Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal
The Albuquerque Police Department is investigating whether the two detectives who shot at an unarmed man suspected of driving a stolen car, injuring him, did so without reasonable grounds to believe he posed a threat.
Ten days after the April shooting, detective Jerry Arnold and detective Damian Lujan were sent letters from Chief Harold Medina notifying them that “it is alleged that you used deadly force against an individual without probable cause to believe an individual poses a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to you or anyone else. Additionally, it is alleged that you did not record a law enforcement encounter.”
In response, a union attorney representing the detectives filed a petition with the city’s Labor Management Relations Board alleging that the civilian investigator reviewing their actions is biased and the case should be transferred to a “neutral third party” instead.
The board held a meeting on the petition for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunctive relief in May.
Gilbert Gallegos, an APD spokesman, said the request was denied because the Albuquerque Police Officers’ Association did not meet its burden of proof. He said the investigation will proceed as it normally would and is on track to be completed within the deadlines required by the collective bargaining agreement with the union.
But advocates for police reform say they have long been concerned about the APOA’s “efforts to interfere with legitimate use of force investigations and shielding officers from accountability for unlawful uses of force.”
“We suspect its attempt to obtain a restraining order against an (Internal Affairs Force Division) investigator in this instance is another example of its obstructionist tactics,” wrote Barron Jones, the senior policy strategist with the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico. “Timely and thorough internal investigations help keep police from continuing past patterns of excessive force and unconstitutional policing.”
“For years now, APOA leaders have claimed that they support reforms taking place within the department while quietly working to undermine accountability and transparency behind the scenes,” Jones added.
A team of external investigators assisting the Internal Affairs Force Division also appeared to be concerned about the union’s interference in the case.
“If successful, APOA’s application would have seriously impacted the timetables set forth in the relevant documents regarding (use of force) investigations,” the team wrote in their most recent quarterly report. “However, the City’s Legal Department successfully defeated the APOA’s application and the application was denied in its totality.”
The man who was shot – Shannon Candelario, a 46-year-old from Algodones – was released from the hospital and booked into jail more than five weeks later on unrelated charges. He has since been released and is not facing any charges related to the shooting or the car theft but continues to suffer from his injuries.
The incident was the fifth time Albuquerque police officers have shot someone this year. The four other times were fatal.
In three of the earlier instances police say the person who was shot was armed with a gun. In the fourth, police say the person who was shot was reported to be armed and was aiming what turned out to be a cellphone – like it was a gun – at officers.
The basis for the petition asking to re-assign the interviews with the two detectives lies in the language used in the letters they were sent notifying them of the internal investigation. They also referenced hearing rumors that the Internal Affairs Force Division “does not intend to conduct a fair investigation into these officers.”
Gallegos could not answer questions about the shooting or the investigation.
He did say that all use of force cases – including shootings – undergo an administrative investigation.
“Target letters are sent if a potential policy violation is identified,” Gallegos said. “But an investigation must be conducted before concluding whether there was, in fact, a policy violation.”
However, during the labor board hearing, attorney Fred Mowrer said the language used in the target letters was “offensive” and the two detectives “were caught off guard.” Mowrer did not respond to requests for comment from the Journal, but another union attorney said he had never seen a letter with language like that before.
“It was showing that somebody was accusing them of committing a violent crime because it made an allegation that you have used force without the proper justification,” Mowrer said. “Typically the notices that come out of the department don’t say it quite as bluntly as that. They reference a (standard operating procedures) section and tell the officers that there’s going to be an investigation concerning this section.”
Lujan, who at one point was overcome with emotion, said at the labor board hearing that he felt Candelario posed a threat and he “was in fear that I wasn’t going to go home to my wife and daughter that night.”
He noted that “hindsight is 20/20,” and the investigator should not judge the actions through that lens.
But Ian Stoker, an assistant city attorney, argued that the investigator on the case was following the procedures that required officers be notified when they’re being investigated.
“We can agree that if an officer is entitled to know the allegations against them, that could include potentially serious policy violations, right?” Stoker asked at the hearing. “The city is under no obligation to sugarcoat those allegations, are they?”
“Not that I’m aware of,” Arnold replied.
Arnold, with the auto theft unit, has worked for APD since 2003 and has not been involved in any previous shootings.
Lujan, who is with the gun violence street team, has worked there since 2007 and has shot three other people. In 2011, he shot and injured Orlando Paisano, who police say was approaching officers with a machete. In 2019, he and another officer fatally shot Daniel James Wood during a SWAT standoff in which police say Wood was holding his girlfriend hostage and pointed a gun at them when they entered the apartment. Police said Lujan was also involved in a 2020 shooting, but did not confirm the details of that case.
On the night of April 12, APD officers spotted a red Chevy Volt on Central and Pennsylvania. It had been reported stolen from Santa Fe earlier in the day.
Police say when officers tried to pull over the car the driver fled. They attached a StarChase GPS device to the car.
At a news conference last month, Deputy Cmdr. Kyle Hartsock said officers tracked the car through the streets without pursuing it and at some point a male passenger was dropped off. The passenger told officers that the driver was Candelario and he didn’t know if he was armed or had any drugs with him.
Eventually the stolen vehicle, and the officers, ended up at a Motel 6 on Central near Tramway.
Hartsock said the detectives watched Candelario go into the lobby and then saw him leave and start to walk toward the stolen car.
APD released videos that showed the shooting after the news conference. Many are blurred or muted in the period after Candelario was shot. Police did not release photos of the officers, saying that they work in sensitive investigative units.
Detective Arnold’s lapel camera video shows him following behind Candelario with his gun drawn, yelling “I can’t see what’s in his hands. I think it’s a knife.”
“Detective Lujan stated that he also observed the subject reach into his pocket and pull something small out that he believed was a small black handgun,” Hartsock said. “The male then quickly extended his arm while yelling at detective Lujan. Detective Lujan fired his weapon at this subject striking him. Detective Arnold also fired his weapon but hit his truck and vehicle, causing only property damage.”
As it turned out, the object in Candelario’s hand had been a key fob with a small red padlock.
He was taken to the hospital and then booked into the county jail more than a month later on a warrant for not complying with pretrial services.
When asked about officers using force against what turned out to be an unarmed man, Chief Medina stressed that the Multi Agency Task Force is investigating whether the actions were legal and an administrative investigation is also underway. He also said he hoped the Force Review Board – made up of upper level APD staff – will make recommendations about how to deal with such situations.
“Officers have very little reaction time when something occurs,” Medina said. “The officer thought they were pulling out a black hand gun. And so those are all the things that will be taken into consideration … and then we will look to see how we can change this in the future or if we can train officers for these situations.”
He added that it may be a matter of using different tactics – such as slowing things down and establishing a perimeter – to prevent officers from having to make those quick decisions.
Court documents filed against Candelario over the past two years show he was struggling with issues related to drug use. In the past year and a half he was arrested at least four times on new charges for possession of a controlled substance or drug paraphernalia.
Some of those cases were dismissed. Others are pending.
When reached by phone last week, Candelario’s mother said she was with her son at the doctor’s office and he is not well. She said she could not discuss the shooting at this time but said that she doesn’t think he’ll ever be the same.
Maya Lindgren, Candelario’s public defender, did not want to comment on the shooting or its aftermath except to say they are very concerned about his health – which continues to suffer.
“As far as the shooting coming under scrutiny, it is important that we as a community have the facts to gain a clear understanding of what happened during this encounter,” Lindgren wrote in a statement. “It should not be taken lightly when police officers shoot a member of our community, and the truth about what happened should not be concealed.”