Family sues city to obtain records in police shooting - Albuquerque Journal

Family sues city to obtain records in police shooting

Investigators collect evidence after Albuquerque police officers shot and killed 27-year-old Keshawn Thomas at a Valero gas station on Aug. 28. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Journal)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

The 27-year-old man who was shot and killed by three Albuquerque Police Department officers at a West Side gas station late last month had given the officers a magazine and told them he had a gun in the trunk of his car before he was shot, according to a search warrant affidavit filed in 2nd Judicial District Court.

Keshawn Thomas, 27 (Courtesy of the Thomas family)

“My understanding is that he lawfully owned the weapon …,” said attorney Taylor Smith, who is representing Keshawn Thomas’ family. “It’s also my understanding that he always kept the gun and magazine separate from one another – like a responsible gun owner would.”

Thomas’ family has filed a lawsuit against the city alleging it has not produced records requested under the Inspection of Public Records Act. Smith said he has also been retained to investigate for a wrongful death lawsuit.

The shooting was the 12th by APD officers this year. Out of those cases, seven people were killed and one was injured. In the remaining shootings the officers missed but in one case it turned out a man had killed himself before they fired.

All shootings by law enforcement in Bernalillo County are investigated by a Multi-Agency Task Force. APD typically does a media briefing in the weeks following shootings by its officers.

“The city will respond in court to the lawsuit,” said APD spokesman Gilbert Gallegos. “We plan to have a news conference next week to provide preliminary results from the investigation, including video.”

August shooting

The entire encounter – from when officers arrived on the scene to when they fired shots – lasted about five minutes, according to a warrant to search Thomas’ car that was filed after the shooting.

Around 11:15 p.m. Aug. 28, officers were called to a Valero gas station on Coors, near Quail NW, because the clerk reported a car had been parked in one of the gasoline bays for about four hours, according to the affidavit.

When the officers arrived they found Thomas in his 2022 green Dodge Challenger.

In a briefing at the scene hours after the shooting, Chief Harold Medina said the officers thought Thomas “may be intoxicated and passed out.” He said the officers had Thomas step out of the car and he started to smoke a cigarette so they asked him to move away from the gasoline.

Medina said that at some point Thomas re-entered the vehicle and “some kind of confrontation occurred between the officer and the individual and multiple officers fired shots.”

According to the search warrant affidavit, the clerk told investigators she saw the officers talking with a man, later identified as Thomas, on the sidewalk for several minutes.

“The officers walked the individual back to his vehicle where she observed the individual start the vehicle (this was indicated to her by the headlights coming on),” a detective wrote in the affidavit. “A few minutes later (the clerk) heard gunshots.” Thomas was taken to the hospital, where he died.

The detective reviewed the lapel camera footage of the shooting and said that during the encounter the officers told Thomas “he appears intoxicated and needs to call for a ride.”

He said Thomas handed the officer a magazine and told them he had a gun in the trunk.

“The suspect enters his vehicle and is observed reaching around the seat and console area,” the detective wrote in the affidavit. “Officers tell the suspect to get his cellphone and exit the vehicle. One officer standing near the driver’s side door, walks up to the driver side of the vehicle and yells ‘gun’ approximately three times before all three officers fire their weapons at the suspect.”

The officers told APD dispatch that after the shooting they removed a firearm from Thomas’ person and placed it in the trunk of his car.

The return and inventory on the search warrant states that the detective found a projectile, magazine, and firearm accessories in the car.

Records request

The day after Thomas was shot, his mother filed a records request asking for audio, video, photographs, Computer Aided Dispatch records, reports, and all written communication within APD about the incident or about press releases.

She received a reply saying it was “excessively burdensome and broad” and the City Clerk’s Office requested an “additional reasonable period of time.”

Smith said he has received audio CADs from dispatch but they were incredibly hard to hear. He filed the lawsuit on Tuesday asking the city to produce the rest of the records and for damages, costs and attorney fees.

In the days after Thomas was shot, his friends and family held a vigil and protest at the gas station, calling for an end to police violence.

Smith said Thomas had a younger brother who spoke at the vigil, saying he was a great older brother who always made time for him and would come home so they could play video games together.

Thomas grew up in Albuquerque, graduated from Del Norte High School in 2013 and attended Central New Mexico Community College off and on from the 2013 fall term through the 2017 spring term, majoring in welding. Smith said he was working nights.

In an obituary, Thomas’ family said he brought a smile to everyone who crossed his path and loved being a son, big brother, boyfriend and friend.

“He had a big heart, always making everyone around him laugh,” the obituary states. “He was a humble person with a beautiful spirit. He loved sports, music, movies, family get-togethers, fishing, and traveling. He always tried to do the right thing.”

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