Wednesday, May 11, 2011
FOR THE RECORD: The name of the National Alliance on Mental Illness has been corrected in this story.
Officer Shoots Man
By Astrid Galvan
Journal Staff Writer
Alan Gomez, 22, was unarmed, holding a black plastic spoon, when he headed back inside the house early Tuesday where police say he had been holding two people hostage.
That's when APD officer Sean Wallace had to make a "split-second" decision, according to Police Chief Ray Schultz.
Wallace fired one shot from across the street, killing Gomez.
"Unfortunately this is one of the most difficult situations officers find themselves in," Schultz said.
It was the department's third fatal shooting this year.
Schultz said Gomez, who last year pleaded guilty to battery on a household member, was holding his brother and his brother's girlfriend hostage early Tuesday at a house on the 2800 block of Madison NE, near Candelaria and San Mateo.
Officers were dispatched to the home after the brother's girlfriend reported that Gomez had a gun and that she was being held inside, according to the initial 911 call provided by police. In the call, the woman, who identified herself as "Jolene," is heard whispering to a dispatcher that Gomez "won't let us move."
The woman told the dispatcher she didn't know what was wrong with Gomez and asked her to "please hurry."
In addition to the dispatcher being told that Gomez had a gun, police received reports that Gomez had stepped outside and fired a gun at least twice before they arrived.
Albuquerque police arrived at the house at 3:18 a.m., Schultz said. After about 45 minutes of trying to get Gomez to come outside with his hands empty, he finally came out, Schultz said.
But he was carrying an unidentified object; police could not tell it was a spoon, Schultz said. When he turned around and started walking back inside, Wallace fired his rifle once from across the street. Schultz did not say where the bullet hit. Gomez died at the scene.
Wallace is a three-year APD veteran and K-9 officer who last year shot and wounded a 22-year-old man suspected of auto burglary. He is on administrative leave while APD investigates the shooting, the standard procedure for all police shootings.
Wallace had a Taser, but it would not have reached Gomez from that distance. A beanbag gun was also not an option because of the distance, Schultz said.
The house was a rental occupied by the girlfriend, police said. Gomez lived somewhere on the West Side of Albuquerque but spent a lot of time at that house, Schultz said.
When police searched the home, they found a rifle inside a closet. Schultz said Gomez had taken the rifle with him to the house, although the chief did not know to whom it was registered.
Relatives said Gomez had a history of mental illness, but police have not been able to confirm that. Court records do not indicate he suffered from mental illness.
Gomez did, however, have a criminal history and recently violated his probation. According to online court records, Gomez pleaded guilty to two counts of battery against a household member in September 2010.
He was sentenced to two years of probation and was ordered into counseling, records show. On Jan. 3, a motion was filed accusing Gomez of violating his probation, but — at the recommendation of his probation officer — no action was taken, records show.
Calls to listed relatives of Gomez were not returned.
Albuquerque police officers last year shot 14 people in what police have said were life-threatening situations for officers and the public.
The department has been highly scrutinized for officer-involved shootings, especially after the death of Christopher Torres, shot last month after he attacked two officers trying to arrest him on a warrant.
Although it was documented in public court records, police said they did not know Torres, 27, was mentally ill when they arrived at his family's West Side home to serve an arrest warrant for felony road rage. Torres suffered from schizophrenia.
Had they known, police said, backup units would have likely been sent to help the officers deal with Torres, who is the son of Bernalillo County Deputy Manager Renetta Torres.
Schultz has since started working with community mental health experts on creating a database with information about mentally ill people. In fact, the chief met with the National Alliance on Mental Illness on Tuesday morning, in part, "to see why we continue to see encounters with people who have mental illness," Schultz said.
Schultz said he is working with the alliance on developing a "matrix" with data for the mentally ill. He said the department has received numerous calls from concerned relatives of mentally ill people who want police to be aware of their loved ones' illness in case they encounter them.