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A 28-year-old woman suffering from mental illness was reportedly armed with a kitchen knife and screaming in a “primal voice” when she was shot and killed by three Bernalillo County sheriff’s deputies during a misdemeanor battery call last week.
The deputies had been at the scene for 20 to 30 minutes trying to get Elisha Lucero out of her RV, which was parked next to her family’s South Valley home. They were clearing out – and preparing to leave behind a criminal summons – when she came out of the RV and attacked the deputies, according to Sheriff Manuel Gonzales.
He said Lt. Alfonso Rodriguez and deputies Jonathan Aguilar and Ryan Schmidt shot multiple rounds at Lucero. She died at the scene.
Gonzales held a news conference Monday afternoon to provide additional details about the July 21 shooting, as well as to defend his decision not to equip his deputies with cameras.
“None of our deputies have ever been questioned on the integrity of those (prior) shootings,” he said. “There’s not enough evidence to move forward in filing any charges. We have recorders on our belts. Those are just as sufficient.”
Lucero’s family disagrees.
Her sister, Elaine Maestas, said she watched the news conference online and was struck by the way Gonzales characterized the incident. She said she thinks that if video were available of the shooting, there would be a more definitive account of how it unfolded.
“It’s impossible to hold an entity that’s there to protect you accountable when they don’t have footage in situations like this,” Maestas said. “They hold all the cards at this point in time. Nobody will ever truly know what happened that night other than the officers that were there.”
Gonzales said Rodriguez, Aguilar and Schmidt were wearing their audio recorders on their belts, and he believes they were turned on. He said the tapes could be requested under the Inspection of Public Records Act after the investigation is complete.
Aguilar has been with the department for a year and a half, Schmidt for eight years and five months and Rodriguez for 16 years and eight months. All three are assigned to the Field Services Division and have not been involved in any prior shootings.
The incident began shortly after 11:30 p.m. when one of Lucero’s relatives called 911 to say she had hit their uncle. The relative who called said she was mentally ill, needed help, and was a threat to herself and to everybody else.
A number of deputies arrived a half-hour later.
“As deputies were on scene, they attempted to make contact with Lucero,” Gonzales said. “She had locked herself in a RV that was parked on the shoulder of the road and armed herself with a pair of scissors as our deputies tried to make contact with her. Lucero refused to exit her RV, and forced entry was never made for the misdemeanor offense.”
He said the deputies decided to leave the scene and issue a criminal summons.
But, Gonzales said, Lucero came charging out of the RV, screaming and brandishing a kitchen knife. Rescue workers who had been treating her uncle hid inside the ambulance.
“She charged toward the deputies, and a deputy deployed a less-than-lethal Taser, which was ineffective,” Gonzales said. “At this time, at least three deputies fired their service weapons to stop the actions of Elisha Lucero.”
In preliminary statements about the shooting, Undersheriff Rudy Mora had said one of the deputies was injured in the incident. Gonzales said Monday that the deputy who was injured was not one of the ones who were attacked with a knife and was not shot, although he would not provide details about how the deputy was injured.
The shooting has renewed calls for the Sheriff’s Office to equip deputies with cameras.
The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico issued a statement last week calling for Gonzales to reverse his position on the devices.
The Bernalillo County Commission allocated $500,000 in the budget for the current fiscal year for dashboard cameras, but Gonzales said he was not going to use that money to get new cameras for deputy vehicles. He said that instead he would use it to update the eight or so dashboard cameras the department already has.
“They have no business telling us operationally what we will use for this department,” he said. “We are well-aware of what we need. First of all is staffing.”
Maestas said she thinks that bringing up staffing when asked about cameras was a way for the sheriff to avoid the question of cameras.
The ACLU also questioned the way deputies had responded to Lucero, given that family members had told them she was mentally ill.
BCSO’s Mobile Crisis Team – typically a law enforcement officer and a social worker with a master’s degree – had contacted Lucero about two months ago to offer resources and assistance.
Gonzales said that at that time she was taken to a hospital for an emergency mental health evaluation but she denied she was mentally ill. He said she left the hospital on her own.
However, Gonzales said, when deputies were called on July 21, it was for a criminal investigation so the Mobile Crisis Team couldn’t be deployed.
“You have to remember we were there for enforcement action,” Gonzales said. “She had committed a crime. The calling party had called us there.”