Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
The officer who shot and killed an armed man after responding to a domestic dispute in Ventana Ranch two months ago has now shot four people in his six years with the Albuquerque Police Department.
Officer Bryce Willsey was one of several to respond to the 10000 block of Coyote Canyon NW in mid-April, but the only one who fired a shot.
Juan James Cordova, 51, was struck once in the chest. He died at the scene in the driveway of his house. APD released photos of a gun found near his body.
In previous shootings – one each year since 2018 – Willsey had been among several officers who opened fire. He has been with the department since 2015.
He was one of four officers who shot Daniel Saavedra-Arreola in an empty apartment building in January 2018 when he jumped out of the closet, swinging a metal pipe and knife. He was one of five officers who shot Jason Scott Perez in December 2019 after Perez was spotted in a car with a stolen license plate and fired a gun inside the car. And he was one of two officers who shot Orlando Abeyta in January 2020 after Abeyta pointed a BB gun that resembled a real gun at people at a bus stop and at officers. All three men were killed.
APD Chief Harold Medina said it’s always concerning when an officer has been involved in multiple shootings, both because of the “optics to the public” and because of the effects it could have on an officer’s mental health.
Medina said after the April shooting Willsey asked to be temporarily taken out of the field and is now working in the missing persons unit.
“We’re grateful that the officer himself wanted to be removed from the field and kind of take a back step to gather himself and ensure that everything is OK,” he said. “We’ll continue to monitor the situation and give resources as needed.”
Attorney John D’Amato, a police union lawyer who is representing Willsey, said officers don’t go out looking to shoot people.
“Police officers don’t create the action, they react to the suspect’s actions,” D’Amato said. “And when deadly force or a threat to others or themselves is apparent the policies require they use deadly force to stop that action.”
The Multi-Agency Task Force is continuing its investigation into the latest shooting, as is the Internal Affairs Force Division.
In a briefing Friday afternoon, Deputy Cmdr. Kyle Hartsock with the Criminal Investigation Division said the incident on April 16 unfolded after Cordova’s girlfriend called 911 shortly before 10 p.m.. She said Cordova had fired a gun at himself in their home and said “he could take them both out.” The girlfriend fled to a neighbor’s house and called for help.
Officers arrived and tried to call Cordova’s phone, but it went straight to voicemail, Hartsock said. He said Cordova was in his driveway, armed with a gun “off and on” and had pointed it at the officers.
At one point he fired a shot, Hartsock said, although he said investigators don’t know if it was aimed at police.
About 10 minutes later, video from a Ring home security system shows the scene as Cordova stands next to his vehicle in his driveway, swearing and yelling at officers to shoot him. APD also provided lapel camera footage.
“I’ve got a 45, 1911,” Cordova yells, an apparent reference to his handgun. He waves what looks like a gun toward the sky, the horizon and the ground yelling “Shoot! Shoot! Shoot!”
That’s when Willsey – who was posted up at a house across the street – fired one shot, killing Cordova.
Hartsock said investigators are still combing through videos and conducting interviews about what transpired.
In a news release, an APD spokesman wrote that Willsey had said he was aware that Cordova’s girlfriend was still nearby and he was concerned that Cordova might go looking for her or fire at an occupied home in the neighborhood.
“Officer Willsey said he saw Cordova point the gun in the direction of the officers to the north and then the officers to the west,” Gilbert Gallegos wrote in the release. “At this time, Officer Willsey said he believed the officers, along with the residents, were in danger and he fired his rifle one time.”
When reached by phone, Cordova’s girlfriend declined to comment to the Journal.
Third person shot
Cordova’s mother, Grace Epperson, said her second-oldest child was the father of two, had a grandchild and a family who loved him.
She said he was a good man and a happy person who was always wanting to have fun and ride his motorcycle. After Cordova’s death a local motorcycle group hosted a ride in his honor.
Epperson, who lives in Tucumcari where Cordova was raised, said she mostly just wants answers for why the incident escalated the way it did.
“I want to know why it went so bad,” she said. “You can get upset and stuff, but there’s always a way out of whatever happened. I don’t understand why it went to this. I didn’t even know he carried a gun.”
Cordova is the third person APD officers have shot this year, the second to have been killed. They also fired at a man, but missed, in February.
Medina said the two earlier cases are still being reviewed by the Internal Affairs Force Division.