ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — At least three Albuquerque police officers fired their guns this week at moving vehicles – a practice that federal authorities have been critical of – and 11 police officers are on paid administrative leave as a result of the two shootings.
The suspect in one incident, Rodrigo Garcia, remained in critical-but-stable condition after he was shot by an officer Thursday night in Southwest Albuquerque.
He was wanted on suspicion of stealing a vehicle and ramming a police car, and at least 15 police officers and detectives were trying to arrest him when he was shot near 62nd Street.
Police Chief Gorden Eden said Friday that police will interview the officers who were there and go through their lapel camera footage to determine whether the officers were in imminent danger when they fired.
“What the officers are supposed to do is keep themselves in a safe position, and, in this case, those are still things we still have to look at,” Eden said.
Police said 10 officers are on administrative leave as a result of that shooting, though it remains unclear how many of those officers fired their weapons.
One officer was struck either by Garcia’s vehicle or a fence that Garcia knocked over while trying to escape. The officer has been released from the hospital but was badly bruised as a result of the collision, Eden said.
“Officers have every right to protect themselves. I think that’s a reasonable expectation,” he said.
The U.S. Department of Justice last year found that APD had a pattern of using excessive force. A settlement agreement that stemmed from that investigation states that APD will create a policy that prohibits officers from shooting at moving vehicles unless the suspect is using a deadly weapon other than the vehicle. The agreement says that officers should find ways to stay out of the path of a moving vehicle.
Eden said an independent monitor who reports to a federal judge overseeing the settlement is examining APD’s use of force policies, which could lead to changes. Currently, APD officers are under orders not to shoot at vehicles to disable them, but they can fire if they feel their lives, or another person’s life, is in danger.
The other shooting happened Monday in a parking lot in the 1800 block of Indian School NW, where officer Ryan Graves shot at a red Chevy Tahoe that had been reported stolen. A man, two women and a 5-year-old child were in the SUV.
Lapel camera footage of the shooting shows Graves and another officer pulling up in front of the SUV, drawing their weapons and telling the driver to stop. The vehicle slowly moves toward the officers before it accelerates and strikes an open door to Graves’ police car as it passes him.
Graves backpedaled about eight steps and shouted “Don’t do it” several times. He was only a couple of feet away from the moving vehicle when he fired twice, according to his lapel camera.
“The suspect’s vehicle … hits the car door and is driving right toward the officer,” Eden said. “Officer Graves … felt that person was going to injure him. He was headed right toward him.”
Police said the driver, who has not been identified, fled after the shooting and police are asking for anyone with information about him to call 242-COPS.