ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Albuquerque police failed to conduct background checks that might have avoided a fatal confrontation with 27-year-old Christopher Torres, who was shot to death in April after fighting with officers, according to a lawsuit in state District Court.
The family of Torres, whose mother is Bernalillo County Deputy Manager Renetta Torres, filed the wrongful death suit against APD late last week, citing negligence and battery.
The suit also criticizes Albuquerque police policies. The department has been under scrutiny for the 19 officer-involved shootings since Jan. 2010, 13 of which have been fatal.
“When the number of citizen deaths at the hand of police officer (sic) exceed that of other similarly-sized departments, a police department should realize it has a problem and change the policies and culture … to protect citizens from its officers,” the lawsuit states.
Torres, who suffered from schizophrenia, was shot and killed on April 12 after a violent encounter with two officers who were trying to arrest him. Officers Richard Hilger and Christopher Brown went to Torres’ family home on the 7600 block of Sunrose NW to arrest him on a felony road rage warrant, police said.
The family alleges Hilger and Brown conducted themselves in a manner that would heighten anxiety and concern, especially with a schizophrenic like Torres.
The arrest took a bad turn when Torres resisted and fought with officers. At one point, Torres managed to take Hilger’s pistol, police said. Police said Brown shot Torres to protect himself and his fellow officer.
In the suit, the Torres family claims the department was negligent by failing to do a background search on Torres. Had Hilger and Brown researched his history, they would have found Torres was undergoing a competency evaluation, that he suffered from mental illness and that he could potentially become violent, the lawsuit states.
Torres was suspected of 25 road rage incidents and had in February attacked an armed man at a restaurant he believed was an imposter posing as a law enforcement agent.
Torres’ brother and attorney, Matthew Torres, told the Journal the family hired four private investigators to look into the shooting.
“APD and its officers are a thousand times negligent – that’s the best case,” Matthew Torres said. “Or they did this by formulating a dumb (expletive) plan.”
Albuquerque police do not comment on pending litigation. However, the department has defended the shooting, saying the officers’ lives were at stake.
The department announced they were making dozens of policy changes recommended by a think tank that studied officer-involved shootings for several months.
Among the recommendations were suggestions that 911 operators be trained to provide crisis intervention, that the department hire more officers with “calm demeanors” and that the department accept anonymous complaints from citizens.
— This article appeared on page D1 of the Albuquerque Journal
Photo Credit – CREDIT LINE