Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
Multiple callers had reported 57-year-old Roger Schafer was at the bus stop on Eubank near Copper NE one August afternoon. They said he was armed with a gun, tossing it from hand to hand, “pulling the action back” and pointing it at traffic.
By the time five officers approached him, fanned out in formation with their guns drawn, he was lying on the sidewalk, his arms over his eyes, using his belongings as a pillow.
But the situation quickly changed, and three officers ended up firing at least 15 rounds at Schafer as they say he grabbed the gun stashed in his waistband. The gun turned out to be a semi-automatic BB pistol resembling a 9 mm handgun.
These details, as well as lapel camera footage from one of the officers and two 911 calls, were released by the Albuquerque Police Department at a news conference Friday morning.
“We’re still at the early stages of this investigation, which can often take up to a year,” Police Chief Michael Geier said. “Our understanding of this incident will change as additional evidence is collected. We also at this time do not draw any conclusions about whether the officers acted in a way consistent with our policy and the law until all the facts are known and investigation is complete.”
Lt. Scott Norris of the Violent Crimes Section said that around 3 p.m. Aug. 22 several officers were sent to the heavily populated, high-traffic area near the Walmart shopping center for reports of a man pointing a gun at passersby. He said the officers made a plan and approached him on foot.
“Officers wanted to avoid alerting the subject to police presence, fearing this would cause him to react adversely,” Norris said. “These fears were based on the information the officers received about the subject’s unpredictable and erratic behavior. Officers made the decision to use their own bodies as a wall between the armed male and the public.”
Video shows the officers approaching and ordering Schafer to keep his hands in view. He curses at them, and, instead, pushes himself up to the bench, appearing to grab the gun tucked into his waistband.
That’s when one officer shot Schafer with a 40 mm rubber bullet, a less lethal option. Less than a second later, officers Paul Durham, Kyle King and Randy Serrano also opened fire, killing Schafer. He died at the scene.
Norris said the officers found Schafer’s BB gun tucked into the front of his pants.
Durham has been with the department since 2011, King since 2010 and Serrano since 2017. Durham and King are assigned to the SWAT team, and Serrano is an officer in the Northeast Area Command. None had been involved in prior shootings.
Norris said APD will continue to investigate the shooting and interview any additional witnesses who come forward. When the investigation is complete, it will be sent to the Force Review Board – a committee that APD was required to create as part of the reform effort process with the Department of Justice.
“The Force Review Board will then evaluate the evidence to determine whether the officers’ tactics, drawing and exhibiting the weapon, and the use of deadly force in this incident met the high standard expected of all APD officers,” Norris said.
The shooting was one of six by Albuquerque police this year, and the second one that was fatal. On Monday, police shot and killed a third person, a man who they said was armed with a gun during a domestic dispute in an apartment complex north of East Central.
Schafer’s criminal history included misdemeanors indicative of living on the streets and suffering from mental health issues. He was cited for criminal trespass and urinating in public in 2015 and 2016, and was arrested for firing a BB gun because he “wanted to kill pigeons for revenge.” His police contacts also include being transported for a mental health evaluation.
About five months ago, officers shot him with the less lethal 40 mm rubber bullet after he was reported wandering around Nob Hill armed with an ax and threatening customers at Kelly’s Pub.
In court documents, Schafer listed his address as the Good Shepherd Center homeless shelter, and an APD spokesman said investigators had a hard time finding his next of kin.
Rachel Biggs, the policy director for Albuquerque Health Care for the Homeless and a member of APD Forward, said the advocacy coalition has some general concerns about the shooting, but it is waiting to see the results of the use of force investigation.
“The APD Forward coalition really followed the re-write of the use of force policy, really making sure it emphasizes de-escalation and using the minimal necessary use of force possible so we can prevent really tragic, probably avoidable use of force against the most vulnerable,” Biggs said.