Albuquerque Is Back, With Guns Blazing (Update)

If you don’t like where you are, at least you have one thing going for you: it’s not Albuquerque.  Unless, you live in Albuquerque, in which case you’re screwed.  Sure, they executed a homeless guy because, well, they could.  Sure, the DoJ found that the APD “engages in a pattern or practice of use of excessive force, including deadly force, in violation of the Fourth Amendment and Section 14141.”

But then there were five months, five whole months, where the Albuquerque police didn’t kill anyone. Not a single person! Problem solved, and ABQ was back on the list of great places not to get killed by cops, right?  Not so fast.

“Undercover narcotics work is probably some of the most dangerous work that we do in law enforcement,” Eden said on Saturday. “Due to the nature of those undercover operations it’s impractical for those narcotics officers, those narcotics detectives, to wear body armor. It’s very impractical for them to wear on-body cameras.”

Well, sure.  It wouldn’t work well to wear body armor or cameras when making a minor buy and bust from small time, unarmed meth dealers. That would be a dead give-away.  Oh, but that’s wasn’t the problem.

An undercover narcotics officer nearly died on Friday after he was shot by an Albuquerque police officer during a drug bust over $60 of methamphetamine.

According to the Albuquerque Journal, Police Chief Gorden Eden announced on Saturday that the undercover officer was in critical condition. However, Eden did not name any of the officers who were involved in the shooting.

It wasn’t the dangers of undercover work that ended in the undercover being shot.  The bullet came from an Albuquerque cop.  An unnamed cop. Who shot another unnamed cop.

The shooting occurred after [Det. Holly] Garcia drove to a nearby McDonald’s and gave the signal for officers to move in for the drug bust. An undercover officer was shot multiple times, police said. Witnesses reported hearing around five gunshots.

Five shots? That’s a lot of shots. Not an “accidental” discharge, but a cop who decided that someone needed to be shot.

Police declined to detail what went wrong during the drug bust, and they did not say why the officer opened fire. But the criminal complaint said nothing about the suspects being armed.

As police have gone to significant lengths to explain of late, it’s very dangerous work, as they face evil and risk their lives to protect us.  There are statistics kept, and even smooth talkers who try to use them to make cops feel less heroic than cops know themselves to be.  This undercover cop, whose job is very dangerous, will likely end up in those statistics.  Will there be an asterisk next to it?

Under other circumstances, this would be where the police revealed the shooter’s criminal history, the number of times he was arrested, usually without regard to the trivial nature of the charges or the outcome, since arrests tend to be more numerous and serious than convictions. But not this time.

Eden insisted that the officer who shot his colleague felt “devastated.” He said that the lieutenant had been placed on administrative leave while the incident was investigated.

While many have doubts that police officers are particularly devastated when they shoot another human being, this time is likely different.  After all, shooting a fellow police officer isn’t the same as shooting a non-cop, who probably had it coming anyway.

Much as the foregoing may serve to juxtapose the differences between what happens when a non-cop is shot, maybe killed, and much as the occasional gross error of a cop shooting another cop, an undercover cop, reflects a horrible mistake, the fact remains that bad things happen when force, particularly deadly force, is used in the first resort.

We don’t need all the details to be able to safely assume the undercover officer was not a threat to their peers, yet they were shot anyway.  Media is discussing this event using words like “tragedy” and “accident” while ignoring the fact that this is a symptom of a much larger problem, and it seems that an officer once again shot someone who posed no threat to them.

What makes this shooting distinct is that there can be no excuse where the undercover cop did something to give rise to a threat of death or serious injury to the cop who shot him. Five times.  The suspects had no guns, so there was nothing on their end. The undercover probably was armed, but he wasn’t going to shoot his fellow cop.

What twist can the Albuquerque police give this to turn it into something that doesn’t impugn the shooter?  Perhaps someone there has a sufficiently vivid imagination to come up with some story that doesn’t make them look bad?

While a snarky answer would be that, on the bright side, after five months of shooting no one, the Albuquerque police still haven’t shot any non-cops. But then, cops’ lives matter too.  Just like non-cops.

The idea isn’t that cops shouldn’t go home for dinner, but that everyone should.  That means the cops don’t shoot people for the hell of it, even if the target of their five shots is an undercover.

Update:  Just announced, the two Albuquerque cops who executed James Boyd will be charged:

Bernalillo County District Attorney Kari Brandenburg has confirmed to the NM Political Report that she will charge two Albuquerque police officers with murder for the shooting of a homeless camper in the city’s foothills in March of 2014.

To put this in perspective

The announcement expected today would be the first time police officers were charged in connection with an officer-involved shooting. The officers are expected to be charged with open counts of murder through a process known as a “criminal information” filing. In this case the prosecutor files charges on paper and triggers a public preliminary hearing which acts as a mini-trial where both the prosecutor and defense present evidence to a judge who decides if probable cause exists for a full trial.

As opposed to a sham grand jury proceeding designed to give the appearance of prosecution while assuring that no indictment will come of it.

H/T Mike Paar

38 thoughts on “Albuquerque Is Back, With Guns Blazing (Update)

  1. sam

    The Journal article is terrible journalism. Provides very little or no clear details about this shooting, seems to have asked no probing questions or interviewed other independent experts and then spends half the space talking about another cop who was apparently a shooting victim in an unrelated incident more than a week back. If the idea was to provide some background about recent shootings involving cops in albuquerque, surely the doj report cited here should have been mentioned.

  2. delurking

    I have to admit, I’m really surprised that comments like “he went for his waistband” or “his hand was moving near his side” are accepted by just about everyone as justification for shooting. There are millions of concealed-carry permit holders in the US. If any one of them pulled a gun and shot someone based on that sort of observation, he would certainly be prosecuted. Yet, police officers seem to do it quite regularly. It seems that if an officer has a gun drawn and pointed at someone, it is entirely reasonable policy to require that they actually see a weapon before pulling the trigger.

    Following that, I have a legal question. Do the same laws apply to police and non-police in situations where one person shoots another? Is the difference in the treatment of the shooter a case of prosecutorial discretion?

    1. SHG Post author

      Your first paragraph mixes two separate questions. Even though a person may have a lawful carry weapon, that does not give rise to a right to reach for it when seized by police. There may be a right to a gun; there is no right to pull it on a cop. That said, you throw in a very important point:

      . . . it is entirely reasonable policy to require that they actually see a weapon before pulling the trigger.

      I agree completely. The argument that cops shouldn’t have to wait to see the muzzle flash before defending themselves may be true, but they should have to wait to see the glint of steel. Huge difference.

      As to your “legal question,” this isn’t legal advice. See the sidebar.

      1. macktheripper

        I believe the first question as I read it was about a CC holder pulling their gun and shooting any person who reaches toward their waistband. Not pulling it on a cop.
        I also believe he is correct in assuming they would be prosecuted for such actions. Only police are allowed this feeble excuse.

          1. delurking

            I’m sorry you felt that way about the comment. I thought it was pretty relevant, because had the person shot not been an undercover officer, I think the reports would almost certainly say “Police said he was reaching for …” in stead of “Police declined to detail what went wrong…”.

            1. SHG Post author

              If we change the facts, then anything might be relevant, but posts are about the facts of the post, not other facts that have nothing to do with the post. This wasn’t a post about police shooting someone who lawfully carried. Not even close. Your choosing to draw a line to a wholly unrelated scenario doesn’t make it any more relevant than a million other wholly unrelated scenarios.

      2. Peter H

        I interpreted delurking’s first paragraph differently. I saw it as arguing that if a concealed carry permit holder shot somebody based on “he reached for his waistband” the shooter would be tried for murder. And yet when a cop does the same thing and says the same reasoning, it’s treated as fine.

      3. ExCop-LawStudent

        “. . . it is entirely reasonable policy to require that they actually see a weapon before pulling the trigger.”

        No, it’s not reasonable. Due to the reaction time involved, the officer would be shot before he could get a round off. Will this cause mistakes? Sure. It’s a human world. But the question is not one of absolute necessity, but of reasonableness. Let me give a brief example.

        My partner and I drove up on two guys kneeling down by an aluminum guard rail and we separated them, one with my partner by the car and one by the guard rail with me. The one with me all of a sudden pulls his sweatshirt up with one hand and reaches under it with the other. I knew, right then, I was going to get shot, and there was absolutely no doubt in my mind.

        As I was drawing my revolver (it was quite a few years back), I saw the black pistol grip in his hand. As my gun was clearing the holster, he dropped a hacksaw on the ground. Had it been a pistol, I would have been shot several time before I was even in a position to shoot back, and what’s more, even if I had my weapon drawn I feel that I would have been hit at least once.

        You can’t always wait to see the weapon. You have to judge on whether it was reasonable or not.

        1. SHG Post author

          Sorry, but too many unarmed people getting killed. Being a cop doesn’t mean you get to kill “just in case.” The “human world” doesn’t mean cops’ safety is paramount and dead bodies of others are unfortunate unintended consequences. If they’re unarmed and they pose no threat, even if the cop can’t be 100% certain of his own safety, they get to live too.

          Nobody promised a cop that the job was risk free. If we leave it to cops to decide what’s “reasonable,” the answer has become painfully clear:

          Gun drawn? Aimed? Ready to fire, given the appropriate circumstances? Fine. But don’t pull the trigger until you have a reason to believe there is a threat of force. That means a weapon, not just the theoretical potential of a weapon.

            1. SHG Post author

              I suspect our sensibilities on this issue are going to differ markedly. As you know, it’s hard if not impossible to draw a simple line since every scenario is different, but what I argue is that the line (such as in the video above) has moved way too far toward officer safety and away from citizen safety. Cops are too quick to resort to force, and unarmed people are dying. It’s not a tenable situation.

            2. ExCop-LawStudent

              I don’t disagree that it’s gone too far, but the only way to pull it back is to hold officers accountable. And that means filing on them.

              On a separate issue (mainly because I don’t have time to research it), does New York allow a felony information and a hearing, or do y’all do it like Texas and require an indictment?

            3. SHG Post author

              It’s indictment only here.

              I have nothing against holding cops accountable, but I would really like to save some warm bodies from going cold along the way. Money and retribution is fine, but it’s not the same as remaining alive.

        2. Dave

          I think the difference here is you did not have your gun out already. It is reasonable to draw your weapon and point it at someone you think might be armed. Just don’t pull the trigger until you are sure you actually see a weapon. You are a trained professional who qualifies on a shooting range and is supposed to train for thst situation. With your gun out and aimed and your training yiu have the advantage on someone who does not even have a weapon out. You can wait and be sure. That is what you are paid to do and if you can’t handle it nothing stops you from getting another job.

          1. Ken Hagler

            While drawing a weapon and pointing it at someone who might be armed may well be normal behavior for cops, that certainly does not make it reasonable.

        3. Jack

          There is also a huge void between “reached toward waistband” and seeing the “glint of steel.” Maybe seeing the gun itself is unreasonable to you, but even someone with years of experience as an LEO has to see that just moving your hand toward your midsection as justification for a shoot is absurd – especially since that action is required for the vast majority of citizen LEO interactions – to retrieve ID.

          As you are well aware, to draw a a gun tucked into a waistband or IWB holster, you have to lift your shirt, grab the weapon, draw, turn and point before the officer can be shot – best case scenario for the would-be murderer. It isn’t like their hand makes it to their waistband and you are dead. That is a lot of time and movement between waistband and weapon to draw the line. Step 1 shouldn’t be a death sentence when there are so many mundane reasons for having your hands near your waist.

        4. Troutwaxer

          I think you’re missing the other part of the lesson here. Yes, your senses told you that you were going to be shot, but IT TURNED OUT THE GUY WASN’T PULLING A WEAPON. Your senses and your training both deceived you. You could have shot a guy for trying to dispose of a hacksaw…

          BTW, I have bookmarked your blog and read your posts regularly. You do good work.

        5. Ken Mackenzie

          I am not a cop. I see someone reach into their pants. Do you say I can shoot them? Or is it one rule for cops and another for the rest of us?

          1. SHG Post author

            There’s a reason why it’s called “The First Rule of Policing,” and not the First Rule of Guys with Guns.

            1. Ken Mackenzie

              I know. I’m just interested to see whether ExCopLawStudent will attempt to justify the exceptionalism.

            2. Ken Mackenzie

              ExCop-Lawstudent, That’s a cop out. You made the claim: cops can’t wait until they see the weapon. SHG gave me space to challenge it. So enlighten us. Is the rule the same for unbadged citizens?

            3. SHG Post author

              He won’t bite, but then, we already know the answer. Of course not. Cops get latitude because they’re cops. It’s not the same for others, who may carry weapons but aren’t cops, aren’t given the authority of cops and will never get the latitude given cops. Nor should they, assuming the system works as it’s conceived to work.

              The better question is why not, and the answer is that the structure of latitude for cops is based on the premise that cops are doing it for society’s sake, for our sake, and thus deserve greater latitude than others. Which raises the next question, that if cops aren’t doing the job, then why should they still get that degree of latitude that’s denied others. This isn’t a mystery, but it is an extremely vexing problem.

            4. ExCop-LawStudent

              OK, since I’m obviously being invited to do so by Scott….

              I’m drawn to the recent case of Michael Caldwell, 31, of Tyler, TX. Apparently he decided to threaten Fred Neal, 65, at a Redbox, AFTER Caldwell had been thrown out of IHOP, Walgreens, and called on for road rage. After being warned by Neal several times to back off, Neal shot Caldwell once in the chest. Neal was not charged. That was appropriate.

              Or the case last year of Gabriel Mobley in Miami, FL. After a verbal argument in a restaurant, he sees his friend get hit by Jason Gonzalez and go down with a fractured eye socket and he sees Rolando Carrazana reaching under his shirt as if reaching for a gun. Mobley drew and shot both Carrazana and Gonzalez. The Court of Appeals ordered a grant of immunity to Mobley under FL law. Again, it was appropriate.

              Will it always be? Of course not, but citizens have the same right to self-defense as police officers, and reasonableness is the standard. In the first case, it was youth and size that justified it. In the second, it was a reasonable belief that Carrazana was going for a gun.

              It should be the same rule for both.

  3. Dazed and Confused

    “The one with me all of a sudden pulls his sweatshirt up with one hand and reaches under it with the other. I knew, right then, I was going to get shot, and there was absolutely no doubt in my mind.

    As I was drawing my revolver (it was quite a few years back), I saw the black pistol grip in his hand. As my gun was clearing the holster, he dropped a hacksaw on the ground. Had it been a pistol, I would have been shot several time before I was even in a position to shoot back, and what’s more, even if I had my weapon drawn I feel that I would have been hit at least once.”

    This implies a lot of certainty and absolutes in a world of unknowns and probabilities. If the hacksaw fired projectiles and the projectiles weren’t b.b. pellets or paintballs and the now (yet still hypothetical) gun was in decent enough shape and cleaned and maintained properly (to “ensure” the weapon is less a threat to the shooter than the target) and the hypothetical shooter was a competent shot AND adrenaline wouldn’t pull the hypothetical shots wide…I’m not seeing many certainties or absolutes under the circumstances.

    I am neither certain or absolute either, but one might hypothesize American police forces have fallen under the thrall of seven yards (21 feet) without considering anything else Dennis Tueller wrote in 1983.

  4. Karl Erich Martell

    As I live in Albuquerque, your lead-in was good for a grin – thanks.

    “While a snarky answer would be that, on the bright side, after five months of shooting no one, the Albuquerque police still haven’t shot any non-cops. But then, cops’ lives matter too. Just like non-cops.”

    Just writing to note that it’s not quite accurate to say that APD hadn’t shot anyone in five months. It was reported that during a burglary investigation on Sunday, December 14, 2014, there was an unintentional shooting of a man sleeping in an apartment beneath the one burglarized. Pursuant to your link policy, I won’t link several articles on the subject, but a search should find reporting of the incident. Accidents do happen, of course.

    As always, thank you for the time you spend on your interesting blog.

    1. SHG Post author

      A link isn’t necessary. I trust you. So you know, I took that from one of the articles I read. That’s what I get for trusting journalistic accuracy. It does, however, take the wind out of my 5 months line. That’s a shame.

      1. Karl Erich Martell

        Well, now there was another APD shooting yesterday (Tuesday the 13th) afternoon. The allegations are that the man shot at police. Despite the body armor the man was reportedly wearing, he was killed when APD shot back.

  5. barnassey

    I wonder if the the undercover was a black or white cop? That may put an interesting spin to the reason why the officer felt the need to pull the trigger so many times.

    1. SHG Post author

      Since there is no information about the identity of the undercover, as is clear from the post, raising this belies your prejudice.

    2. Karl Erich Martell

      The names of the officers were released (I’d be happy to post links, but I don’t want to violate blog policy) a few days ago. An officer with the same name and job description as the officer who was shot appeared in a news video a couple years ago (he was comforting a child who’d allegedly been stabbed by his mother), and he’s white (or “Anglo,” as they’d say in Albuquerque).

      1. SHG Post author

        Thanks Karl. No need to name the guy who was shot, as he didn’t do anything. But as much as I’m concerned about police targeting minorities, it’s wrong to jump to conclusions without basis, so this bit of “anglo” news takes that off the table.

        1. Karl Erich Martell

          I believe it does. It’s a shame that circumstances make that inquiry commonly heard. I look forward to a time when those circumstances no longer exist.

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