Hours after hundreds protested the Albuquerque Police Department’s use of force Tuesday evening, officers opened fire on a man near Central and Coors. The man died at the hospital, police said Wednesday morning.
He becomes the 23rd man since 2010 shot and killed by Albuquerque Police, which is being investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice for its use of force.
Police said the man was armed and fired his weapon before being shot by officers.
There were conflicting accounts from witnesses Wednesday: Some said officers shot the man while he was unarmed and talking on a cellphone. Others said the man was armed but that he did not ever point or shoot at officers. They said he had the gun to his own head.
Franchesca Coffee said she watched the confrontation from her apartment, which is across a small courtyard from where the shooting happened.
“They tried to say that he shot at them? They’re full of it. I saw the whole thing. He was no threat whatsoever,” she said.
A video shot by a neighbor appears to show a man in a white shirt on a porch holding a cellphone to his right ear before dropping his arm to his side in the seconds before shots ring out. The man appears to fall to the ground after the sound of the gunfire.
Neighbors said they heard three to five shots.
Wynema Gonzagowski, who lives down the street from the shooting scene, said she had lent her cell phone to the suspect’s sister so she could communicate with her brother, and was standing with the sister in the minutes leading up to the fatal shooting.
“She (the sister) tells him (a police officer) ‘I’ve got my brother on the phone. I’m talking to him. He wants to come out. He’s scared. He’s going to send the boys out and then he’s going to follow them out.’”
“…She (the sister) kept telling her brother over and over ‘They’re not going to shoot you, they’re not going to shoot you. They’re not going to hurt you.
“The cop tells her (the sister) to tell him to drop the cell phone, so obviously the cop knew he had a cell phone in his hand. She (the sister) starts to tell him (the suspect) to drop the cell phone, and the cop grabs the phone out of her hand and hangs it up. He hung it up. He could have talked with the guy and told the guy himself to drop the cell phone, but he (the cop) hung up.”
Gonzagowski said she never saw the suspect with a gun.
“And then the sister and I are yelling out ‘He’s got a cell phone, he’s got a cell phone.’ And they open fire. On the news I just heard that they (police) said he opened fire on the cops. I didn’t see him with a gun at all. I saw one hand up and one hand here (holding the phone to his ear). I heard his voice on my cell phone when his sister was talking to him so, where’s the gun? Where’s the gun?”
The woman said police told the victim’s sister that they were using nonlethal rounds.
Officers responded to 911 calls saying the suspect had pointed a gun at a child shortly after 9 p.m. Tuesday at a home on the 200 block of 60th NW, Police Chief Gorden Eden said.
He said the man “exited (the house) with a firearm and fired it,” before officers returned fire.
Eden refused to take questions at the early morning news conference, saying another press conference would likely be scheduled for before noon today.
Fabian Chavez, a neighbor who lives across the street from the shooting, said he heard family members “begging” officers not to shoot their relative around 11 p.m. and shouting expletives.
He also saw uniformed officers armed with what he described as assault rifles at the scene, and he heard one officer telling the person to put their hands up.
“Not even a minute later, they just shot him,” Chavez said.
He did not see whether the person shot was carrying a weapon, but heard four distinct gunshots
He also said he heard a man’s voice shout “(Expletive) you! Just do it!” before shots rang out.
Between 10 to 15 minutes later, he saw an ambulance carry the person away.
“I didn’t expect this to happen, for them to shoot him right away,” he said.
Eden said the Bernalillo County Sheriffs Office and New Mexico State Police were on scene helping with the investigation.
It’s the department’s second officer-involved shooting under Eden, who was appointed police chief last month.
The shooting comes on the heels of another officer-involved shooting in the Sandia foothills last Sunday that left a mentally ill, homeless man dead. That shooting sparked local and national outcry. Hundreds marched on APD headquarters Tuesday evening, with organizers calling for indictments of the officers involved.
The Department of Justice is investigating whether APD has a pattern or practice of violating citizens’ civil rights, specifically through the use of deadly force. That investigation is a civil investigation, not criminal.