By DAVID CORREIA
The frightening pattern of police violence in Albuquerque over the past two years—four killed by APD this year and 17 since 2010—took a strange new twist last week when an APD spokesperson admitted that its original description of a stand-off between APD and a man named Santiago Chavez was a lie.
In the first story, APD claimed that Chavez put a gun to his head and killed himself after barricading himself in his house. After media scrutiny, however, an APD spokesperson admitted this week that Chavez and APD SWAT officer Drew Bader exchanged gunfire before Chavez, according to APD, “committed suicide.”
APD has not explained why this fact was omitted from its initial reports—reports that came via email during the standoff. In the wake of media reports, Chavez’s death is now considered an officer-involved shooting.
The Bader shooting replays a recent pattern for APD, one in which police officers with a history of shooting people keep shooting people while APD releases reports that are at best confusing and at worst criminally deceitful. An APD spokesperson declared, with suspicious certainty, that Chavez “committed suicide” yet claimed not to know how many shots were fired during the shoot-out that preceded his death.
What precipitated SWAT’s appearance in the first place? Apparently Chavez was lobbing rocks at passing vehicles while knocking down trash cans on the street in front of his house.
This was Bader’s third fatal shooting. He was involved in two previous fatal shootings as a member of SWAT, one in 2007 and another in 2008. In neither case was Bader placed on leave—another APD pattern. Just this past March, APD SWAT officer Russell Carter shot and killed Gary Atencio. Just like Bader, it was, as we wrote in a previous post on APD violence, his third fatal shooting. Just like Bader, he remained a member of SWAT despite dubious claims surrounding the shootings—in February of 2005 Carter killed a man during, of all things, a foreclosure eviction.
For more than a year, community activists have been trying to understand this apparent shoot-first policy of APD. Possible answers were revealed last week when, just days before the Bader/Chavez shootout, the Albuquerque Journal reported that for the past two decades an APD gang unit has been using a noose as its symbol.
Why would APD select a terrifying symbol of racist violence as a representative image?
Don’t ask APD. They claim not to know. When asked about the use of such a racially charged symbol, APD Cmdr. Doug West told a reporter he was “not a knot expert” and besides, “I don’t know a whole lot about knots.”
When that brilliant tactic didn’t diffuse the controversy, APD shifted strategies. It now claims that officers are on edge because the prison gang Aryan Brotherhood has made threats against APD officers. While the second claim of Aryan aggression is as ridiculous as the lack of knot knowledge is offensive (but not as offensive as the actual use of the image), it does finally amount to an admission on the part of APD that its officers are trigger happy.
Click here for previous La Jicarita posts on APD violence.