ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Albuquerque police officer Byron “Trey” Economidy, who once listed his occupation as “human waste disposal” on Facebook, will not face state criminal charges for fatally shooting a man after a traffic stop in 2011.
Economidy is, however, facing unspecified discipline for using his personally owned handgun – with which he hadn’t passed department-mandated qualifications – when he shot 29-year-old Jacob Mitschelen, officials said.
In a letter to APD Police Chief Ray Schultz, District Attorney Kari Brandenburg and one of her top deputies, Deborah DePalo, wrote that they had found no probable cause to believe Economidy committed a crime when he shot Mitschelen on Feb. 9, 2011.
Mitschelen was carrying an unloaded handgun at the time he was shot, according to documents Brandenburg’s office released Wednesday.
Reached by telephone, Economidy declined to comment.
Attorney Paul Kennedy, who is representing Mitschelen’s family in a federal wrongful death and civil rights lawsuit against Economidy and the city of Albuquerque, said in a telephone interview that he wasn’t surprised by Brandenburg’s decision.
“As far as a I know, the DA has never found an officer culpable in a police shooting case,” the veteran civil rights attorney and former state Supreme Court justice said. “This just continues that tradition. Honestly, I don’t know why they even bother. We’ll just have to see where the justice system takes us.”
The Mitschelen family’s civil lawsuit is scheduled for trial in federal court next February.
Economidy also was named in another civil lawsuit against Albuquerque police involving a fatal shooting that resulted in a jury award of $10.3 million against the city. Economidy was not the shooter in that case.
Economidy’s shooting of Mitschelen was one in a string of deadly force encounters involving city police that contributed to the U.S. Department of Justice’s recent decision to launch a sweeping civil rights investigation of APD.
Violation of policy
In January, the Police Oversight Commission agreed with city Independent Review Officer Robin Hammer that Economidy did not violate APD’s use of force policy when shooting Mitschelen. That ruling was an administrative one, as opposed to a criminal finding.
Hammer and the commission did, however, determine that Economidy’s use of his personally owned .45 caliber Kimber handgun was a violation of policy because he had not qualified for using it.
Officers are allowed to use personal weapons on duty, provided they pass a shooting qualification test.
Schultz said in an email to the Journal on Wednesday that he informed Economidy of his proposed punishment in a hearing last week.
“He has not yet been served so I do not feel comfortable yet saying exactly what (the discipline) is until he receives official notice,” Schultz wrote in the email.
Whatever the punishment, it will be the second time Economidy has been disciplined in the aftermath of the shooting.
His “human waste disposal” Facebook post, which was discovered by reporters after the shooting, resulted in a four-day suspension and reassignment from the specialized gang unit to a position in the rank-and-file APD patrol unit.
Family: Not anti-police
Economidy stopped Mitschelen’s vehicle in Southeast Albuquerque for an expired license plate, the documents released Wednesday state. Earlier that day, Mitschelen had been out target shooting with a friend, using the .40 caliber handgun he had purchased less than two weeks prior.
During the traffic stop, according to Economidy’s statement to investigators, Mitschelen fled on foot. The officer pushed him to the ground twice during a foot pursuit. The second time, the .40 caliber handgun fell out of Mitschelen’s pants. It was later determined that the handgun wasn’t loaded.
Economidy told investigators that he ordered Mitschelen, who was facing away from the officer, not to touch the gun and to get on the ground. Instead, Economidy said Mitschelen picked up the gun and began turning toward him, and Economidy shot five times.
Three of the bullets struck Mitschelen to the left of the center of his back, according to an autopsy report.
Hammer has said the autopsy is consistent with Economidy’s statements that Mitschelen was turning toward him with the gun.
Among the documents Brandenburg’s office released Wednesday was a letter from one of Mitschelen’s family members.
“You can see that Jacob was executed,” Caroline Mitschelen wrote. “He was doing nothing more than driving a friend’s car that had an expired license on it … Jacob knew better than to carry a loaded gun – for Economidy to say that he aimed it at him is outrageous; he was behind Jacob. It was a good excuse for this ‘human waste disposal’ cop to kill him … The citizens of Albuquerque have had enough of the APD lies and corruption. How can all of these shootings be so hastily justified? We are not anti-police, but we are anti-lies and corruption.”
Earlier this year, a state court jury found that Economidy had used excessive force in an unrelated case when he pinned Iraq War veteran Kenneth Ellis III’s vehicle into a parking space in the parking lot of a Northeast Heights convenience store in January 2010 as part of an auto theft investigation.
After a nine-minute encounter, APD Detective Brett Lampiris-Tremba fatally shot Ellis in the neck.
The jury last month awarded Ellis’ family $10.3 million, one of the largest judgments ever against the city.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal