Copyright © 2015 Albuquerque Journal
Desiree Duran says she was one of the first to reach 17-year-old Jaquise Lewis after he was shot and killed in the parking lot of Los Altos skate park last March after a gunfight broke out between two groups.
Duran, 19, says Lewis was running away from the melee when he was shot and that he didn’t have a gun.
She questions why police say he was shot in self-defense.
Five months after that confrontation, which left Lewis dead and six injured, police have not made an arrest. They still have plenty of questions and have not recovered any of the weapons involved.
But they say they believe the gunman who shot Lewis did so in self-defense. That’s based on interviews with him and other witnesses, as well as footage from a chaotic cellphone video that they say shows Lewis had a gun and fired on others before he was killed.
Few people have seen the video, but Lewis’ mother, Munah Green, is one of them. She contends it shows something different than what police describe.
In an interview with the Journal, Green said she wants the video released to the public to prove Lewis’ innocence. She said it depicts a man in a black shirt firing at Lewis as he runs away. Lewis was struck twice – once in the back and once in his left arm – and the shots were fired from a distance, according to an autopsy report.
“It will show that my son got shot in cold-blooded murder,” Green said. “It will show my son’s innocence. He didn’t have a gun.”
Green said she, her mother and her lawyer refused to leave the police station until they were allowed to watch the cellphone video.
APD denied the Journal ‘s request for several pieces of information, including the video footage, saying its release could jeopardize an active and ongoing investigation.
But, at a press conference in early May, police did release eight dark, blurry photographs taken from that cellphone video.
APD spokesman Tanner Tixier said the video showed a fistfight in the skate park spilling into the parking lot.
Police and witnesses describe a scene in which Lewis’ group, made up mainly of African-Americans, arrived at the park after police told them to leave another park and go to Los Altos, where alcohol is allowed. They got into an altercation with a group of regulars, who were skateboarding.
In the photo, Lewis can be seen running across the parking lot with his arm extended, but it is unclear if he is holding a gun or wearing a glove. Photographs from earlier in the night clearly show he was wearing a glove. Tixier said he’s holding a gun.
“There’s a part where Jaquise is near a car with three other people,” Tixier said. “You can see him run across the parking lot with his arm extended and several witnesses say he shot other victims at that point. You never see him actually fire.”
He said Lewis already had fired several rounds, shot a man in a yellow shirt and was walking toward another group of people when he was shot in the back, according to witnesses.
At first, police say their accounts were dependent on skateboarders’ interviews because Lewis’ friends did not cooperate. They have since talked to some of Lewis’ group, but that so far hasn’t changed APD’s position.
The other side
Duran said she was getting ready to jump in a car to join the stream of traffic fleeing the park when she saw Lewis running across the parking lot.
“He wasn’t running to go get something, he wasn’t running to do anything but save his life,” Duran said. “He wasn’t turning around. I told (my friend) to pull up next to him and we can all go.”
Instead, she said, he dropped to the ground.
Duran said she never saw a gun on him or near him. She started giving him CPR and said by the time police arrived he wasn’t breathing, but still had a pulse.
When the detectives started questioning her, she felt like they were angling to get her to say Lewis had started the fight, Duran said.
“Their first question was, ‘Is he a gang member?’ ” she said. ” ‘ … Did you see him with a gun? Did he start the fight?’ ”
Duran said she didn’t hear from police again until July, when she was interviewed by a homicide detective.
Annette Webb, 21, said she and her cousins have tried to reach detectives to talk about how the fight started. She said they took down her phone number but never called her back.
Detectives do not have any record of talking to Webb or her cousins or of them calling the tip line, Tixier said. Tixier said police would like to talk to the women.
APD was ready to charge the man who shot Lewis with an open count of murder, but “he talked to us, and explained stuff accurately and thoroughly,” Tixier said.
“Just because we haven’t arrested him doesn’t mean he’s completely without fault,” he said. “We don’t like that he got rid of the gun, for instance.”
Tixier stressed the case is not closed and, if detectives learn something to suggest the shooting was not justified, the man who shot Lewis could still be charged with murder.
The District Attorney’s Office has not received a completed case to review, said Kayla Anderson, a spokeswoman for the office. She said it’s not unusual for such an investigation to take more than six months.
Lewis’ mother filed a lawsuit in July asking that APD be ordered to release several documents in the case, including the video.
She and other witnesses who talked to the Journal chafe at where the investigation lies now.
“If a black kid shot a white kid, he would have been arrested since day one and on his way to prison by now,” Green said. “We wake up now and Jaquise is not here. Every day it’s getting worse to know they know who shot my son and he hasn’t been arrested.”
The shot that changed one man’s life
Other than Jaquise Lewis, the six shot in the melee on March 22 were members of the skateboarding group.
Five suffered relatively minor injuries.
But, for a 27-year-old man who was shot in the back, life changed forever. He is now paralyzed and living in Tampa, Fla., with his mother.
Police have no leads on who shot him and they haven’t found any of the guns involved in the fight, said officer Tanner Tixier, an APD spokesman.
In a telephone interview from Florida last month, the man said his missing skateboard may have sparked the conflict between two birthday parties. One was a group of regulars to the skate park. The other was a group of mainly African-Americans who police told to leave another park and go to Los Altos, where alcohol is allowed.
When someone demanded Lewis’ friends return a skateboard they had borrowed, the scene turned ugly. Witnesses said they heard a racial slur.
The fistfight turned into a gunfight.
“I remember hearing three warning shots at first,” said the man who had been shot. “I was stashed behind the metal arch right by the entrance. I remember standing up to take a peek, then all I remember is asking if I got hit and falling down.”
He said he remembers three people firing into the park at his group of friends, but he doesn’t know if Lewis was shooting or if he had a gun.
He doesn’t remember seeing Lewis during the altercation.
“I knew that kid,” he said. “I didn’t know his name was Jaquise, but he was always at the park. If I’d seen him in any kind of altercation, I feel like I would have remembered it.”