Friday, April 15, 2011
Family: APD '1,000 Times Negligent'
By Jeff Proctor
Copyright © 2011 Albuquerque Journal
Journal Staff Writer
Eight days passed between the time a state District Court judge signed a warrant for Christopher Torres' arrest and Tuesday, when two Albuquerque Police Department detectives went to Torres' northwest Albuquerque home to take him into custody.
Torres' family wants to know why detectives Christopher Brown and Richard Hilger didn't do more than a cursory search for information on him during those eight days — before arriving at the residence on the 7600 block of Sunrose NW where Brown fatally shot Torres during a heated physical confrontation.
APD officials have acknowledged that Hilger and Brown did not know when they went to arrest Torres that he was mentally ill — information available in public court and police records.
They have acknowledged they may have approached the situation differently had they known about another violent incident involving Torres, after which he told police he was taking medication for schizophrenia.
Torres' brother and attorney, Matthew Torres, said in an interview Thursday that the family has hired four private investigators to look into the shooting and plans to file a wrongful death lawsuit against APD, Hilger and Brown.
"APD and its officers are a thousand times negligent — that's the best case," Matthew Torres said. "Or they did this by formulating a dumb (expletive) plan ... These two detectives will be held civilly liable and perhaps criminally responsible for the death of my brother."
Matthew and Christopher Torres are the sons of Deputy Bernalillo County Manager Renetta Torres.
APD Deputy Chief Beth Paiz says Brown and Hilger followed standard APD practice by running Torres' name through the National Crime Information Centers database, known as NCIC.
That check shows active arrest warrants and criminal convictions, Paiz said. Torres didn't have either.
Hilger and Brown did not search for pending cases involving Torres, she said. Nor did they check APD's records to see whether the department had any previous contact with Torres.
All the detectives had was an arrest warrant alleging that Torres had been involved in as many as 25 road rage incidents from mid-January to late March, including one in which he allegedly tried to pull a woman out of her car at a stop light on Paseo del Norte on Feb. 17.
Paiz said Tuesday that if the officers had known about the Feb. 20 incident, they may have approached the situation differently.
"Obviously if we know something is going to be really high-risk, we will deploy our SWAT team. We try to plan for the worst and hope for the best."
City Public Safety Director Darren White said APD is considering additional training for officers and changes to policies. The department's officers have shot 16 people — 11 of them fatally — since January 2010.
"After every officer involved shooting, it is our standard practice to evaluate all aspects of the event," White said Thursday. "If we find in the wake of Tuesday's shooting that more needs to be done to improve our ability to provide our officers with critical information, we will not hesitate to make those changes."
What the detectives would have found had they done further digging:
• A criminal complaint filed in Metropolitan Court charging Torres with battery, disorderly conduct and public affray after he allegedly went after an armed man in a Taylor Ranch Garcia's Kitchen restaurant.
After he was taken into custody, Torres told police that he was schizophrenic and on medication for the illness, according to the complaint.
The officers took Torres to a hospital for a mental health evaluation before booking him into the Metropolitan Detention Center.
The charges in that case were pending in Metropolitan Court's mental health division after Matthew Torres, who was representing his brother, raised the issue of whether Christopher Torres was competent to stand trial.
• Two APD police reports from January 2003 that detail officers going to the Torres home after family members had called about Christopher Torres behaving erratically.
On both occasions, family members told officers that Torres was schizophrenic. The first incident ended with officers taking Christopher Torres to Matthew Torres' home.
After the second incident, which took place a week later, officers wrote in their report that Christopher Torres was "abusive and defensive" and that they had to handcuff him, forcibly remove him from the house and further restrain him to get him into a police cruiser.
The officers took Torres to Kaseman Hospital for a mental health evaluation.
Matthew Torres said his brother, who was first diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia in 2003, spent several weeks in the hospital after the second 2003 incident.
He said his brother, the youngest of three, took medication for his illness regularly, held a part-time job and had numerous friends in the neighborhood.
The last few days have been a nightmare for the Torres family, he said.
"It goes in a circle from anger to shock to sadness," Matthew Torres said. "He is free of his illness and, in theory, with the Lord and with our family members who have gone before him. But the way he was delivered to the Lord is criminal."