Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
When officers Mario Verbeck and James Eichel spotted James Ramirez in an alley in Northeast Albuquerque, authorities say the 27-year-old had a pistol and four extended magazines on him.
Within minutes, Ramirez had fired 70 bullets and injured four officers – two of them seriously – before he was shot during a gunbattle in a crowded parking lot. The four officers had fired 65 bullets between them.
During a briefing Friday, Albuquerque Police Chief Harold Medina called the Aug. 19 incident “a very difficult moment” for the department. He said the back-to-back shootouts with Ramirez were something “out of a TV show,” one of which happened beside a packed drive-thru and left a nearby restaurant wall looking like “swiss cheese” with all the bullet holes.
“We’ve got to remember that these individuals in these situations are not only dangerous for law enforcement, they’re dangerous for citizens,” Medina said. “… Without a doubt, we’re very fortunate that citizens weren’t injured. And we have to look to see how we make changes, because luck is going to run out, and we got to do all we can to protect our community.”
Medina said it is not yet clear what the lifelong impact will be for the injured officers.
Verbeck was shot in the neck and arm, Eichel was shot in the forearm, Sgt. Sean Kenny was shot in his bulletproof vest and officer Harry Gunderson was struck in the eye by metal and glass fragments, which were removed surgically.
“I’m not only concerned about the physical impact but also the mental impact of how this is going to affect them the rest of their life,” Medina said. “Time will tell, and with time, we’ll see how people physically mend and how people mentally mend to everything that occurred that day.”
Medina said officers Verbeck and Eichel have yet to come back to work. Gunderson and Kenny have returned but asked to not be put back into the field. He said Gunderson is working on the administrative side of the department and Kenny is at the firearms range.
Medina said “time will tell” when and if they are ready to return to the field.
Deputy Commander Kyle Hartsock said they are still investigating how Ramirez, a convicted felon from Los Angeles, ended up in Albuquerque.
He said Ramirez had been in California in the weeks prior to the shooting and they have not identified any ties he has to Albuquerque.
“He has not made a statement in this case,” Hartsock said. Ramirez is currently being prosecuted federally with being a felon in possession of a firearm.
Hartsock said they do not know how Ramirez got the gun but it had not been reported stolen. He said the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is investigating where Ramirez got the gun.
Police say they have yet to identify the man who helped Ramirez allegedly rob someone at gunpoint and fled into a neighborhood when the bullets started flying. Hartsock asked anyone with information on his identity to call Crime Stoppers or police.
During the briefing Hartsock gave a play-by-play of the incident, played the 911 call that spurred the investigation and showed lapel videos of the ensuing shootouts:
Around 8:30 a.m. a teenager called 911 to report that he had been robbed at gunpoint by two men near Central and Western Skies. The teen and a friend told a dispatcher they had seen the two men go into a gas station near Juan Tabo and Copper.
Verbeck met with the teen in the parking lot of NAPA Auto Parts store at 9 a.m. and, 15 minutes later, spotted the suspects walking into a nearby alley. Officer Eichel arrived and he and Verbeck chased Ramirez and the other suspect down the alley.
Hartsock said Ramirez got into an “advantageous position” in the alley and, with “little warning,” fired at least 32 bullets at Verbeck and Eichel. The second suspect ran off into a neighborhood.
In Eichel’s lapel video, he runs down a narrow alley with Verbeck when gunfire erupts and he is hit. Eichel falls to the ground and blood flows from his left arm as he fires back with his other arm.
Eichel runs back toward the street where a police service aide puts a tourniquet on his arm and he calls out over the radio that he and Verbeck had been shot.
Rapid gunfire and approaching sirens can be heard in the distance as Gunderson and Kenny get into a second shootout with Ramirez.
Gunderson’s lapel video shows him pull into the Dutch Bros Coffee parking lot as calls of shots fired come over his radio. Gunderson gets out with his gun drawn and spots Ramirez between two parked cars.
Gunderson and Ramirez get into a lengthy shootout with Gunderson taking cover behind his vehicle and reloading multiple times. At one point, Ramirez shoots through Gunderson’s window – hitting the officer in the eye with metal and glass fragments.
Gunderson, out of breath and yelling expletives, takes a break to lean against his SUV before continuing the shootout. Eventually, a wounded Ramirez is laid out on the ground in the parking lot and officers approach and handcuff him.
Ramirez yells he can’t breathe and officers allow him to sit up as they put chest seals on his gunshot wounds. Kenny tells Gunderson his eye “is all jacked up” and, when asked, Kenny tells the other officers “I’m good, just a little pissed off … more than a little.” Hartsock said Kenny didn’t realize he had been shot in the vest until long after the shooting stopped. A bullet was found embedded in the chest area.
Medina said Ramirez was referred to federal partners for the “strongest prosecution possible.”
“Obviously we have concerns on our state system and its ability to keep people in jail. So we wanted to make sure that we took this to a federal prosecution in hopes that it’ll give us the maximum time possible,” he said.
Medina said the community has become vocal and set expectations in the aftermath of this case, which will serve as an example when they go to the Legislature to seek changes to the criminal justice system, which include making it easier for judges to keep defendants in custody when they are charged with certain crimes.
“The bottom line is, we’re at this point and we have to finally put our foot down and make some changes,” he said. “… I’ve seen us all come together to start those discussions to see how we’re going to make the changes necessary, because we simply cannot continue down this path – we make sure that we become a state that’s going to be tough on crime, and that people will be held accountable.”