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The Albuquerque Police Department on Thursday released photos and videos of an auto-theft suspect who was shot by officers as he was running away, a silver handgun clutched in his hand.
Eric Padilla, 33, died on the scene.
Police Chief Harold Medina said force investigators will determine if the officers’ actions followed policies, but it’s important to remember that an armed offender could present a danger to the community, not only the officers.
“We now have an individual who had no firearm in their hand, who has now elected to arm themselves with a firearm, who is still fleeing officers and who officers still have a legal objective of trying to arrest for committing a felony crime,” Medina said. “So I don’t want us to get stuck in the mind-set that an offender always has to point a firearm at an officer before the officers are in danger.”
Deputy Cmdr. Kyle Hartsock of the Criminal Investigations Division said that, on Aug. 15, Officer Christopher Mings spotted a stolen car on Lomas and Louisiana NE. He said Mings tried to pull the car over, but the driver fled.
“Officer Mings’ car had a StarChase device deployment system on it, which essentially glues a GPS tracker to a vehicle,” Hartsock said. “It was successful in attaching to the stolen car. The stolen car proceeded to drive away, very aggressively away, from Officer Mings while he was trying to pull them over.”
Mings didn’t chase the stolen car and instead the dispatch center tracked the GPS signal to a park near Morrow and Pennsylvania NE. That’s where Mings discovered the device had been removed and dropped on the street or the sidewalk.
Mings headed to a nearby Walmart, where he found the stolen car, Hartsock said. It had been abandoned, but officers found security camera footage that showed a man and a woman getting out of it.
The couple was found nearby. Lapel camera footage shows Mings and Officer Max Denerstein talking to Padilla, asking to search him for weapons.
Padilla turned over a knife, Hartsock said, but he did not want them to pat him down.
“Padilla suddenly just took off running,” he said. “He crosses Menaul, starts to turn around and run backwards, and this is where the shooting takes place.”
Shaky lapel camera video from both Mings and Denerstein shows the chase as Padilla crosses the street, and then turns around and heads back the other way. He can be seen pulling out a gun, and the officers yell “gun! gun! gun!” before firing at him several times.
Hartsock said the gun Padilla was carrying – which can be seen next to him in the video – has since been linked to three non-fatal shootings, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is working to learn more about where it came from. Padilla’s fingerprints were also found inside the stolen vehicle, Hartsock said.
He said the gun had malfunctioned and the casing was not ejected, but police do not know if Padilla had attempted to fire it at the officers. It’s possible he had pulled the trigger, but the gun did not fire.
The woman Padilla was with has not been charged.
Neither Mings – who has been with APD since 2018 – nor Denerstein – who joined APD in 2014 – have been involved in other shootings. Both have returned to their positions.
The police shooting was the first of three that week. Four days later, on Aug. 19, four officers were wounded in a shootout with an armed robbery suspect, who was also injured. And, the following day, officers shot a man they say was wielding a rifle and attempting to carjack a truck as he fled from police. That man was critically injured.
APD officers have shot eight people this year, four of whom died.