It’s been a month and a half since 19-year-old Mary Hawkes died at the hands of Albuquerque police and, for me at least, there’s been a nagging gloom around this one – No. 24 in a string of 26 fatal police shootings over the past four years.
“This shooting just made me feel so profoundly sad,” someone said to me the other day. Me too. And I’ve been pondering why.
Is it because Hawkes was the first woman to join the list of people killed by city police officers since 2010? Because she was 5-foot-2 and barely 100 pounds? Because she was really just a kid?
Is it that it seemed avoidable – a forced confrontation in the middle of the night to flush out a suspect in a 2-week-old auto theft case? Couldn’t an arrest warrant in the morning have kept everyone safer?
Is it the autopsy findings – a bullet shot into her left ear, another into her left bicep and another through the top of her right shoulder – which seem hard to square with the stated scenario of Hawkes stopping, turning and pointing a handgun just before she was shot?
Is it the autopsy findings of scrapes and bruises on her chest, both knees and the backs of both forearms?
Is it the absence of the officer’s lapel cam video that would answer those questions about what she and the officer were doing when she was shot?
Each time someone is killed by police, there’s a rippling of effects – the personal tragedy to the family, the toll on the police officer who has taken a life and the public policy discussion about whether it was an avoidable use of deadly force.
With that in mind, I also wonder whether the Hawkes killing continues to nag me because of her family history, which brings additional layers of nuance and complication.
Hawkes came into the large family of Danny and Mary Alice Hawkes as a foster child and was eventually adopted.
Danny Hawkes, who retired last year as a Valencia County magistrate judge, had spent much of his professional life as a police officer. He was a patrolman for the Belen and Socorro police departments, and served as undersheriff in Valencia County before being elected sheriff there at age 28. And he had a deadly force experience of his own when he wore a badge.
The lawyer the Hawkeses have hired to represent them in the process of appointing legal personal representatives for their daughter’s estate did not respond to my many phone messages. In the days following their daughter’s death, the Hawkeses released a statement expressing their sorrow and asking to be left alone in their grief. They also said, “Our thoughts and prayers go out to everyone involved, including the officer and his family.”
I respect their wishes, but still, I’d like to share a story, published years ago, of another police shooting that involved a young Belen patrolman, a 23-year-old Danny Hawkes.
It is a case in which the officer used deadly force – most likely saving his own life so he could go on to be Mary’s adopted dad. But it’s also a case in which a young life was spared because the officer used persuasion, not firepower, to defuse the situation.
On a warm Saturday in September 1979, according to an account produced by historian Jim Boeck for the Valencia County Historical Society and published in the Valencia County News-Bulletin in 2002, Hawkes was off duty getting his car serviced when a call came over the radio about an armed robbery in progress at Trembly’s Jewelry Store on Main Street.
The three robbers – a man, a woman and a 16-year-old boy – had taped up the wrists of the store owners, an employee and two customers, and made off on foot with $100,000 of loot. Hawkes jumped into the patrol car of the assistant police chief and grabbed a spare revolver from the glove compartment.
According to the historian’s account, Hawkes jumped out when he saw the robbers, and chased and tackled the unarmed female suspect. When Hawkes had her on the ground, he heard a man behind him, later identified as Frank Cruz, threaten to blow his head off if he didn’t let the woman go.
The historian’s account continues:
“Wheeling without hesitation and seeing Cruz’s gun pointed straight at him, Hawkes shot his would-be assassin in the head.”
After Cruz fell dead, Hawkes took off running after the teenager and cornered him.
“Remaining calm, Hawkes told the kid to put his gun down. Aware of what had just happened to Cruz, the juvenile knew that Hawkes meant business. The boy dropped his gun and surrendered, much to the police officer’s relief. Hawkes had no desire to kill Cruz, no less a youngster, in the line of duty.”
Hawkes was lauded as a hero. Within a week of the incident, the district attorney announced that Cruz’s death was a justifiable homicide. The News-Bulletin editorialized that Hawkes should receive a commendation for his actions. And the incident was featured in an episode of the TV show “Top Cops.”
This all took place before the era of lapel cam videos and Internet journalism, two developments that have made police shootings much more a part of the public forum, and open to analysis and criticism online. Hawkes would have been left more alone with his experience than an officer would be today.
Hawkes didn’t respond to a request to talk to me about the 1979 shooting, but the Historical Society account says it ate at him.
“Nightmares haunted him at night and into his waking hours,” according to the history. “It was the same haunting feeling that a soldier experiences when he still sees the eyes of the men he has killed in combat.”
UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Leslie at 823-3914 or email@example.com.