A protest in Albuquerque, New Mexico lasted more than ten hours on Sunday, escalating into what Mayor Richard Berry called “mayhem.” The protests were triggered by over 37 police shootings since 2010, 23 of them fatal.
As protesters shut down the streets and began to flood interstates, police from the very department they were protesting dispersed the demonstrations with tear gas and hauled demonstrators away in zip-tie restraints. The Sunday showdown demonstrates escalating tensions, in the wake of a threat by Hacktivist group Anonymous to cyberattack the police department.
While this is not the first protest over excessive police force in the city, renewed tensions were spurred by two more fatal police shootings in just the last month. Here are some of the most shocking incidents since 2010 that have prompted the protests, and a Department of Justice investigation.
Shooting of a homeless camper.
In the most recent incident, police fired on a homeless man who appeared to be surrendering. Police reportedly shot 38-year-old James Boyd after an altercation erupted over his unlawfully camping in the Albuquerque foothills. Police first approached him while he was sleeping to talk to him about camping illegally. He reportedly had one or two knives in his hands, and told officers at one point that he was an agent for the Department of Defense. A YouTube video appears to show that at the time of the shots, Boyd had agreed to surrender and walk down the mountain with the officers. Police shot six rounds of bullets, but also fired non-lethal weapons including bean bag rounds and stun guns. The Department of Justice has opened its own criminal investigation in the matter. The police department initially said the shooting was “justified” but later suggested it may have been a mistake.
Less than ten days later, police shot and killed another man outside a housing complex. There is a dispute about whether victim Alfred Redwine had a gun in his hand and/or dropped the gun before the shots were fired.
Suicidal Iraq War veteran shot dead.
Iraq War Veteran Kenneth Ellis III was pointing a gun at his own head outside a 7-Eleven in 2010 when he was shot and killed. Ellis, who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, had been talking with a crisis intervention negotiator when Officer Bret Lampiris-Tremba fired at Ellis. While an independent review officer ruled Lampiris-Tremba never should have fired, a citizen review commission later found the shooting justified. Ellis’ family later won a $10 million jury award, which turned into an $8 million settlement to avoid appeal.
911 call for suicide intervention ends in critical injuries from shooting.
Russell Tenorio’s sister-in-law called 911 in 2010 hoping that police could help to calm him because he was threatening to harm himself. Instead, police did it for him, firing shots that caused him to lose a kidney and suffer permanent damage to his intestines. Officers said Tenorio continued to walk toward him with the 3-inch paring knife he said he would use to harm himself, despite commands to drop the knife and get on the ground. Tenorio survived the gunshots, but he spent 13 days in jail on charges of aggravated assault against a police officer until he posted $50,000 bail and later saw the charges dropped. The shooting, meanwhile, was deemed justified by a grand jury and officer Brian Pitzer has not faced any discipline for firing the gunshots, according to the Albuquerque Journal.
Mentally ill man with a butter knife shot.
A 19-year-old diagnosed as bipolar was fatally shot after threatening an officer with a “kitchen knife” similar to a butter knife. Chandler Barr had been taken to a mental health facility three days earlier after threatening suicide. When he was released, he went to a Greyhound station and cut his own wrists with the knife. Officer Leah Kelly “intercepted” Barr at an intersection after he left the bus station. Kelly said Barr threatened her with the knife and she shot him twice in the upper chest, although he survived. The District Attorney’s office cleared Kelly of all wrongdoing, and Kelly faced no discipline, according to the Albuquerque Journal. A civil lawsuit is ongoing.
Officers “belly bump” over beating.
After beating a suspected car thief in a parking garage, video shows officers giving each other “belly bumps” to celebrate, according to CBS News. The two officers kicked the suspect in the head more than 12 times while one officer held the man down on the ground, and beat him with a baton. The officers were fired after the video became public.
Amidst this backdrop, the Albuquerque Journal also reported in 2012 that the local police union was awarding officers who fired shots payments of $300 to $500 so that they could decompress. This is in addition counseling provided by the city.
Albuquerque officers have seen a particularly high number of shootings. New York City, by contrast, saw about the same number of deadly shootings for a population 15 times as high, according to the ACLU of New Mexico. Deadly shots by police officers are a regular occurrence around the country, particularly against the mentally ill and minorities. But apparent incidents of excessive force rarely result in discipline, let alone criminal charges. Increased recordings of the shootings have shed light on this phenomenon, and raised questions about why officers turn to their guns before other less deadly means.