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APD faces wrongful death lawsuit over shooting

Valente Acosta-Bustillos

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

The family of a man who was fatally shot by an Albuquerque police officer in late March has filed a lawsuit against the city, police department and the two officers involved in his death.

The suit, filed Tuesday in state district court, says Albuquerque city government and the police department have not done enough to train officers on how to interact with people who have mental or behavioral health disabilities.

On March 30, Albuquerque Police Department officer Edgar Sandoval shot 52-year-old Valente Acosta-Bustillos inside his home in the 900 block of Edith SE after Acosta-Bustillos’ daughter called and asked APD to do a welfare check on him. He later died at a hospital.

“As evidenced by the large number of police shootings in Albuquerque, the City of Albuquerque, by and through the Albuquerque Police Department, has failed to adopt any meaningful strategy to protect the safety and well-being of citizens living in Albuquerque who suffer from mental and behavioral health disabilities,” the lawsuit says.

Lapel camera footage shows Acosta-Bustillos swinging a shovel at Sandoval and officer Joseph Bush before Sandoval opens fire. Bush shot him with a Taser first, but it was ineffective.

Acosta-Bustillos had an arrest warrant at the time after he failed to show up to a pretrial services appointment for felony battery and assault charges he picked up March 8 for allegedly threatening a neighbor, court documents show.

Sandoval arrested him after the March 8 incident, according to a criminal complaint.

By March 30, family and coworkers had not heard from Acosta-Bustillos for over a week, so his daughter, Veronica Ajanel, called APD to check on him.

Bush and Sandoval found Acosta-Bustillos working in his yard with a shovel and began casually speaking with him in Spanish because the officers knew from previous interactions that it is his preferred language, the suit says.

The suit also says that an APD sergeant had made arrangements for Acosta-Bustillos to get mental health treatment at a local hospital.

“Defendants Sandoval and Bush had previously responded to similar welfare safety checks for Valente Acosta-Bustillos on behalf of the family, and both defendants were aware of his mental and behavioral health issues,” the lawsuit says. “The Albuquerque Police Department and defendants Sandoval and Bush knew him well.”

The officers followed Acosta-Bustillos into his house and tried to arrest him after learning he had an active warrant.

The suit is asking for punitive damages, and damages for the family’s pain and suffering.

APD spokesman Gilbert Gallegos declined to comment on the lawsuit.