Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
Around 9:15 a.m. police radios crackled with the voices of officers called to an armed robbery in Northeast Albuquerque. Police moved in as they saw the suspects walking in an alleyway behind a tire shop.
Within minutes, an officer reported “shots fired” to dispatch, then “reloading.” The same officer, now out of breath, called out “two officers down.”
“Can you hurry it up guys,” the officer said frantically. “He’s hurt really bad.”
Albuquerque police say four officers were injured, one critically, and a suspect was hit by gunfire during a shootout beside a crowded drive-thru lane of a coffee shop near Mountain and Juan Tabo.
Mayor Tim Keller called the incident an “incredible tragedy” that “ripples through our entire community” during a news conference outside University of New Mexico Hospital, where the officers and suspect were being treated.
Hospital officials said one officer was shot in the neck above his bulletproof vest and remains in critical condition. A second officer was shot in the forearm. A third officer was hit in his bulletproof vest and would have sustained “catastrophic injuries” had it not been for the vest. A fourth officer was treated after being hit in the eye by “shrapnel.”
Keller said, “The entire Central New Mexico area is certainly, right now, either in a state of shock, state of grieving or, frankly, a state of fear. Our community is in this together, no matter what the causes, no matter what the problems, no matter what the answers are.”
The suspected shooter, who was treated for a gunshot wound, was in custody at a hospital.
Authorities said a second suspect in the armed robbery, who did not fire at police and fled the scene, was either arrested on warrants nearby, involved in a fatal rollover near East Central or is still on the loose.
Police did not give the names of the suspects or officers.
4 recent incidents of officers fired on
Albuquerque Police Chief Harold Medina said the prosecution of the shooting suspect may be handed over to federal authorities who have pledged their assistance.
“This has been a challenging day but we appreciate the support, especially from our partners in law enforcement,” Medina said. “At the same time, it is incredibly frustrating that over the course of the past few weeks we have had four incidents in the metro area where law enforcement has been fired upon.”
Since July 5, according to authorities, FBI agents killed a man who shot an agent, hitting his bulletproof vest; an APD officer was struck by glass shards after his windshield was hit by gunfire that left another person dead; and APD officers shot and injured a man who fired at them from a bait car.
Medina would not detail Thursday’s shooting except to say it started with officers responding to reports of two men robbing another person at gunpoint. He said one suspect fired at officers and injured four of them. The shooter was shot and detained.
Witness: ‘Almost 30 or 40 shots’
A video of the incident posted to Facebook showed numerous vehicles in the Dutch Bros Coffee drive-thru as dozens of gunshots rang out and an officer with a rifle could be seen moving around a police vehicle.
Richard Griego, a manager of Goodwill across the street, said he was sitting in his car when he heard what sounded like a couple of car backfires.
“I rolled down my window and could see the puffs (of bullets) hitting the building of Federico’s – firing going back and forth – almost 30 or 40 shots,” he said. “It was sporadic at first, continuous, then it stopped and then it kept going a little bit.”
Griego said it appeared officers were using two of their vehicles for cover as they fired from the Dutch Bros Coffee and there was gunfire coming back from the Federico’s parking lot.
Leighann Begay and Garrett Bradley said they pulled up across the street as police converged on the area. Bradley said they saw a man on the ground and he was lifted into an ambulance, which drove off with its lights on.
Begay said they spoke to a woman who said she was getting coffee from Dutch Bros when a multitude of gunshots rang out and bullets began ricocheting around her. Begay said the woman told her she jumped into a stranger’s car and the two sped off as officers with assault rifles engaged a suspect.
Gilbert Gallegos, an Albuquerque police spokesman, said the second suspect ran off on foot and set off an hourslong manhunt through surrounding neighborhoods.
Hundreds of officers from APD, New Mexico State Police, the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives descended on the area, blocking off large swaths of Juan Tabo as they searched for the suspect. A police helicopter, small plane and drone circled a neighborhood to the west and officers in an armed vehicle could be seen driving into the neighborhood. An officer with an assault rifle hung out of a top hatch of the vehicle.
Dozens of onlookers gathered in parking lots and on nearby business roofs south of the scene on Juan Tabo, watching undercover vehicles, the Mobile Crime Lab, and various armored vehicles arrive.
Shelby Slack and Nick Bunch live about a mile from the scene and said they heard a couple of gunshots around 9:15 am.
Then they heard many more shots “in quick succession” and the blaring of sirens. They said they knew immediately from the sound of it that something bad had happened.
2nd suspect: May be dead or on run
Gallegos, the APD spokesman, said one man was detained nearby but police could not verify that he was the second suspect. They booked one man on arrest warrants as they investigated further.
Gallegos said another theory is that the suspect fled in a vehicle that was in a fatal rollover crash soon after in the Foothills. Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office responded to that crash and said one person died at the scene and two others were hospitalized.
BCSO spokeswoman Jayme Fuller said the vehicle was seen speeding near Central and Tramway before it took the exit at Sedillo Hill and flipped into a ravine.
“Deputies were not in pursuit of the vehicle at the time of the rollover,” she said. “We don’t have additional details on the incident.”
Gallegos said it’s also possible that the second suspect got away.
“In the weeks to come, we will be revaluating what occurred today, who the suspects were, what their history was and where we could’ve intervened a little bit better,” Medina said, noting that the criminal justice system has to come together as a whole.
But Medina said that, in some cases, the community has to “draw a line in the sand.”
“We can’t think that we can assist every individual; there are some individuals that, quite frankly, probably should stay in jail and we can’t be afraid to say that,” he said.