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On lapel camera videos Keshawn Thomas appeared to be confused and intoxicated when he sat down in the front seat of his 2022 Dodge Challenger to search the center console.
It was a little after 11 p.m. Aug. 28 and officers had been called because he was passed out in his car – parked in the bay of a West Side gas station for about 2½ hours.
The 27-year-old told officers he was “going through a hard time” and they argued back and forth for several minutes before asking him to call someone for a ride home. Thomas handed an officer a loaded gun magazine and said he had a gun in the trunk before getting into the driver’s seat to look for his phone.
His legs were out of the car and he gestured halfheartedly raising his hands a couple of times. Then, he appeared to twist around to pick something up.
That’s when, police say, one of the officers spotted a gun in his hand.
Officials with the Albuquerque Police Department held a news conference Tuesday afternoon releasing details and video of the shooting and another involving an officer that occurred six days earlier.
“On the video you’ll see Officer (Marcos) Flores yells ‘gun, gun, gun,’ and say that Thomas starts to tilt the gun towards him when he made the decision to fire,” said Deputy Cmdr. Kyle Hartsock of APD’s Criminal Investigations Division. “Both additional officers on scene also draw their weapons after Flores and also fire into the car. All three officers in their post interview would state that they saw a gun in Thomas’ hand.”
He said the officers fired a total of 16 times. Thomas was taken to the hospital, where he died.
Hartsock said a gun found in Thomas’ car had one round in the chamber and no magazine, but a magazine that appeared to fit it was on the driver’s seat.
Officer Flores and Officer Dustin Ketchum have been with APD since March 2021 and Officer Kenneth Skeens has been with the department since June 2018. None has been involved in any other shootings.
Hartsock said the three officers had not yet been released by APD’s behavioral sciences division to return to work. But they are expected to come back Friday.
The shooting sparked a protest at the scene – the Valero gas station on Coors NW near Quail – and Thomas’ family filed a lawsuit alleging the city has not released documents it requested, including video.
Their attorney, Taylor Smith, said after seeing the video played at the news conference he “does not believe in any way what we were shown justifies APD’s use of force … including the number of shots fired.”
He said Thomas, who owned the gun legally, was mistaken about where his firearm was.
“He had informed them that he had a gun, provided them with the magazine, and several times showed officers his hands as an obvious attempt to convey that he was not a threat in any way,” Smith wrote in a statement. “At the time that officers shot, they were not under any true threat from our client, there is nothing in the video showing him brandishing the firearm at the officers, as alluded to in the press conference. I think this case still raises issues related to lawful gun ownership.”
APD Chief Harold Medina pushed back against the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico for demanding the release of the videos in the days after the incident. All shootings by APD officers are investigated by the Multi-Agency Task Force, Internal Affairs Force Division and are reviewed by the Force Review Board – made up of city and command staff.
“They know that we have to conduct an investigation and that when we’re able to we’ve been fully transparent to release a video,” Medina said. “To claim without knowing the facts that this was an unnecessary and preventable death prior to this incident, I think it’s very difficult for somebody to make any statements towards it.”
He said there were some things the officers did well – “particular officers come across situations and instead of trying to force an arrest, try to work with an individual, and try to get the individual home safely.” But other things could have been done differently – “we can be better at controlling our frustrations and the way we communicate with individuals.”
“We’ve seen the whole gamut of this during the whole course of the past year in our community where the mixture of firearms and alcohol have lead to tragic results for the community,” Medina said. “And this is going to be another one of those tragedies.”