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APD sniper cleared in SWAT shooting

HUGHES: Cleared in the shooting of Armand Martin

HUGHES: Cleared in the shooting of Armand Martin

Copyright © 2016 Albuquerque Journal

It was one of several controversial shootings that occurred during a volatile time in the city when Albuquerque police officers shot and killed five people in less than 70 days in the spring to early summer of 2014.

One of them was Armand Martin, a 50-year-old Air Force veteran.

Weeks before the Martin shooting, the Department of Justice announced that its investigation into Albuquerque police had found a culture of aggression, serious flaws in the way the SWAT team operated and that a series of court-enforceable police reforms were needed.

Meanwhile, community members angered by the nature and number of police shootings organized protests in the streets.

More than two and a half years after Martin was shot and killed by a SWAT officer at his West Side home, District Attorney Kari Brandenburg announced in a news release on Wednesday that her office will bring no charges against officer Daniel Hughes, who fired the fatal shot.

The shooting occurred after a five-hour standoff between Martin and the SWAT team on May 3, 2014, outside of the Martin family’s home in the 10500 block of Coyote Canyon NW in the far west part of Ventana Ranch. Eventually, after police shot flash bangs and tear gas into his home, an armed Martin walked out, fired from two pistols and was immediately shot in the chest.

“Officer Hughes … felt that in order to protect fellow officers, civilians in the neighborhood, and even himself, that he had no choice but to use deadly force to stop Mr. Martin’s actions,” according to the prosecutors’ shooting review.

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But Gail Martin, Armand’s widow, in a recent letter to the District Attorney’s Office said she and her family still want answers about the shooting. She said the situation that day was escalated by the SWAT team’s tactics, which included shooting a barrage of flash bangs, wooden batons and tear gas into the home to stop Martin from going to sleep and to keep his attention.

It was Gail Martin who called police to the home that day around 12:40 p.m., saying her husband had threatened her and her children with a handgun. The SWAT team was activated at 1:40 p.m.

An hours-long standoff ensued, during which police tried to get Martin to surrender. But Martin, who was alone in his house, hung up on crisis negotiators.

“I asked the negotiator to allow Armand to talk to his brother or his children. The negotiator said he could not talk to them because they could escalate the situation,” Gail Martin wrote. “I would like to know why the police escalated the situation with tear gas and flash bangs. This escalation led to his death.”

Gail Martin, who said in the letter that the home was uninhabitable for months afterward, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Going to bed

At one point, Armand Martin told officers he had taken sleeping pills and was going to bed. He said he wrote his own obituary and knew that police were trying to kill him, according to 911 calls.

Albuquerque police officers shot flash bangs into Martin’s home to try to get his attention and keep him awake, according to police communications from that day. Numerous volleys of flash bangs and wood baton rounds were shot over several hours, breaking the home’s windows.

Eventually, around 6:15 p.m., officers shot tear gas into the home, according to the district attorney’s shooting report.

“It appeared that they were putting munitions into every available window,” Hughes said in a May 6 interview with police investigators three days after the shooting, according to a transcript. “… The purpose of it is to get (a suspect’s) attention back to the negotiating process.”

Albuquerque police officials did not respond to a request for comment about the tactics from the Journal on Wednesday.

Five minutes after tear gas was shot into the home, Martin walked out of the front door armed with two handguns. He fired two rounds from his weapons, and Hughes, a sniper on the SWAT team, fatally shot Martin in the chest.

Hughes is also a military veteran, with over 20 years in the Army.

“As a fellow military officer and a brother and comrade in arms, I understood that and I feared that (in) his position, he felt like what he had done earlier had clearly ended his life as he knew it and he could never go back to a place of distinction that he rightfully had – rightfully had earned,” Hughes said. “I thought this sense of shame and dishonor was most likely driving him down a destructive course of action, and that made me sad, because he had been offered a peaceful resolution and I knew he could surrender and, indeed, after he got through this crisis, return to his former life.”

No choice

But Hughes said he had no choice but to fire from his sniper rifle that contained .308 caliber ammunition.

“I was obligated and duty bound to shoot him,” he said. “And that was a very urgent feeling. I thought it had to happen right now before he hurt somebody.”

Gail Martin said in her letter to Chief Deputy District Attorney Todd Heisey earlier this month that she has never been told anything about her husband’s death other than what has been reported in the media. She said she still wants to know all the circumstances and see videos and other evidence.

“This has had a huge impact on my family,” she wrote. “He was our sole support. We are now losing our home to foreclosure. We would like answers.”

A DA’s Office spokesman couldn’t say Wednesday if anyone from the office ever got back to Gail Martin.

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