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City pays $3.75 million in 2015 police shooting

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

A little over four years ago, on the evening of May 28, 2015, 10 Albuquerque police officers opened fire on an unarmed suspect in a stolen SUV, shooting at least 82 times.

Rodrigo Garcia, then 20 years old, was struck approximately seven times in his head and body.

The officers did not provide medical care immediately. Instead, they continued to shout commands for him to give himself up for the next 90 minutes or so.

Garcia lived, but was severely injured. He now has the functional capacity of a 5- or 6-year-old and cannot move around by himself.

Those claims were included in a lawsuit filed in federal court last year by Garcia’s mother, Loretta Garcia, against the 10 officers who fired their weapons, the four who removed Garcia from the SUV, then-police chief Gorden Eden and the city of Albuquerque. The lawsuit alleges civil rights violations and that the officers used excessive force against Garcia.

Earlier this month, his family received a $3.75 million settlement.

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Rodrigo Garcia, now 24, was severely injured in a 2015 police shooting. An attorney for his family says he has the functional capacity of a 5- or 6-year-old. (Courtesy of Shannon Kennedy)

“One of the reasons there was a substantial settlement was because we had a panel of experts who explained the 90-minute delay in getting him medical care really had an adverse impact on the extent of his brain injury,” said Shannon Kennedy, one of the attorneys for the family. “Had he gotten adequate emergency medical care perhaps he wouldn’t have had as much brain damage. But he bled out for 90 minutes, and that was not good.”

An Albuquerque Police Department spokesman provided the Journal with the settlement agreement but did not respond to questions about whether the officers involved have been disciplined.

Jessie Damazyn, a spokeswoman for the mayor’s office, said in a statement: “This settlement is from one of the last few remaining cases pending from the previous administration and follows the many reforms at APD that have been instituted under Mayor (Tim) Keller. It is important for all those involved – the family, the law enforcement community and city residents – to have reached closure in this situation.”

The shooting unfolded the day after police saw Garcia in a stolen Chevy Tahoe and he reportedly tried to ram a sergeant’s vehicle. On May 28, he was seen in the Chevy Tahoe again, this time in a neighborhood near Gonzales and Old Coors SW.

A police spokesman said at the time that Garcia and a woman got out of the SUV, but when officers tried to arrest them, Garcia jumped back into the SUV and drove away, knocking into a chain link fence. An officer was either knocked down or fell down trying to escape, then she and the others began shooting.

Lapel camera video provided by Kennedy’s law firm and by APD show multiple officers firing at the back of the SUV as it drives away, then again as it slowly rolls backward.

In all, officers Michelle Campbell, Justice Bowe, Victor Bustillos, Toby Gallegos, Armando Hernandez, Christopher Keeling, Raymond Marquez, Matthew Murphy, Dain Symes, and Andrew Wickline fired shots.

Officers Jason Saavedra, Ronald Tosta, Benito Martinez and Ramon Ornelas were also named in the lawsuit as the “extraction officers” who the attorneys say “forcibly removed Garcia from his vehicle and dragged him back to the APD command area where he was handcuffed.” No weapon was found in the car.

Garcia was on life-support for almost a year after the shooting and underwent surgeries to remove bullet fragments, and even part of his brain.

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Rodrigo Garcia, then 20, in a booking mug shot from 2015. (MDC)

Kennedy said a panel of experts predicted that Garcia, now 24, probably won’t live much longer.

“His life span is likely not going to be more than until he is 35 years old,” Kennedy said. “They’re hoping for another miracle. … Hopefully this gives him access to the best medical care and with the best care he will beat the odds again.”

The city has paid out several high-dollar settlements in other police shooting cases over the years. The families of James Boyd and Mary Hawkes received $5 million each, and Kenneth Ellis’s family received almost $8 million.

However, Kennedy pointed out, those clients had family members who had been killed.

She said in weighing the options, her clients had to consider what medical care Garcia needed now and whether his health would continue to deteriorate before the case could be seen by a jury.

“Ultimately for every family we’ve represented it is about protecting the community so this doesn’t happen to anyone else,” Kennedy said. “These families are exercising their constitutional rights on behalf of their loved ones. They lost the boy they had before he was shot in the head.”

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