Shot officer’s wife blames mayor, APD chief

APD Officer James Eichel, left, listens as Tryna Verbeck , wife of injured APD Officer Mario Verbeck, calls out Mayor Tim Keller and APD leaders for the response to the shooting. Both Eichel and Verbeck, along with two other officers, were injured last month during a shootout with a robbery suspect. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

The wife of an Albuquerque police officer who was shot during a gun battle last month blasted Mayor Tim Keller and Police Chief Harold Medina on Monday, saying the two were “equally accountable” for her husband’s shooting.

Tryna Verbeck said the Albuquerque Police Department has “fallen apart” under Keller and Medina, pointing to low staffing numbers during a news event organized by the Fraternal Order of Police.

Verbeck’s husband, Mario, was one of four officers injured Aug. 19 after a shootout with a robbery suspect near a coffee shop in Northeast Albuquerque.

Mario Verbeck, who was critically injured after being shot in the neck, was released from the University of New Mexico Hospital on Thursday. Officer James Eichel, who attended Monday’s event, was shot in the arm. APD Sgt. Sean Kenny was hit in his bulletproof vest and officer Harry Gunderson was hit by shrapnel.

Tryna Verbeck said staffing is a “joke” at APD, and criticized the number of officers doing “non-police work” as opposed to responding to calls.

“When my husband was on duty at the time of the shooting, there were only five officers on patrol in my husband’s squad in the Foothills area,” Tryna Verbeck said, adding that four of those five were injured in the shooting.

Medina agreed in a news release following Verbeck’s news conference that staffing is an issue.

“There is no doubt that morale among officers was impacted by several issues and events over the past year-and-a-half – from the anti-police protests in 2020, to the challenges of the pandemic and the struggles resulting from mandates by the (Department of Justice) settlement,” Medina said in the release. “As a result, we have lost officers to retirement or decisions to leave the profession.”

Medina acknowledged that officers do not feel supported.

“At the same time, we can’t simply move every officer to patrol the streets, as some have suggested,” he said in the release. “I don’t have the authority to defy a court order. But we have to be honest about the reality we face.”

Tryna Verbeck, who spoke for less than 10 minutes and left without taking questions, also criticized a “revolving door” in New Mexico’s criminal justice system.

“We are letting out repeat offenders only to offend over and over,” she said.

Los Angeles resident James Ramirez, the suspect in the shooting, was on parole until February in connection with a burglary case from California. According to APD spokesman Gilbert Gallegos, Ramirez had not been arrested in New Mexico since arriving in the state before the shooting.

In a written release, Keller, who is running for reelection, also acknowledged pressures on the department, and pointed to the city’s new Metro Crime Initiative, a series of meetings with law enforcement and community partners, as a way to address problems in the criminal justice system. He also said the city has raised concerns to the DOJ, the court monitors and the federal delegation, “because we can’t continue to improve if officers do not feel supported.” Keller added that his administration has increased funding to APD every year.

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