Conduct of APD officers questioned - Albuquerque Journal

Conduct of APD officers questioned

Five officers, armed with lethal and less-lethal weapons, try to take Jesus Crosby into custody. When he stepped forward, carrying a sharp object that was later discovered to be nail clippers with the file extended, they shot him. (Courtesy APD)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

In the minutes leading up to Albuquerque police officers shooting and killing a man in the parking lot of their Downtown headquarters, they threatened over and over to tase him if he didn’t drop his knife and surrender.

Jesus Crosby had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and was wanted for trespassing at the prisoner transport center across the street. The “knife” the 41-year-old was holding turned out to be nail clippers with the file extended.

The nail clippers police say Jesus Crosby was holding when he moved toward police. Officers Chance Gore and Alex Couch shot and killed him. (Courtesy of APD)

At one point an officer on scene warned another that “if he takes a step and you don’t tase him I’m going to shoot him,” according to lapel camera video of the Nov. 10 incident.

But two more minutes and several more commands elapsed before Crosby took his final step forward. That’s when the officers took action – two shooting handguns and two deploying Tasers – all at the same time.

Crosby was struck. He was taken to the hospital, where he died.

Albuquerque Police Department officials released video of the shooting on Dec. 23. Since then Crosby’s family and advocates for the mentally ill have questioned why police didn’t de-escalate the situation through less-lethal force options.

Also last week chief Harold Medina announced a proposal to change use of force policies so officers can be authorized to use less-lethal weapons – like Tasers and bean bag shotguns – earlier in an encounter. APD officers have shot at 18 people this year, a marked increase over previous years. Ten people were killed and three were injured. In five cases the officers missed.

In an interview with the Journal about the proposed changes – before, he said, he had been debriefed on the specifics of Crosby’s shooting – Medina referenced a similar incident involving New Mexico State Police. In that case officers shot their duty rifles and a bean bag shotgun simultaneously, killing a man who had armed himself with a machete during a SWAT standoff.

“What we want to do is we want to make sure less lethal is being deployed way prior (before) we get to that point,” Medina said. “Because we’re having the same problems, if you think about it in some circumstances, it’s the simultaneous deployment of it. We want to make it so that less lethal is authorized beforehand.”

When asked about whether APD officers could have used only the less-lethal options and not deadly force against Crosby, Medina said he won’t know that until the case goes before the Force Review Board. He has also proposed having his executive staff and city attorneys review all of this year’s police shootings to see if there are “opportunities to use certain objects earlier” or trends that can be identified and addressed. That review is expected to begin in mid-January.

The shooting is also still under investigation by the Multi Agency Task Force and the Internal Affairs Force Division.

Perceived threat

Crosby, who went by Jesse, was born in Texas but lived most of his life in Albuquerque. He graduated from Rio Grande High School and was an athlete in his younger years – “he loved track, cross country and basketball almost as much as he loved to eat food,” his family wrote in an obituary.

“Jesse was a gentle giant and silly at heart,” the obituary states. “Jesse enjoyed talking to people and being with his family. Jesse’s smile and laugh were contagious, and you could count on Jesse to joke around in an effort to make you laugh.”

It was when he was in high school that he began to exhibit symptoms of mental illness, his mother and three brothers wrote in a statement sent to the Journal through their attorney. They said they “actively supported Jesus through his illness and we were always rewarded for it.”

“The shooting began not when the triggers were pulled, but when an officer commanded Jesus, who was visibly disoriented and physically unstable, ‘if you take one more step I’m going to shoot you,'” the family said. “APD officers had many defenses available to them against any threat they perceived from Jesus, including de-escalation and less-lethal force. Instead they pressured Jesus, needlessly promised to kill him if he took a step, and then killed him when he did.”

Attorney Joe Fine said he is in the process of evaluating the case and is filing records requests for police reports and videos.

In their statement the Crosby family said that although they had been shocked and angry after the shooting they hadn’t wanted to make assumptions regarding APD’s actions and had submitted multiple requests for the videos themselves. They hadn’t known the video was going to be released until the Journal called them as they were visiting Crosby’s grave.

“After APD apparently decided to ignore our requests and release the footage to local media instead of us, we watched our son’s last moments of life along with the rest of Albuquerque,” the family said. “The sadness of watching Jesus die is hard to endure. The senselessness of his death is unbearable.”

Known to police

Cmdr. Matt Dietzel, with APD’s Crisis Intervention Section, said Crosby was on the unit’s caseload at the time of the shooting and his officers had been working extensively to get him services.

However, he said, because Crosby was unhoused they had a hard time regularly finding him.

“You saw that he tended to go to the prison transport center,” Dietzel said. “The reason why those individuals that work in that location knew about Mr. Crosby was because our detectives went out multiple times to try to get him into treatment. Unfortunately, every time we would go out he had already left the area.”

Crosby had been arrested three times for criminal trespassing at the prisoner transport center on Fourth and Roma NW. So when he showed up there in the early morning hours of Nov. 10 a sergeant called for help detaining him.

Jesus Crosby, 41. (Courtesy of the Crosby family)

Crosby was also suspected of breaking a window at a bank across the street.

Footage released to the Journal show two officers – Sgt. Gregory Mondragon from the prisoner transport center and Officer Josh De Leon, who had just finished a booking at the center – try to detain Crosby on the sidewalk of APD headquarters.

He walked away across the parking lot instead, swearing at them, screaming and repeating “I’m going to die anyway” and “just kill me.”

Over the next eight minutes, five officers – some carrying less-lethal weapons, others pointing their guns – formed a line in front of Crosby. Two other officers hung back.

De Leon warned Crosby that he was going to be tased eight times throughout the encounter.

“Jesus, you know us dude,” Officer Chance Gore said. “You do know me, I’ve talked to you several times.”

Then, one time when Crosby shuffled forward, Officers Alex Couch and Gore fired their guns. The buzz from Mondragon and De Leon’s Taser deployments crackled in the air as Crosby fell to the ground.

The officers provided medical care until an ambulance arrived about 10½ minutes later.

Mental illness

In the days after the videos of the shootings were released, advocates and Crosby’s family have questioned what they see as a lack of de-escalation by officers.

The Mental Health Response Advisory Committee – which was created as part of the settlement agreement with the Department of Justice to reform APD – said an important part of its mission is to encourage officers to understand mental illness.

“This understanding is critical for such cases where the actual threat is much less than what officers may perceive, and where non-lethal force is more appropriate than a death sentence,” said MHRAC co-chair Max Kauffman. “Part of this means recognizing what people with mental illness experience when surrounded by officers with guns drawn, even at a distance. De-escalation involves more than commands to obey.”

In their statement, Crosby’s family called out a “long history of deadly police misconduct in this city” and said APD had failed to implement de-escalation policies.

“The video of our son’s death should shock leadership at APD and the City into urgently exploring new ways to stop these killings,” the family said. “One thing is clear: if APD and its officers cannot find a way to engage non-violently with the city’s mentally ill people, and if they cannot afford basic respect to such people and their families, the pattern will continue.”

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