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$60 meth bust led to shooting of officer

Copyright © 2015 Albuquerque Journal

It was an undercover operation to bust two men for selling $60 worth of methamphetamine, but things didn’t go as planned.

An Albuquerque police lieutenant shot a fellow officer who was working undercover in a McDonald’s parking lot near Central and Tramway just before noon Friday.

Albuquerque Police Chief Gorden Eden said Saturday the male officer remained in critical condition at University of New Mexico Hospital. He is in the intensive care unit and has undergone multiple surgeries.

Police haven’t released the name of the officer who was shot, the lieutenant who shot the officer, or the identity of another officer who suffered minor injuries during the operation. Criminal complaints filed in Metropolitan Court against the two targets of the investigation identify the undercover officers as detectives Holly Garcia and Jacob Grant.

“Undercover narcotics work is probably some of the most dangerous work that we do in law enforcement,” Eden said during a Saturday news conference. “Due to the nature of those undercover operations it’s impractical for those narcotics officers, those narcotics detectives, to wear body armor. It’s very impractical for them to wear on-body cameras.”

The complaint makes no mention of the shooting, and police haven’t yet provided any details about what went wrong, or why the high-ranking officer opened fire.

Eden said the lieutenant is “devastated.” He is on standard administrative leave and has not yet been interviewed by the multi-agency investigative team. He also is getting support through the department’s counseling and behavioral sciences teams, police said.

Eden was emotional in front of news media when he thanked Albuquerque firefighters, ambulance and the trauma team at UNMH for saving the undercover officer’s life.

“Those paramedics saved his life,” he said. “They did everything they could to make sure he arrived here.”

The shooting

The criminal complaint states that Garcia met a suspect, Damien Bailey, whose name is also spelled Damian Bailey in jail records, near Dunes and Whispering Sands SE to buy $60 worth of “shards,” which is a slang term for meth. She arrived with Grant, who was assisting her in the investigation.

Nearby narcotics detectives watched Bailey get in the front passenger seat of the car Garcia was driving and another man, Edmond Vester, get in the rear passenger seat, according to the complaint.

Garcia drove them to the Econo Lodge near Central and Tramway. Vester went into a room at the motel and came back to the vehicle with the meth, according to the complaint.

Garcia then drove to the McDonald’s nearby and gave the bust signal. It was then that the shooting took place. Witnesses said they heard around five shots. Police said the officer was shot multiple times, but the exact number wasn’t known.

In the aftermath of the shooting, the car doors where Bailey and Vester were sitting were open, but police haven’t released details about any perceived threat or why the lieutenant opened fire. The complaint makes no mention of the suspects having a gun at the scene.

Bailey and Vester were taken into custody. They were booked into jail early Saturday on drug trafficking charges.

“We’re getting some push back because (the investigation) was for $60 of meth,” said Albuquerque police officer Tanner Tixier, a spokesman. “But that’s how these investigations work. You start with $20, $40, $60 buys. You can’t just go out and buy five pounds of meth.”

Banding together

It’s been a rough week for the Albuquerque Police Department.

In addition to Friday’s shooting, officer Lou Golson was shot and injured Jan. 3 after he pulled over a drunken driving suspect. The suspect was arrested three days later, and has pleaded not guilty to charges that include attempted murder. Eden on Saturday said Golson is in good spirits and has been transferred to UNM Sandoval Regional Medical Center.

Despite those serious injuries, Albuquerque officers are still approaching situations where they end up in harm’s way.

“We’re still responding to calls that put us in danger,” Tixier said.

Just hours after the Friday shooting, Tixier said officers were in a vehicle pursuit with a man with a gun. The chase ended when the suspect accidentally shot and injured himself while running from police.

Mayor Richard Berry said during the Saturday news conference that the department is banding together in the wake of the shooting.

“The support from the Albuquerque Police Department, from their rank-and-file members is outstanding,” Berry said. “We’ve got officers here (at UNMH) off duty, and they are praying for the families, for the officers involved yesterday and for Lou.”

Berry and Eden thanked the community for its showing of support for the department. Police continue to receive cards and other offerings of support from community members and businesses.

“As a mayor, during a very difficult time for the department and the community, I just want to thank everybody,” Berry said. “Let’s keep pulling together as a community.”

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