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APD chief: Carjacking suspect didn’t point gun at officer

Copyright © 2013 Albuquerque Journal

Joaquin Ortega was intoxicated, possibly on prescription pills and alcohol, when he loaded his handgun, got into his silver sedan and went on a shooting spree from the university area – shooting from his own car window and running drivers off the road – before crashing into a light pole at Central and Washington around 5 p.m.

Albuquerque Police Department Chief Allen Banks released those and other details in a Thursday news conference about the Oct. 28 officer-involved shooting that wounded 34-year-old Ortega. He also described how officers later found a shotgun and seven bullet casings in Ortega’s car.

APD Chief Allen Banks points to suspect Joaquin Ortega on a lapel-camera-video still. Ortega was shot by an APD officer on Oct 28. Banks said Ortega turned toward the officer as he held a handgun in his right hand. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

APD Chief Allen Banks points to suspect Joaquin Ortega on a lapel-camera-video still. Ortega was shot by an APD officer on Oct 28. Banks said Ortega turned toward the officer as he held a handgun in his right hand. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

The incident involving Ortega occurred just two days after another man went on a shooting spree through city streets, targeting law enforcement officers and wounding four. Police had said investigating that complicated crime scene delayed the release of details of Ortega’s shooting.

Banks’ statements on Thursday give a clearer picture of the events leading up to Ortega’s shooting, but some of the details Banks released contradict statements included in a sworn criminal complaint charging Ortega with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, aggravated assault on a police officer with a deadly weapon and other felonies.

During the news conference, Banks declined to show the lapel camera video taken by APD officer Brian Pitzer, who shot Ortega. The chief said that he didn’t want to “try this case in the media” by showing the video in full, and that Pitzer deserved to have a full investigation into the shooting.

The Journal has filed a formal Inspection of Public Records Act request for the video.

Banks did show one still photograph taken from the lapel camera video that he said shows Ortega facing Pitzer with a gun in his right hand.

Shots fired

Police received 911 calls around 4:45 p.m. that Monday about shots fired near Lead and Vassar and Girard and Coal in southeast Albuquerque. Banks said dispatchers received calls from drivers who claimed Ortega ran them off the road, and investigators later found bullet holes in a house on Coal Avenue.

Albuquerque Police Department Chief Allen Banks and deputy city attorney Kathy Levy enter a briefing room before Banks released more details about the Oct. 28 officer-involved shooting that left an armed robbery suspect with nonfatal gunshot wounds. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Albuquerque Police Department Chief Allen Banks and deputy city attorney Kathy Levy enter a briefing room before Banks released more details about the Oct. 28 officer-involved shooting that left an armed robbery suspect with nonfatal gunshot wounds. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Banks said Ortega drove east on Central Avenue and crashed into the lightpole. He then stumbled out of his car and threatened a 76-year-old woman and her grandchild with a gun, robbing the woman of her money, the chief said. From there, Ortega ran east along Central and tried to carjack the owner of a nearby muffler shop, Banks said.

That’s when Pitzer arrived, Banks said.

Pitzer arrived from the east, got out of his police vehicle and approached Ortega, telling him to show his hands. Banks said Ortega did not comply.

“In fact, according to witnesses and lapel camera video, Ortega tells him, ‘Hell, no!’ ” Banks said.

Banks said Ortega then approached Pitzer before turning and running toward the muffler shop. Ortega then headed west and ran toward two vehicles parked in the muffler shop parking lot, the chief said.

Before he ran between the vehicles, Ortega turned toward Pitzer, Banks said, and Pitzer fired at Ortega.

Ortega then began running west and was met by Pitzer again, Banks said. That’s when Ortega threw his gun into the air as Pitzer shot at him, he said. Ortega began running south but eventually fell to the ground and was arrested.

Banks said the officer fired “approximately eight times” in all, though it’s unclear how many times Ortega was struck.

That account of the incident differs from witness statements included in a criminal complaint filed by a detective two days after the shooting. In the complaint, the detective cites unnamed witnesses who said Ortega pointed his gun at Pitzer before running away, and that Ortega later turned around and fired at Pitzer.

Banks said Thursday that Ortega did not point his gun at Pitzer.

Banks said he did not know if Ortega’s gun was still loaded when it was recovered.

The criminal complaint did not include the account of Jim Sutton, the victim of the attempted carjacking and the muffler shop’s owner. Sutton told the Journal said Pitzer fired at Ortega as the suspect ran away, and that Pitzer shot Ortega in the back after Ortega ditched his gun.

Ortega was taken to University of New Mexico Hospital, but has since been released and is now at the Metropolitan Detention Center.

Banks said at the news conference that detectives choose only the “best” information when they’re gathering information for the criminal complaint.

“We take the best information that we have at the time. We take the statements, detectives put them together, and come up with probable cause and reasonable suspicion in that criminal complaint,” he said. “… I think it’s a matter of gathering the best facts. A lot happened that night.”

He said all witnesses’ statements will be included in supplemental police reports that the District Attorney’s Office can use when determining applicable charges. He also said the complaint can be amended to add or drop charges.

Banks thanked the criminalistics detectives who reviewed the scene, who he said had to go through many witness statements to piece together the events of the shooting.

“We had different perspectives from witnesses all over the scene,” Banks said. “They had to interview each and every one.”

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