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Video released by the Albuquerque Police Department on Friday showed an officer shooting and killing 21-year-old Julian Sanchez after he crashed his car on Tramway early last month.
A blood-splattered gun was found in Sanchez’s car.
Officials say Officer Nicholas Steward said in his interview that he “believed that Sanchez fired the gun and started to point it at him so he fired.”
However, the gun does not appear to have been fired and the department is not “at a point to make a conclusion on” whether Sanchez pointed it at the officer, said APD Deputy Cmdr. Kyle Hartsock with the Criminal Investigations Division.
The case will continue to be investigated by the Internal Affairs Force Division and the Multi-Agency Task Force and will be reviewed by the Force Review Board – made up of APD and city officials.
When reached Friday, Sanchez’s family said they did not have anything to say at this time.
Sanchez’s sister had previously told the Journal he didn’t do drugs and didn’t hang out with the wrong crowd. She said his gun was legally owned and she didn’t think he would be a threat to officers.
The incident unfolded in the early morning hours of Nov. 5 after Sanchez and his friend – a 25-year-old man whom police did not identify – had been drinking at a casino, Hartsock said. He said Sanchez was driving south on Tramway when he crashed into a sign in the median near Menaul NE. Steward and his partner responded to the crash.
The other officer spoke with the passenger and had him get out of the car.
“Officer Steward began to approach the driver’s side of the vehicle to check on the male driver later identified as Julian Sanchez,” Hartsock said. “As Officer Steward approached the driver’s side of the vehicle, the partner officer yelled out that the driver had a gun. Officers gave verbal orders for the driver to drop the gun. Officer Steward fired his handgun and struck Sanchez several times.”
Video shows Steward opening the driver’s side door immediately after his partner yelled that there was a gun. He fired 10 shots.
Sanchez died in the car.
Steward, who is assigned to the Foothills Area Command, has been with APD since 2020 and has not been involved in any other shootings.
He was put on administrative leave following the shooting, which is standard. Hartsock said he is still in his “return to work process” so he is not yet back on duty.
The shooting is one of 18 by Albuquerque police this year. Ten people were killed, three were injured and in five cases the officers missed. In one of the cases in which the officer missed, the man had killed himself.
Sanchez’s shooting was similar in many ways to that of Keshawn Thomas, a 27-year-old who was fatally shot by three officers on Aug. 28 after they found him passed out at a West Side gas station. Police say Thomas also had reached for a gun in his car, but lapel camera video does not show him pointing it at officers. After seeing the video of that encounter, an attorney representing Thomas’s family said he does not believe what was shown justifies the officers shooting him.
Police Chief Harold Medina said the department has been talking with legislators about strengthening laws regarding having a firearm while consuming alcohol. He said it also wants to do an educational campaign for the public about the dangers of firearms and drinking.
“We’re lucky that we didn’t have a more serious accident related to the DWI …,” Medina said. “We have to have respect for firearms and the danger that they present, and recognize that there are laws that are created for a reason. And part of that reason is that it’s very difficult to deal with individuals under the influence of alcohol and who are not always in control of their actions.”
He said the cases will also be reviewed by the Force Review Board to see if it has any recommendations about how officers should deal with such incidents.
“Our next step is looking to see how we could look at situations and react differently to the situation and remove a little bit of the factor,” he said. “That is our next step, reviewing to see is there some other means for us to conduct ourselves during these situations and see how we could create more time and distance.”