Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
In January 2018, about five minutes after they kicked in the door of a vacant apartment off east Central, four Albuquerque Police Department officers shot and killed a man they found hiding in a closet.
Lapel camera video shows the officers opening fire as 24-year-old Daniel Saavedra leapt out into an empty bedroom, swinging a metal pipe, just feet from them.
On Tuesday, Saavedra’s sister filed a wrongful death and loss of consortium lawsuit against the city, alleging the officers created a situation where they were forced to use deadly force. Saavedra, who has also been referred to as Arreola-Saavedra and Saavedra-Arreola, had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
“By entering the apartment and cornering Daniel, APD increased the likelihood that deadly force would need to be used against a person suffering psychosis,” the lawsuit states. “APD officers had their guns drawn when they opened the closet door. APD gave Daniel no verbal warning that they intended to use deadly force.”
Attorney Shannon Kennedy, who is representing the family, said this was a case of officer induced jeopardy.
“Rather than using proper protocol of cover and concealment they close distance putting themselves unnecessarily and unreasonably in a position of vulnerability…,” she said. “The legal theory is called danger creation – where officers create a dangerous situation then use deadly force.”
She said Saavedra’s family filed the suit to make the community safer, especially for people suffering from mental illnesses.
“His sister and his mother loved him very, very much, and they’re still devastated by the loss,” Kennedy said.
In response to questions about the allegations, an APD spokesman said he was not certain the city has been served with the suit.
“(When) that happens, the Legal Department will respond to the lawsuit in court,” Gilbert Gallegos wrote in an email.
The incident unfolded on the evening of Jan. 6, 2018, when police were called because Saavedra had broken into the vacant apartment at the Luna Lodge, on Central near Zuni. Saavedra used to live in the apartment and entered through the unlocked window.
“It is unclear why Daniel entered the apartment, but it is believed Daniel was suffering from psychosis,” the lawsuit states.
Officers Amy O’Dell, Elisa Valdez, Emmett Fritz and Bryce Willsey arrived at the scene. Lapel video released by APD shows them knocking on the front door, calling for anyone inside to exit, before kicking it in and entering.
According to the lawsuit, the officers requested the SWAT team, but it “refused to come.”
“A SWAT unit has persons who are expert at communicating with mentally ill people,” the suit states. “SWAT would have been able to maintain the status quo while deploying people who could gain voluntary compliance from Daniel.”
Kennedy said the actions the officers took remind her of the time before the Department of Justice investigation and the federally mandated police reform effort.
“It’s very much a throwback case to individuals acting without supervision, without direction, without a plan, without one voice and officer induced jeopardy where they placed themselves in harm’s way and necessitate unnecessary use of deadly force,” she said. “It is in an aberration; its shocking actually that this could take place after the Department of Justice (investigation) and the (Court Approved Settlement Agreement) being in place.”