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An officer who shot at an unarmed auto theft suspect – but missed – in a motel parking lot in April has been fired after an internal affairs investigation determined his use of force “was not reasonable, necessary, proportional, minimal or within department policy.”
The investigation found the officer fired without having a clear view of what was unfolding.
Meanwhile, a second officer who shot and injured the suspect was cleared of wrongdoing because he could see the suspect and thought he was holding a gun in a shooting stance.
Jerry Arnold was terminated on Sept. 12.
He had been with the Albuquerque Police Department since 2003 and was a detective in the auto theft unit at the time of the shooting.
Arnold’s attorney said the policy he was found to have violated stated that “an officer shall not use deadly force against an individual unless the officer has probable cause to believe an individual poses a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or anyone else.”
Despite the termination, an APD spokeswoman said the department is looking at options to keep Arnold on the payroll.
“After evaluating Mr. Arnold’s history with the department, we are working to transition him into a civilian position,” spokeswoman Rebecca Atkins said. “Chief (Harold) Medina feels Mr. Arnold still has value to the organization as he was in good standing prior to this incident.”
Shannon Candelario, a 46-year-old from Algodones, was struck twice in the abdomen and treated at the hospital before being booked into jail on a bench warrant several weeks later. He was not charged with anything relating to the events leading up to the shooting.
Candelario could not be reached on Thursday and neither his family nor his attorney responded to messages from the Journal.
Where the issues lie
Officials have said that officers spotted Candelario in a stolen red Chevy Volt and tracked him to a Motel 6 on Central near Tramway. That’s where they saw him leave the lobby and walk toward the car.
Lapel camera footage shows several officers following Candelario. Arnold, his gun drawn, yelled out “I can’t see what’s in his hands. I think it’s a knife.”
When Candelario reached the driver’s side door he pulled something out of his pocket and quickly extended his arm. Detective Damian Lujan – who later told investigators he thought Candelario had a gun – fired. Candelario was actually holding a black key fob.
Arnold fired too, hitting nearby vehicles.
He told investigators that when he heard Lujan’s gunshots he “believed” Candelario was the one firing, according to the investigation by the Internal Affairs Force Division, which was released to the Journal in response to a request under the Inspection of Public Records Act.
“This assumption is a large leap, especially when there was no evidence to support his assumption,” a supervisor wrote after reviewing the investigator’s findings. “Ofc. Arnold failed to provide any evidence indicating he had probable cause to believe Mr. Candelario posed a deadly threat. OBRD evidence shows that Det. Arnold clearly was not sure of his target. Mr. Candelario was completely out of view when Det. Arnold discharged his firearm. In fact, Det. Arnold was not even sure of where Det. Lujan was positioned, which is another concern all by itself.”
The supervisor found Lujan to be within policy since he “discharged his duty handgun twice in order to stop the threat he perceived to be unfolding.”
John D’Amato, an attorney for the police union, said he’s appealing Arnold’s termination.
“I don’t think the city adequately gave due weight to Jerry’s perception of a deadly threat,” he said.
He said Arnold worked for New Mexico State Police before being hired by APD. He had not been involved in any other shootings while at APD.
“He really has a good attitude about this. He knows where the issues lie. He knows what the fight’s about – a pretty positive individual …,” D’Amato said. “It’s just bizarre, but I don’t think you’ll find one person on this department – up to and including the chief – everybody thinks he’s a great guy.”
Caught off guard
Shortly after the internal investigation began Arnold and Lujan filed petitions with the city’s Labor Management Relations Board alleging that a civilian investigator reviewing their actions was biased and the case should be transferred to a “neutral third party” instead.
That request was ultimately denied.
The basis of their complaint was that they were notified 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.”
Their attorney, Fred Mowrer, argued that the language was offensive and the men were caught off guard.
Arnold was found to have violated that policy.
The investigator also raised concerns that the officers on scene didn’t activate their lapel cameras during the investigation or during their surveillance of Candelario’s actions and she had concerns about who supervised the incident.
Those issues were referred for another internal affairs investigation. That investigation was not immediately available and Atkins, the APD spokeswoman, could not answer questions about it.
The case is also being investigated by the Multi-Agency Task Force, which conducts the criminal investigation into shootings by officers. That investigation is ongoing.