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Many fatally shot by officers were on meth, APD says

 Police investigate the university-area home of Kenneth Reiss the morning after he was killed by officers in August 2020. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Police investigate the university-area home of Kenneth Reiss the morning after he was killed by officers in August 2020. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

Jason Galliart, Matthew Montoya and Kenneth Reiss were all killed during confrontations with the Albuquerque Police Department in 2020. And, according to APD, all three had at least one other thing in common: traces of methamphetamine in their system at the time.

Kenneth Reiss

Kenneth Reiss

On Wednesday afternoon, APD highlighted the frequency of meth use among those who get into confrontations with police – many of which end up fatal – to “raise awareness.”

Interim Chief Harold Medina said it’s not just about decreasing officer-involved shootings, but also addressing the “lifestyle” and root causes, such as drug use, that lead to deadly encounters.

 Matthew Montoya

Matthew Montoya

“We’re looking at the system as a whole – how do we reduce crime and where do we combine our resources to make sure that we’re getting to the root problem,” he said. “… It’s something that’s impacting us as a community in all aspects and us as a department, so that’s why we’re taking a clear look at this and trying to get more information out.”

Barron Jones, senior policy strategist with the American Civil Liberties Union, said the trends speak to the need for police to find ways to better de-escalate and, meth or no meth, “keep these people alive.” “I applaud the city in its efforts trying to address this now, but this problem didn’t just spring up yesterday or the last two or three years,” he said. Jones later added, “Now that they’re starting to have conversations about it, we can move forward to address it.”

Jason Edward Galliart

Jason Edward Galliart

According to data provided by Special Prosecutor Michael Cox with the 2nd Judicial District Attorney’s Office, three out of the six people shot to death by APD in 2020 had meth in their system.

In 2019, the ratio was one out of four. In 2018 – when New Mexico ranked worst in the nation for fatal police shootings – it was five out of seven, or more than 70%. In both 2016 and 2017, 83% of those killed by APD had meth in their system. Between 2011 and 2015, the number stayed between 50% and 60%.

The data provided to the Journal did not differentiate between the level of methamphetamine found in the person’s system, indicate if they were actively high at the time or whether they had prescriptions for amphetamines, such as Adderall.

Compared with other places nationally, according to the data, Albuquerque had a higher frequency of meth usage connected to police shootings.

APD Interim Chief Harold Medina hosts a Zoom discussion on methamphetamine use and officer-involved shootings.

APD Interim Chief Harold Medina hosts a Zoom discussion on methamphetamine use and officer-involved shootings.

In San Diego, 32% of those shot or killed by police between 1993 and 2012 had used meth. In San Bernardino, 31% of those shot or killed by police from 2010 to 2015 had used meth. And, in the state of Georgia, 20% of those killed by police from 2012 to 2017 had meth in their system.

Lt. Matt Dietzel, with APD’s Crisis Intervention Unit, said meth use can exacerbate paranoia and violent behaviors among those with underlying disorders, such as schizophrenia, or already suffering a mental heath crisis.

He said that combined with officers showing up unaware of the situation, that can lead to a deadly confrontation and “the officers are kind of set up to fail.”

Before closing, Medina said he has had family affected by meth use.

“There are no easy answers or solutions to this and, as a community … we have to have these discussions in order for us to ensure that families have resources,” he said. “If I struggle to get some of my loved ones the assistance they need, as deputy chief of police, what is available out there for the general public?”

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