By DAVID CORREIA
Albuquerque police officer Leah Kelly shot Chandler Barr twice in the chest in September of 2010. Barr, one of 25 people shot by Albuquerque police officers since 2010, is among only seven who survived the shootings. The pattern of police shootings in Albuquerque prompted the U.S. Department of Justice to launch a civil rights investigation of APD, and the public outcry led to Police Chief Ray Schultz announcing his retirement from APD effective this year. Despite popular and official concern regarding police violence in Albuquerque, not a single APD officer has been charged for actions associated with a shooting, fatal or otherwise.
Last week Bernalillo County District Attorney Kari Bandenburg continued that pattern when her office issued a press release announcing that after an internal investigation APD officer Leah Kelly will not be charged with any crime associated with the shooting of then 19-year old Chandler Barr.
Local activists were shocked by the announcement although by now most are accustomed to one disappointment after another. After all, this is a department with officers like Trey Economidy who shot Jacob Mitschelen in the back in February of 2011 killing him instantly. He posted his job description on Facebook as “human waste disposal.” Detective Jim Dwyer posted his occupation on his MySpace page as “oxygen thief removal technician,” a page that also included alarming posts like “Some people are only alive because killing them is illegal.”
But among the many frightening cases of police violence over the past few years, the shooting of Chandler Barr stands out as particularly egregious. Just days before Kelly shot him, Barr called APD looking for help. He was suicidal, he told them, and begged the dispatcher for help. Barr, who was previously diagnosed with bipolar disorder, spent the next three days at UNM’s Psychiatric Center where he was treated for depression disorder that doctors described as serious.
When Barr was released from the hospital, he went directly to the bus station where he got into an argument with an employee over the cost of a bus ticket. He was delirious and wielding a dull butter knife. The bus station employee, alarmed by Barr’s behavior, called APD to say that Barr was in the station cutting himself with a knife.
Two APD officers on bicycles, Kelly and a fellow officer, responded to the call—a call apparently described by dispatch as a “welfare check,” not possible criminal activity. According to court records, the officers found Barr wandering around downtown cutting his own arm with a dull knife.
According to Jeff Proctor’s recent Albuquerque Journal story, Kelly pointed her gun at Barr, and “yelled at him to drop the knife. He walked ‘slowly’ toward her, looking ‘confused’ and ‘dazed,’ court records state.”
Kelly shot him twice in the chest. According to one eyewitness report, Kelly, who has a record of citizen complaints, was smoking a cigar when she fired her weapon.
Barr, who required two surgeries and more than a month at UNM Hospital, was arrested and charged with aggravated assault on a police officer with a deadly weapon. Brandenburg quickly indicted Barr on the charge. Police Chief Ray Schultz defended Kelly. According to Schultz, deadly force is called for in situations in which APD officers confront slowly moving and stumbling citizens with known mental illnesses clutching dull knives. The city’s police oversight commission agreed and accepted the findings of an independent review officer, who found that Officer Kelly followed procedure.
Now, nearly three years after the shooting, Brandenburg has made it official. Policing in Albuquerque is organized thuggery designed to reinforce a social order in which the poor, the mentally ill, and minority residents are targets, not citizens. APD operates above the law, with impunity, because the DA’s office has defined certain kinds of citizens as threats and agrees with APD that deadly force is the routine application of everyday police tactics.
Vecinos United plans to hold a protest today, May 21st, at 1 PM in front of the DA’s offices on 5th and Lomas in downtown Albuquerque. The protest will move to City Hall at 4th and Marquette at 3 PM.
Let’s hope the Justice Department, still conducting its review of APD, is paying attention and broadens its investigation to include the criminal activities of Brandenburg and her Office of District Attorney.