ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The District Attorney’s Office has cleared Albuquerque police officer Sean Wallace of any wrongdoing in the fatal shooting of an Albuquerque man on May 10, 2011.
The man, Alan Gomez, was refusing to let his brother and his brother’s girlfriend leave the brother’s home, and police received calls from the girlfriend that Gomez was carrying a rifle, police said at the time. Police later determined that Gomez had fired the gun twice before they arrived and hidden the gun in a closet.
In ruling the shooting as justified, the DA’s Office determined that Wallace shot Gomez in defense of others, based on his belief that the alleged hostages were in fear for their lives and that Gomez was armed with a gun.
“Even though Alan Gomez had placed the gun he had been carrying down inside of the residence and obtained a large soup spoon, it appeared to Officer Wallace that Gomez was still armed,” prosecutors wrote in the DA’s ruling. “Officer Wallace could not have known of Alan Gomez’ beliefs or intentions.”
Wallace shot Gomez once from across the street, killing him, as the department’s SWAT team was en route. The officer later said he saw Gomez holding what he thought was a gun as he was silhouetted against a wrought-iron door and that he shot Gomez because he was turning toward his alleged hostages.
Investigators later determined Gomez was holding only a black, plastic spoon when he was shot as he stood in the doorway of the home on the 2800 block of Madison NE.
Gomez family attorney Joe Fine disputes that Gomez was holding anything at all when he was shot, saying in a letter that was included in the DA’s review that no object was found “anywhere near” Gomez after the shooting. Fine is representing the Gomez family in a lawsuit against Wallace and the city.
According to an autopsy, Gomez was shot once on the left side of his chest, near his armpit. The autopsy also found that Gomez had morphine and methamphetamines in his system.
In his letter to the DA’s Office on behalf of the family, Fine raised other concerns about the criminal investigation and testimony from the officers, concerns he said were never fully addressed before the DA’s decision. In the letter written on behalf of the family, Fine said he has depositions for the pending civil suit from fellow officers that show discrepancies between what officers saw.
The family letter is a feature of the DA’s new process of reviewing officer-involved shootings, a process that was unveiled in March after state district court judges criticized the old process as lacking impartiality and being on shaky legal standing.
In the letter for the Wallace case, Fine said the discrepancies between officer accounts include, for example:
• Which hand Gomez had the object in when he was shot.
• The size of the object and where it was pointed.
• Whether Gomez stepped out of the line of sight to grab a weapon before being shot.
• Whether Gomez was facing or running toward the hostages when he was shot.
“But no one from the DA’s Office asked me to ever document what’s in that letter,” Fine said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “Everything in that letter could have been documented.”
DA spokeswoman Kayla Anderson said the review considered the letter and included it in its final report, but it could not corroborate the claims made in the letter because under its review process, the DA’s Office considers only evidence presented in the criminal investigation.
The criminal investigation involved multiple state law enforcement agencies and is led by APD.
“We only consider facts from a criminal case,” Anderson said Wednesday. “… The family does have the opportunity to submit their information, and that was something that was very important to us” when the DA changed the review process.
The shooting of Gomez was the third in the line of duty by police officer Sean Wallace. Two of the shootings were fatal.
None of the three men Wallace shot was armed, but police said that, in two of the cases, they believed the suspects were carrying weapons. In the other case, police said the man tried to run down officers with a car.
The DA’s review implemented this year replaced the method it had used for officer-involved shootings since the late 1980s. The old investigative grand jury process was criticized by civil rights advocates and by state District Court.
APD officers have shot 25 men since 2010, killing 18. The shootings and other use of force incidents have led to a U.S. Justice Department investigation of APD. Federal investigators aim to determine whether APD’s culture leads officers to use excessive force.