Relatives, Citizens Address City Council on APD Killings
Notes and Photos by ERIC SHULTZ
Albuquerque citizens filled the City Council chamber Monday. Many came to support Channel 27, Albuquerque’s endangered public access cable channel, but more were there to express anger, sorrow and disgust over the APD’s latest fatal shootings of unarmed citizens. On March 21, APD SWAT officer Russell Carter killed Gary Atencio near Laguna Pueblo. Two days earlier, APD officer Martin Smith ended an altercation by shooting and killing Daniel Tillison, who had something in his hand: a cellphone.
From the dozens of citizens who spoke came a near-unanimous call for the City of Albuquerque to request federal intervention in the form of a Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation of the Police Department. LULAC State Director Ralph Arellanes thanked Councillors Ken Sanchez, Rey Garduño, Dan Lewis, Isaac Benton and Debbie O’Malley for calling for DOJ intervention, and chided Councillors Brad Winter, Michael Cook, Don Harris and Council President Trudy Jones for opposing it, asking whether they would vote the same way today. Passing the Council 5 to 4, the previous resolution was vetoed by Mayor Richard Berry, in part because the City learned that DOJ had already begun a preliminary review of APD for civil rights violations. At this meeting, citizens asked the councilors – together and as individuals – to request a formal investigation.
Noting that Monday’s meeting was just 10 days short of the first anniversary of APD’s “violent shooting and killing” of his son Christopher Torres, Steve Torres admitted a change of heart. Saying he had put his faith in Chief Schultz to “be the catalyst to bring about the needed reforms in the Police Department,” after the latest killings and revelations about “bonus” payments for shootings, he is now calling for Schultz to step down. “I had faith in the man. Not any more.”
In Torres’s view, problems at APD are a matter of its institutional culture: “We’ve all seen the scandalous videos of police officers beating up on civilians and then celebrating afterwards. This is a terrible situation in our police department. We need to do something about this. Enough is enough!”
Regarding Schultz’s recent statement that he didn’t know about the police union paying “bonuses” to officers involved in shootings (see David Correia’s March 23 post on this site), Torres turned and scolded Schultz, emphasizing his words with a pointed finger: “Chief, it’s your job to know about that, and if you don’t know about that, you need to know about it.” Despite Council President Jones interrupting Mr. Torres repeatedly to tell him his two minutes for comment had expired, Torres finished chewing out the chief: “If you can’t run this police department, get out of the way and let somebody else in who can!”
If the victims are alleged to have been criminals, then what has become of arrest and prosecution? Beside relatives of APD’s victims, a number of community organizations addressed the Council, including Vecinos United, Los Jardines Institute and the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Center, whose Task Force on Social Justice for Public Safety asked in a press release: “When did our society give permission to Chief Schultz and his officers to shoot to kill everyone?”
As La Jicarita editor David Correia reported last year, “Mark Gomez found his brother Alan high on drugs and ‘acting crazy.’ Not knowing how to intervene and scared that his brother would hurt himself, he called 911. Alan Gomez became another statistic when an APD officer shot him in the back. Gomez was armed at the time with a plastic spoon” (Counterpunch, November 23, 2011). Alan’s father Mike Gomez has had his life turned around, having become an outspoken activist against police violence.
Responding to a domestic dispute in 2010, APD officers shot and killed Len Fuentes. In the police version of events, Fuentes was armed with a knife and had “lunged” at the officer who killed him. This is precisely the type of incident in which the “lapel” cameras APD claims to have instituted could provide important evidence. La Jicarita editor David Correia had requested copies of all recordings made during the most recent killings of Tillison and Atencio: the City of Albuquerque has promised to provide these recordings next week on April 12.
San Luis, Colorado native and Sangre de Cristo Land Grant heir Andrés Valdez, a long-time Albuquerque civil rights activist who has worked for decades against APD brutality, spoke in his capacity as director of New Mexico Vecinos United to announce protest actions this Saturday, April 7, along Central Avenue between Wellesley and Montclaire. Valdez invited the Councillors to attend and pray with him on Easter Eve.
La Jicarita will continue to provide ongoing coverage of this story as it develops.