ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Already, the man had attacked his wife in front of their children and punched a neighbor who had gotten in the middle of the domestic ruckus.
By the time the first Albuquerque police officer arrived at the home on Catalina Place SW, the man had retreated alone into his house, where he was heard yelling over the loud music booming inside.
Through a front screen door, the first officer could see the yelling man, Robert Hale, pouring what smelled like gasoline from a can onto the floor.
“He was either going to set the house on fire with him inside or set the house on fire with the wife and the kids inside,” the first officer later told investigators.
It went downhill from there.
The first officer walked back to his police car to retrieve a beanbag shotgun, a move that apparently prompted Hale to grab his own rifle and display it through the screen door.
As it turns out, Hale’s .22-caliber rifle wasn’t loaded, but the first officer couldn’t have known that then.
And here is where the stories of what happened that Aug. 7, 1998, diverge. What follows is based on transcripts from interviews conducted by the Albuquerque Police Department, APD reports and documents from a federal lawsuit filed by Hale against the first officer in 2000.
That first officer? Greg Brachle.
If that name is familiar, it’s because he’s the lieutenant who fired eight times at his own detective, nearly killing him, during an undercover drug sting gone horribly wrong on Jan. 9, 2015.
A federal lawsuit filed by the detective, Jacob Grant, was settled last week for $6.5 million plus medical expenses.
Brachle has since retired, days before the Police Oversight Board recommended that he be fired. Grant, 37, was forced into medical retirement.
Grant’s lawsuit described Brachle as previously displaying “erratic, problematic and otherwise unpredictable behavior.” It claims that in a previous case Brachle had fired all the ammunition in his gun without assessing whether lethal force was needed.
That case involved Hale.
So here’s the rest of the story, Brachle’s version first:
Hale exited the house, rifle in hand, through a side door, which entered into a carport and driveway, where a turquoise truck was parked. Despite the presence of a weapon, Brachle did not seek cover but stood in the open about 20 yards away, by his estimation, on the other side of a chain-link fence that lined the driveway.
Brachle set down his beanbag shotgun and reached for his service pistol. Several times, he ordered Hale to drop his weapon. Instead, Brachle said, Hale aimed the rifle straight at him.
The two men “locked eyes.” Brachle started firing. And firing. And firing – 12 rounds in all – the bullets penetrating walls, doors and the turquoise truck before Hale, shot once in the elbow, retreated into the house.
“I was shooting until, ah, he was a threat to me like I explained – me, the other people in the area, everyone around,” Brachle told an APD investigator. “Um, you know half my body was exposed and he had the gun right at my head. I, ah, kept shooting until the threat went away.”
Hale came back outside, this time without the rifle, his left hand raised in surrender, his right arm covered in blood. He was handcuffed and taken into custody.
Hale’s version, as you might have guessed, is different.
He was angry, he told the APD investigator, worried he might be shot, likely depressed, definitely drunk. He had consumed as many as seven beers and two shots of Crown Royal at a bar before going home around 6:30 p.m. and getting into a fight with his wife and then the neighbor.
After everybody left – a fact he said police knew – he poured gasoline around the home and considered setting the house aflame.
His “yelling,” he said, was talking on the phone to worried relatives, including his mother.
When officers arrived, he shut the door, grabbed the gun from a closet but then put it down near the couch, where it was later found by police.
He said he was going to come out through the side door and had not gotten far before the bullets started flying.
“I heard the gunshots, the glass and I had seen like three or four, just like, bam, bam, bam, and glass going everywhere from the screen door, the inside of the door,” Hale told the investigator.
According to the lawsuit, Hale never pointed the rifle at Brachle, never took it outside with him and had his hands in the air when the shots flew. No other officer saw Hale with a weapon when he attempted to surrender, the lawsuit claims.
The lawsuit also claims that the gunshot wound to Hale’s elbow had permanently disabled him and that Brachle, described as a “junior officer,” had not been adequately trained or supervised.
But the lawsuit went nowhere. In November 2001, it was dismissed after Hale failed to show up for court.
Hale, it should be noted, had earlier accepted a plea agreement in which he served 364 days in jail instead of 6½ years in prison in exchange for pleading guilty to aggravated assault on a peace officer, attempt to commit a felony and two counts of aggravated battery.
As for Brachle, court documents in the Grant case say the earlier incident “was reported to chain of command but no action was taken.”
UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg. Go to ABQjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.