If not for the theater’s beer taps or the man’s suspected use of cocaine, the gun-wielding patron who sent Flix Brewhouse employees into a panic may not have been arrested or face criminal charges.
Darnell Hill, 25, was arrested after he brought a loaded “AR-15 style rifle” into the movie theater late Friday night and ran into the theater’s kitchen, where employees wrestled the gun from him and held him until police arrived, according to a criminal complaint filed in Metropolitan Court.
Like many states, New Mexico allows for people to openly carry firearms. That means in most cases it’s legal for people to walk around with an assault-style rifle over their shoulder or a pistol strapped to their hip, even into movie theaters.
But state law prohibits the carrying of weapons into an establishment that sells alcohol for consumption, which the Flix Brewhouse does.
Hill was arrested on suspicion of unlawful carrying of a firearm into a liquor establishment. He was also charged with negligent use of a firearm. The former is a fourth-degree felony, punishable by up to 18 months in prison, and the latter is a misdemeanor, said Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Russell Broyles.
The negligent use of a firearm charge was because he was under the influence of alcohol and drugs at the time, said Nancy Laflin, a spokeswoman for the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office.
According to the complaint, Hill’s girlfriend told deputies that Hill had used “yay” — which is slang for cocaine — and “drank” prior to entering the theater.
A deputy wrote in the complaint that Hill’s eyes were glossed over and he was sweaty and rambling. Employees told investigators Hill was rapping and making nonsensical statements prior to them taking the gun from him.
The gun was loaded with 24 .223 caliber rounds, according to the complaint.
Even though theater employees ran for the exits and took to hiding, Broyles said investigators don’t believe that Hill’s actions warranted an aggravated assault charge. He never pointed the gun at anyone, according to the complaint.
“We did not obtain any information that said he pointed the firearm at anyone,” Broyles said. “Which is kind of where we land with the difference between some of these fears (the theater employees had) and the charges that are available.”
Flix does have signs prohibiting weapons, according to the complaint. Broyles said if a business that doesn’t serve alcohol has such a ban and a person enters while openly carrying a firearm, he or she could potentially be criminally trespassing depending on the circumstances.
It wasn’t clear Monday whether Hill has an attorney.
The Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office has filed a motion to keep Hill detained until his trial.
“If the employees that took the gun away from the defendant had been unsuccessful there is no telling the amount of havoc or carnage he would have wreaked,” Assistant District Attorney John Litchford wrote in the motion. “The defendant’s actions show how dangerous he is.”
New Mexico had the seventh-highest gun death rate in the country in 2020, and gun deaths in the state increased 53% from 2011 to 2020, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health. And mass shootings are a regular news item across the country — three children and three employees were killed in Nashville, Tennessee, on Monday in such an incident at a school.
Friday’s incident sent many Flix employees running for the exits or hiding.
“We are working to arrange professional counseling and support for our team and are very focused on their mental health and well-being,” Flix CEO Chance Robertson said in an email. “While the emotional trauma of the incident cannot be erased, we’re thankful our energy is focused on healing and supporting those involved as things could have been so much worse.”