On Aug. 22, 2019, Roger Schafer was shot to death by several Albuquerque Police Department officers at a bus stop after APD received several reports that Schafer was waving and pointing a weapon at passing vehicles.
The conclusion was presented by APD’s Internal Affairs Force Division (IAFD) to the Force Review Board on April 23, 2020, that the shooting was within policy and there was no officer misconduct.
A year later, on Aug. 12, the Civilian Police Oversight Agency (CPOA) board reviewed the FRB report of the 2019 fatal shooting. The CPOA director’s review of the IAFD investigation concluded there was, in fact, misconduct by four officers. Another officer tried to fire his weapon, but failed to chamber a round, so the director did not consider he violated policy.
A body camera video shows officers see and discuss Schafer laying down on his back, knees up, relaxed, his arms over his head covering his eyes, no weapon in his hands as they approach. He initially complied with commands, but became agitated and confrontational until he “reached for his waist” sitting on the bench.
The board discussion of this fatal shooting identified numerous deficiencies in tactics, policy, training, equipment and supervision that prompted unanimous concerns and robust discussion. Specific issues included a rushed response with no plan for the engagement, no one in charge, failure to use vehicles for cover, standing in the open, placing officers at risk and reducing de-escalation options, and limiting their array of force options resulting in the shooting. The board was incensed when an officer noticed Schafer was still breathing and it took five minutes – the board timed the video – before any officer began CPR or other medical intervention.
The board wrote a letter to the APD chief outlining questions they would like answered, both in writing and orally, at their September 2021 meeting. The September presentation was postponed until Oct. 14. Director (Ed) Harness reported that Deputy Chief JJ Griego would be available to report on OIS 19-0077270 at the October meeting. The deputy chief did not show up and the board, yet again, renewed its request with another letter for APD to appear at the Nov. 4 meeting.
In basic tactical training, among other things, officers are told to use distance, time and protective cover to mitigate the potential danger of an encounter, and expand the amount of time and options the officer has to respond. The board’s questions suggest concerns that the officers made tactical and other mistakes that put them in positions of danger. The mistakes created a situation of imminent threat requiring “split-second” judgments where there likely were other options to decrease the imminent threat and provide de-escalation opportunities.
The issues the board is contemplating go beyond only the facts and circumstances known to the officers at the moment the officers chose to use deadly force. They included consideration of the officers’ antecedent conduct that may have increased the risk of a deadly confrontation. The board should be applauded for considering antecedent conduct as part of any after-action use-of-force incident, as SWAT evidently does, even if not considered so in criminal cases. Now, if they can just get APD to respond to their requests.