ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Albuquerque’s police review board has decided unanimously that one of the highest profile in a string of fatal shootings by APD officers was justified — prompting the dead man’s grandfather to label the board “a joke.”
APD officer Byron “Trey” Economidy’s Feb. 9, 2011, shooting of 29-year-old Jacob Mitschelen drew intense media scrutiny when reporters discovered in the days after the shooting that Economidy had listed his occupation on Facebook as “human waste disposal.”
Nearly two years later, seven members of the Police Oversight Commission voted unanimously late last week that Economidy’s shooting of Mitschelen didn’t violate APD’s policy on use of force.
Economidy fired five shots, three of which struck Mitschelen in the back.
The trajectory of the shots — two of which went in the left side of Mitschelen’s back and out the right side of his chest and stomach — was consistent with Economidy’s statements that Mitschelen was turning toward him with a gun in his hand, according Robin Hammer, the city’s Independent Review Officer.
Hammer had found that Economidy did not violate the use-of-force policy.
But Economidy did violate an APD policy requiring officers to get tested on any weapon they carry in the line of duty, Hammer found. The .45 caliber Kimber that Economidy used that night was his personal weapon.
On a 7-0 vote — with Commissioner Johnathan Siegel recusing himself and Commissioner David Adkins absent — the commission agreed with Hammer’s findings, which were sent to Police Chief Ray Schultz for discipline, if any.
Hammer did not name Economidy during her presentation to the commission because the Albuquerque Police Officers’ Association contract prohibits commissioners from getting officers’ names. Commissioners, however, named Mitschelen, and Hammer specified the date of that shooting during her presentation.
Hammer’s presentation and comments to the commission by Mitschelen’s grandfather brought to light new details about the Economidy case:
• Economidy, who, according to Hammer’s presentation, was working a tactical operation for the APD Gang Unit, chased Mitschelen on foot through a parking lot near the intersection of San Pedro and Kathryn SE after stopping Mitschelen’s vehicle for an expired license plate. Hammer told commissioners that during the foot chase, Economidy pushed Mitschelen to the ground twice, and, on the second occasion, a gun fell out of Mitschelen’s clothing.
According to Hammer’s presentation, which was based on a criminal investigation by APD, Economidy said Mitschelen picked up the gun and refused orders to drop it. Mitschelen was holding the gun, which wasn’t loaded, with both hands and turning toward Economidy, according to Hammer’s presentation. After the shooting, Mitschelen was taken to an area hospital, where he later died.
• A second law enforcement officer arrived on the scene shortly after the foot chase began, Hammer told the commission. That detail has never before been made public.
According to APD, the second officer was ATF Special Agent Brandon Garcia. He heard Economidy discuss the traffic stop on a secure APD radio channel and pulled his unmarked truck behind Economidy’s vehicle. Garcia did not see the shooting, Hammer said, but came upon Mitschelen and Economidy immediately after it happened and handcuffed Mitschelen.
As Garcia was cuffing Mitschelen, according to Hammer’s presentation, the wounded man told them: “The gun wasn’t loaded. I wouldn’t have shot you guys.”
In voting to endorse Hammer’s findings, Commissioner Richard Shine said Mitschelen’s comment constituted an attempted “apology” and was evidence that Mitschelen wished to commit “suicide by cop.”
• Mitschelen’s grandfather, Earl Mitschelen, told the commission during public comments that Economidy had been “stalking” his grandson in the days and weeks before the shooting. In an interview after the commission meeting, Earl Mitschelen told the Journal he had seen Economidy either following his grandson or talking to him on at least three occasions before the shooting.
Reached by telephone, Economidy declined to comment and referred questions to an APD spokeswoman, who said in an email that “there is no evidence to support Mr. Mitschelen’s allegations.”
Earl Mitschelen said he was disappointed but not surprised by the commission’s decision to rule the shooting justified.
“This commission is a joke,” he said, adding that Shine’s suicide-by-cop theory was “outrageous.”
Within hours after the shooting, the APD Criminal Intelligence Unit had produced a memo for Chief Schultz, detailing Mitschelen’s criminal history and labeling him a member of a white supremacist gang. According to an autopsy report, Mitschelen had the words “white pride” tattooed on his arms.
APD Gang Unit supervisors briefed officers at the scene after the shooting, telling them that other white supremacists would try to retaliate against officers for Mitschelen’s death. A similar scenario had played out the year before, when the intelligence unit sent out a department-wide memo saying an APD officer’s fatal shooting of an Iraq War veteran had resulted in an order from the Aryan Brotherhood to kill any officer.