ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Gilbert Lovato and his getaway driver, Audrey Hapke, were averaging at least one armed holdup per day in recent weeks, police say.
They repeatedly hit local fast food joints throughout Albuquerque, including Twisters, Church’s Chicken and McDonald’s, and made off with thousands of dollars over a month’s time, according to court records.
Police, who had been on the case for weeks, say they finally caught up with the pair Saturday night after they fled yet another robbery, this time at a Village Inn.
Lovato, 38, was shot and killed by undercover detectives who pulled the pair over.
Hapke, 35, who police said was driving the getaway car, was not harmed in the shooting and was booked into the county jail Sunday on a no-bond hold. She’s facing 17 counts of armed robbery and 17 counts of conspiracy to commit robbery.
According to the criminal complaint filed against Hapke, she told detectives she had been Lovato’s getaway driver during numerous recent armed robberies, including the robberies of three Starbucks, a McDonald’s, a Church’s Chicken, a Kentucky Fried Chicken and a Village Inn. But she couldn’t remember details about the robberies.
Lovato had repeatedly been captured on surveillance footage robbing the stores.
And he usually followed the same routine: He wrapped his gun in a scarf, gauze, or cloth and pointed it toward the cashier, grabbed tip jars and cash register money and sometimes made off with hundreds of dollars.
The holidays didn’t deter him – he robbed a Village Inn and a Starbucks on Christmas Day, according to the complaint.
Starbucks, it seems, was his most frequent target. Officers say he robbed five of the company’s cafes during the three-week period between Dec. 16 and Jan. 6. And he was also suspected of robbing a Wells Fargo branch during that time.
Albuquerque Police Department spokesman Fred Duran said detectives had been investigating the robberies for weeks, and witnesses and victims regularly described the robber in the same way.
“The suspect has very thick glasses, and that is something that stuck out with the witnesses that have been able to talk about the armed robberies,” said Celina Espinoza, a police spokeswoman. He also had a tattoo on his neck and facial hair, according to the complaint.
Witnesses frequently said they saw the man jump into a waiting black Nissan Versa with front end damage.
Friday night, officers received a tip that the black Versa was near University and Menaul and undercover detectives spotted it at the Motel 6, Duran said.
Detectives watched Lovato and Hapke get in the car and eventually drive to a nearby Village Inn, which they say Lovato walked into and robbed.
Undercover detectives followed them from the Village Inn and pulled them over near Carlisle and Comanche at about 11:30 p.m..
“During the time they contacted these individuals there was an altercation that led to gunfire,” Duran said. “Officers did fire their weapons.”
Albuquerque police officials held a news conference Sunday afternoon to release information about the suspects but didn’t provide many details about the shooting.
They said they couldn’t say if Lovato had a weapon, nor could they explain why officers felt threatened.
It also wasn’t clear if Lovato was in the car when he was shot. He was taken to a local hospital, where he later died.
“Our investigation is still ongoing, and we are less than 24 hours in,” Duran said.
Neither Espinoza nor Duran said if a weapon was found at the scene. Nor would they confirm details about the officer or officers who shot Lovato.
“We do have three on paid standard leave, but that doesn’t mean that all three fired their weapons,” Espinoza said. “We have to do forensic tests to see who fired.”
Both Lovato and Hapke are convicted felons. Lovato was released from jail a week ago after spending a night in custody on a drug charge, according to court and jail records.
In 1998, Lovato pleaded guilty to felony possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, and in 2009, he pleaded guilty to felony tampering with evidence.
He pleaded guilty to felony possession of heroin in 2010, and he has faced numerous other drug charges over the years.
Hapke pleaded guilty to felony burglary in a 2002 case, and she pleaded no contest to conspiracy to commit robbery in a 2012 case.
Duran said multiple agencies are investigating the shooting, as is standard when officers open fire.
APD is undergoing court-enforced reforms after a 16-month Department of Justice investigation found in 2014 that the department violated citizens’ civil rights through the use of force.
Officers were involved in 42 shootings from 2010 to 2014, 28 of them fatal. Last year, officers opened fire seven times and were involved in five fatal shootings.