Copyright © 2013 Albuquerque Journal
Albuquerque police Detective Richard Hilger told a judge Monday that he feared for his life and shouted, “He’s got my gun, shoot him, shoot him,” moments before Detective Chris “C.J.” Brown fired the fatal shots into Christopher Torres’ back on March 11, 2010.
The two detectives were testifying in a civil lawsuit brought by Torres’ family, which contends that routine police work would have revealed that Torres suffered from mental illness and that the officers’ confrontational approach led to his death.
The officers said their attempt to serve an arrest warrant against Torres escalated into a desperate fight over a gun and ended when Brown, who was straddling a face-down Torres, fired three shots at close range into the 27-year-old’s back.
“That was an extremely violent fight,” Hilger said. “It was the most violent fight I’ve ever been in. (Torres) was fighting with all his might.”
Even with two officers on top of him and trying to wrestle him into cuffs, Torres was able to grab Hilger’s service pistol out of its holster, Hilger testified.
“He was able to rip (the pistol) away from me,” he told 2nd Judicial District Judge C. Shannon Bacon. Hilger said he punched Torres four or five times as he commanded Brown to shoot Torres.
The lawsuit claims that Albuquerque police failed to conduct background checks that might have avoided the fatal confrontation. The suit was filed by the family of Torres, whose mother is Bernalillo County Deputy Manager Renetta Torres.
Officers gave the testimony as depositions in the case. Randi McGinn, an attorney for the Torres family, said she made the unusual request for a judge to hear the depositions because Brown earlier had said he planned to claim Fifth Amendment protections from being required to offer self-incriminating testimony, which potentially required the ruling of a judge.
Neither officer sought Fifth Amendment protection on Monday.
No criminal charges have been filed against either officer. A spokeswoman for the 2nd Judicial District Attorney’s Office said Monday the case remains under review.
The officers had obtained a warrant for Torres’ arrest on a felony charge of aggravated auto burglary for trying to carjack a woman at a traffic light on Paseo del Norte nearly a month earlier.
Brown, the lead detective in the case, said he did not know that Torres had a history of schizophrenia when he and Hilger set off in undercover clothing to arrest and question Torres at his home in the 7600 block of Sunrose NW.
McGinn questioned Brown about his decision to confront Torres a month after Albuquerque police assigned a crisis intervention team officer to Torres.
The team was trained to deal with people who were mentally ill and potentially violent, and had been formed by APD a decade ago to avoid violent confrontations between officers and people with mental illness.
McGinn said APD assigned the team member to Torres after a Feb. 20, 2010, incident in which he allegedly attacked an armed man in a Taylor Ranch restaurant. Torres later told police that “satellites are observing us” and that he was on medication for schizophrenia.
“I didn’t know of his mental illness,” Brown responded. “If we would have known, things may have been different.”
Once at the Torres home, events quickly spiraled out of control. Hilger said he saw Torres standing in his backyard and asked him to come out and speak with officers. Brown said he identified himself and said he had a warrant for Torres’ arrest.
Torres responded that he hadn’t done anything wrong. Brown said Torres told him, “This is my backyard and you will have to fight with me.”
Both officers hurdled a fence and a violent encounter quickly followed, with Brown straddling Torres, who was face down in the backyard, and both officers trying to wrestle him into handcuffs.
“I was trying to work his arm out from under him and (Torres) was violently resisting,” Brown said. “At this point, I hear Rich (Hilger) give the command, ‘Let go of my gun, let go of my gun,’ ” he testified.
Brown said he drew his service pistol and fired three shots just inches from Torres’ back. Torres continued to struggle until after the third shot was fired, he said.
The depositions are a preliminary step in the civil case. No trial date has been scheduled in the case.