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An autopsy report has ruled as a homicide the death of a 15-year-old boy killed in a fire sparked by the Albuquerque Police Department’s SWAT team during an hourslong standoff this summer.
The state Office of the Medical Investigator determined Brett Rosenau was alive when the house he was in caught fire on July 7, according to a recently released autopsy report that revealed soot in his lungs, burns across 95% of his body and high levels of carbon monoxide in his system.
The autopsy states the cause of death as smoke inhalation and severe burns, and the manner as homicide. The autopsy said a contributing factor was “toxic effects of cocaine,” but the level was lower than those seen in intoxicated drivers and three times lower than that seen in cocaine-related emergency room visits.
“Given the circumstances, cocaine could have both impaired decision-making and increased the body’s need for oxygen, contributing to the cause of death,” according to the autopsy.
An APD spokesman declined to comment on the case.
Months ago, Albuquerque Fire Rescue investigators determined authorities sparked the fire, which AFR ruled accidental, during a standoff as APD tried to take Qiaunt Kelley, 27, into custody on a parole violation warrant in Southeast Albuquerque.
Hours into the standoff, according to police, a Bernalillo County Sheriff’s deputy working with APD’s SWAT team threw a pepper-spray canister into a home with Rosenau and Kelley inside. The canister, one of several devices thrown or fired by SWAT into the home, landed on a mattress and the home caught fire within a few hours.
Kelley surrendered as flames consumed the home and firefighters found Rosenau dead inside one of the rooms after the blaze was put out.
Kelley has since been charged in a homicide and unrelated shooting.
Since his death, APD has said Rosenau was the suspect in a nonfatal shooting days earlier and the teen would have been charged had he survived.
The Multi-Agency Task Force is investigating the actions of law enforcement in the incident and if any policies or procedures were violated.
The Attorney General’s Office is conducting an independent investigation into the incident at the request of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, Rosenau’s family and APD Chief Harold Medina.
Taylor Smith, an attorney for the Rosenau family, told the Journal he will be filing a wrongful death suit against the city of Albuquerque and Bernalillo County.
Smith called the autopsy report a “terribly sad and grim portrait that’s painted of how our client died.” He agreed with Rosenau’s death being deemed a homicide.
“That’s our theory of what happened and I think a lot of other people in the city of Albuquerque believe that’s what happened, too,” Smith said.