ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Albuquerque police officers fired nine shots from close range at a knife-wielding Vietnam veteran who had been living for years with mental illness during a rapidly unfolding incident outside a convenience store in the heart of the city, officials said.
At a news conference on Monday, Police Chief Ray Schultz identified the two officers who shot and killed 66-year-old Vincent Wood on Friday as rookie Jeff Bludworth and Katherine Wright, who has been with APD since 2009.
A security guard at a business located near the intersection of San Mateo and Montgomery NE had called 911 at 7:39 p.m., the chief said, to report that a man matching Wood’s description had threatened two teenage boys with two “big ol’ butcher knives.”
The security guard told police dispatchers he had dealt with the man before and that he was both “extremely crazy” and “extremely dangerous.”
That information was relayed to the officers.
Preliminary results from an investigation being conducted by APD and several other law enforcement agencies show Wright likely fired first as Wood advanced on Bludworth with two large Bowie-type knives, Schultz said.
He said he didn’t know how many times either officer fired, or how many times Wood was struck.
At 7:42 p.m., Bludworth arrived on scene and found Wood, the chief said. The officer saw no weapons in Wood’s hands and called him toward his police car.
Wood took a detour around Bludworth’s car, Schultz said, then produced the knives from a satchel he had slung around his shoulder. As he backed away from Wood, Bludworth reached into his holster for his gun and began commanding him to drop the knives.
Wright arrived around that time and, “in fear for officer Bludworth,” fired at Wood, Schultz said. Wright believed she may have recognized Wood from a previous encounter.
About a minute passed from the time Bludworth arrived in the parking lot and when Wood was shot, he said.
The chief said Wood had brandished knives at police officers, including APD officers, during previous incidents.
Wood’s sister-in-law, Cynthia Allen, questioned why the officers used their guns at all.
“I can understand if this was a man in his prime coming at police officers with knives,” Allen said Monday in a telephone interview from her home in Florida. “But why couldn’t they use Tasers? Or shoot him in the knee caps? Vincent has come at my husband with a machete before, and he was able to handle the situation without a gun.”
Schultz said he “would assume” the officers were carrying electronic stun guns – which APD requires all officers to do – at the time of the shooting. But neither officer used one.
Wood, Schultz said, was between four and eight feet from Bludworth when he was shot.
Both officers had their department-issued lapel cameras turned on during the shooting, and one of the cameras captured video and audio of the shooting, Schultz said.
The video was not shown to reporters at the news conference.
Schultz said Wood has been arrested 14 times since 1998 in New Mexico and Colorado. Only one of those arrests resulted in a conviction.
Wood also has been transported to mental health facilities six times by law enforcement, the chief said, including to the Veteran’s Administration Hospital in Albuquerque.
Most recently, in June, he refused to come out of the motel where he was staying after police were called to the area because of a disturbance, Schultz said. Wood was not arrested on that occasion.
Allen said Wood had been hospitalized as recently as a few months ago.
“We’ve been trying to get him home and in a safe place for the last year,” she said. “The VA wouldn’t provide any of his information and, even though we knew he was in Albuquerque, we didn’t know exactly where he was. The last we heard, he was back on his medication and doing fine. The next thing we know, he’s dead.”
Michael Allen, Wood’s half brother, told the Journal over the weekend that Wood had one grown daughter and had been traveling in the Southwest since his grandmother died in the early 1990s, a death Wood took very hard.
That death, coupled with the post-traumatic stress disorder Wood suffered after serving as an infantryman in Vietnam in the mid-1960s, left Wood drifting, Michael Allen said. Wood had been living in Albuquerque for 10 to 15 years, he said.
In the aftermath of a spike in shootings by APD officers that began in 2010 and levelled off last year, department brass implemented several policies in an attempt to slow the rate of deadly police-citizen encounters.
Requiring all officers to use lapel cameras every time they contact a citizen was one such change. Another was requiring supervisors to respond to all scenes that have a high potential for volatility in an effort to slow down such situations.
In the Wood shooting case, the second for APD this year, those “protocols were followed,” Schultz said.
A crisis intervention officer had just arrived at the scene as Wood was being shot and a sergeant was en route, he said.
The high number of police shootings, 29 since 2010, and several other excessive force cases prompted the U.S. Department of Justice to launch a sweeping civil rights investigation of APD, which is ongoing.