When Rodney Applewhite didn’t show up on Thanksgiving weekend, his mother grew concerned.
Family members checked the news and found a story about a man shot by New Mexico State Police in Los Lunas, and they worried that it might be Applewhite.
It wasn’t long before their fears were confirmed: the 25-year-old had been killed during a traffic stop.
“He wasn’t a thug out on the street, he was a good child. I’m not saying it because it’s my nephew,” Applewhite’s aunt told a crowd of protesters in Phoenix on Friday. “I don’t feel like his life should’ve been cut short. We are hurting, we are hurting, and we know one thing, that Black lives matter.”
The shooting spurred dozens of protesters to hold a car rally outside the governor’s mansion in Santa Fe on Friday afternoon – in solidarity with similar rallies in Phoenix, where some of his family resides, and South Bend, Indiana, where Applewhite was from – to demand State Police release video and reports from the Nov. 19 incident.
Soon after the events kicked off, authorities obliged, releasing their account and video footage of the Nov. 19 incident. In the video, Applewhite appears to try to grab a sergeant’s gun before being fatally shot by State Police officer Gene Gonzales along the Manzano Expressway. He later died at a hospital.
Warning: these videos contain graphic content
Family members, protesters and community leaders spoke at the three rallies, which were broadcast on Zoom.
“This has been really, really, hard on me because I was expecting my grandson to walk through that door,” Applewhite’s grandmother told the crowd. “But you know whatever we do is not going to bring him back but it’s going to help another family. … And I’ll just say, ‘We are not going to stop, because Black lives matter. We’re going to keep on keeping on.’ ”
An organizer in Phoenix took the microphone to call out Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and New Mexico State Police.
“We demand full transparency, we want the full police report, videos, everything about what happened – the family deserves answers. There’s a lot of eyes on New Mexico right now,” one organizer in Phoenix said. “We’re not going to stay quiet until we get answers for the family here.”
State Police had refused to give further details since the incident happened but, as vehicles and people surrounded the governor’s mansion Friday, they sent out an updated release with lapel and dash camera video of the incident.
The release gave more details and identified Applewhite as the victim and 12-year veteran Gonzales – who is on standard administrative leave – as the officer who shot him twice, killing him.
State Police spokesman Lt. Mark Soriano said in the release that around 8:30 a.m. an officer observed a car speeding on the Manzano Expressway. The car “abruptly” stopped along the shoulder but when the officer got out of his vehicle, the driver fled, initiating a pursuit.
He said Applewhite drove “in and out” of opposing lanes of traffic, nearly striking a box truck, while avoiding spike strips. The pursuit was then called off and, minutes later, officers responded to reports of a man trying to stop traffic on the Manzano Expressway.
Soriano said arriving officers found Applewhite standing in the middle of the road next to the car that had initially fled.
“As the officers were trying to talk to the suspect, he kneeled on the ground and made the symbol of a gun with his right hand towards his head,” he said.
The video shows Applewhite ignored officers’ commands and told the sergeant “you can cuff me.” He then told Gonzales to stay where he was at.
As the sergeant went to cuff Applewhite’s hand, Applewhite appears to reach for the sergeant’s gun and he latches onto something and refuses to let go. Soriano said that Applewhite at that point was trying to pull the gun from the holster. Gonzales, “fearing for the sergeant’s life” drew his gun and fired two shots, Soriano said. The officer shot at Applewhite as the two men struggled and then fired another as Applewhite was falling to the ground, the video shows.
As the officers called for an ambulance, Applewhite is heard saying, “Can you finish me, please?” and Gonzales replied, “No.”
Officers asked Applewhite why he tried to take the gun and he replied, “That’s what I thought you were supposed to do.”
Soriano said Applewhite tried to stand up and said, “(expletive) you all Mexicans, stupid (expletive), that’s why I am coming for all you all.”
Soriano said Applewhite then laid down until the ambulance arrived and took him to the hospital, where he died.
Soriano said State Police later learned that, around 7:30 a.m. that day, the Valencia County Sheriff’s Office responded to a reported burglary – possibly involving Applewhite – on Pueblitos Road in Belen. After the shooting, he said State Police met with the homeowner and learned that a man entered the home and, when confronted, asked, “is this my house?” and if “this was South Bend, Indiana.”
Soriano said the homeowner said no and told the man to leave, and he drove away in a car.
He said the description of the man and his vehicle – with rear-end damage, an out-of-state license plate and a broken front passenger window – given by the homeowner matched Applewhite.