prior shooting.
For Jones, who has been with APD since 2007, it was his second shooting in less than three months. Police say he and a New Mexico State Police officer shot and killed a homicide suspect during a SWAT standoff in a West Side home in mid-July.
The details about Cadroy’s prior shooting were not immediately available, and Gallegos did not answer questions about it.
He said the Multi-Agency Task Force has completed its investigation into the shooting of Pacheco-Romero but the department is waiting for the U.S. Attorney’s Office approval to turn over the case file to the 2nd Judicial District Attorney’s Office.
The department has held media briefings on all of the other cases during which a lieutenant or spokesman broke down how the shooting occurred, how many officers fired, and whether those officers have been involved in prior shootings. They have also released lapel camera footage of the incidents.
This type of briefing has not occurred in this case, and the Journal’s request for the lapel video is pending.
In a similar situation last summer an APD officer shot and killed a man in a Smith’s parking lot after a robbery.
In that case the man’s accomplice was charged by federal authorities, and both APD and the U.S. Attorney’s Office sent out lengthy news releases and held media briefings on how the incident unfolded.
Neither Gallegos nor a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office responded to questions about why information was released in the earlier case but not in Pacheco-Romero’s case.