APD: Man shot by police was armed with shovel

Valente Acosta-Bustillos, 52 (courtesy of Veronica Ajanel)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

When Albuquerque Police Department officer Edgar Sandoval and his partner were called to a home near Broadway and Coal SE for a welfare check on March 30, they knew the resident well enough to know he preferred to speak in Spanish. The two officers had been sent to talk to 52-year-old Valente Acosta-Bustillos at least two times before.

But this time, the situation quickly escalated, and Sandoval ended up shooting Acosta-Bustillos during a confrontation inside the man’s home. Acosta-Bustillos was taken to a hospital, where he died.

Lapel camera footage released by APD on Tuesday shows when the officers approached Acosta-Bustillos – who appeared to have been doing yardwork at his house in the 900 block of Edith SE – stopped what he was doing and chatted calmly with them in Spanish, leaning against a door frame with a shovel resting in his hands. His family had asked the police to check on him after he didn’t show up for work or answer his phone for several days.

But everything changed when the officers learned he had a felony warrant for his arrest after he was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and failed to show up for a court hearing.

That’s when, police say, Acosta-Bustillos ran back inside his home, with the officers in pursuit, and threatened them with a shovel. Sandoval opened fire, striking Acosta-Bustillos three times, mortally wounding him.

“The call changed from a welfare check to a felony arrest, which the officers were obligated to enforce,” Lt. Scott Norris of APD’s violent crimes section said during a televised media briefing Tuesday.

However, an attorney representing Acosta-Bustillos’s family questioned why the officers rushed into his home instead of calling for additional resources and why Sandoval didn’t use less lethal force, as his partner did.

“My client calls in to ask for a welfare check to make sure everything is OK,” attorney Mark Caruso said. “… She calls APD to check on her father, and it ends up APD is the cause of his death.”

Caruso said he has filed a tort claim notice and is preparing to file a lawsuit against the department and officer Sandoval.

Sandoval has been with APD since 2018 and has not been involved in any other shootings.

In a call with reporters, U.S. Department of Justice officials and the independent monitor overseeing the APD reform effort, police said officers and medical personnel had previously determined Acosta-Bustillos suffered from a “meth-induced psychosis” during an incident in December in which he was “taking metal out of the doorknobs, taking apart electronics, and worried that his neighbors were somehow spying on him.”

The Albuquerque Police Department investigates after an officer shot and killed a man in a confrontation during a welfare check on the 900 block of Edith SE on March 30. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

“We don’t know for sure yet whether on the day of the incident in March if the individual did have methamphetamine in his system,” said Lt. Matt Dietzel of the Crisis Intervention Unit. “We’ll find that out, but according to everything in the background … everything that has been done with this individual in the past, there has never been any type of mental health history with him.”

He said the Crisis Intervention Unit, which specializes in responding to mental health calls, did not have Acosta-Bustillos in its caseload. Norris said it will not be known whether he was using methamphetamine at the time of the shooting until a toxicology report is completed.

Acosta-Bustillos had been arrested a couple of weeks earlier, on March 8, and charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. He was accused of beating his neighbor with a hammer and threatening to kill him. When he didn’t show up for a court hearing, an arrest warrant was issued. That’s the warrant the officers discovered while they were conducting the welfare check.

Lapel camera footage shows Acosta-Bustillos looking relaxed and talking with officer Sandoval from the doorway of his home while officer Joseph Bush went to his car to check for warrants. But when Bush returned, saying they were going to have to arrest him, Acosta-Bustillos stepped back inside his house and tried to close the security door. The two officers pushed their way inside the small home. The footage shows Acosta-Bustillos grow angry and yell at the officers, swinging his shovel and charging at them.

Officer Bush shot him with a Taser, which was ineffective, and then Sandoval opened fire, shooting Acosta-Bustillos at least three times. He ran into the bathroom, bleeding and screaming, but still conscious.

Lapel camera footage shows Sandoval standing guard over him – telling him to put his hands up – for about five minutes until medical personnel arrive. He tells officer Bush he isn’t carrying the medical gloves needed to pat Acosta-Bustillos down or stop the bleeding.

Norris said a preliminary autopsy report shows Acosta-Bustillos had been shot in the arm and the right side of his back.

He said the administrative investigation will determine whether the officers should have acted differently, including whether they should have called the SWAT team to get Acosta-Bustillos out of his house or checked to see if he had a warrant before they arrived at the scene. An attorney from the Department of Justice asked about the way the call switched from a welfare check to an arrest.

“It seemed like the individual who had the shovel when he approached the officer, he seemed to be lucid, he didn’t seem to be a threat, he didn’t seem violent,” attorney Corey Sanders said. “I’m trying to take it frame by frame and trying to understand how this thing escalated.”

Norris replied that those questions would be answered by the completed administrative investigation and criminal investigation.

Acosta-Bustillos is the third person shot by APD officers this year, and the second to be killed. Gilbert Gallegos, an APD spokesman, said that the Multi Agency Task Force is still investigating six shootings, including some from 2019. He said Internal Affairs is still investigating two shootings from earlier in the year.

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