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Police shooting lawsuit can continue in court

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A lawsuit filed in response to an Albuquerque police shooting that was cited by the Department of Justice can continue after the New Mexico Court of Appeals reversed a district court judge’s decision to dismiss the case.

The ruling means the lawsuit filed by Mickey Owings’ children will head back to state district court. City Attorney Jessica Hernandez said the city hasn’t decided if it will appeal the decision or ask the judge to dismiss the case for other reasons.

OWINGS: Was shot in Wal-Mart parking lot

OWINGS: Was shot in Wal-Mart parking lot

Albuquerque police officer Kevin Sanchez in 2010 shot Owings in a Wal-Mart parking lot in west Albuquerque. Police were investigating a suspected stolen vehicle when Owings, 26, parked his car right next to the stolen car and a passenger got out and started getting into the stolen car.

Sanchez, a plainclothes detective, and officers in unmarked police cars surrounded Owings, who was unarmed. He backed into a police vehicle and then crashed into parked cars to try to escape when he was shot.

He lost consciousness and crashed the vehicle after the shooting and died at the scene.

The DOJ in April 2014 letter announced Albuquerque police had a pattern of excessive force that included police shootings. The letter said in many cases, including the Owings incident, the officers’ own recklessness led to unlawful shootings.

“Owings did not pose a threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or anyone else; he was driving straight into unoccupied, parked cars when he was shot. This damage to property, as serious as it was, did not justify taking Owings’ life,” the DOJ wrote.

The DOJ’s letter brought to light details of the shooting police had never released, including the fact that there was surveillance video of the incident, said Shannon Kennedy, an Albuquerque attorney representing the children.

The children, only identified by their initials, filed a lawsuit against the city in 2014 seeking damages for loss of consortium.

The city filed a motion to dismiss, citing four reasons the plaintiffs didn’t comply with Tort Claims Act rules. Second Judicial District Judge Denise Barela-Shepherd dismissed the complaint based on one of those reasons. New Mexico Court of Appeals Court Judge Michael Bustamante wrote in the opinion that the district court judge erred when she dismissed the complaint because the children did not suffer a battery.

Kennedy said the city is continuing to fight DOJ’s findings by trying to get the lawsuit thrown out.

“The city is still turning their backs on people who were harmed by the excessive use of force by officers,” she said.

Hernandez said a settlement agreement that aims to address the DOJ findings allowed the city to move forward with reforms without admitting to guilt in individual cases outlined by the Justice Department. She said all lawsuits brought against the city are evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

“The city made the decision to move forward with reforms rather than to litigate whether or not to reform,” she said.

An Albuquerque police spokeswoman said an internal affairs investigation was completed in 2013 and no discipline was passed down.