By DAVID CORREIA
A Deputy Marshal, working as part of an interagency fugitive task force that included Albuquerque Police Department officers, shot and killed Anthony Chavez at his home, in front of his family, on the 9000 block of Upper Meadow last Wednesday, July 2 on Albuquerque’s Westside.
In a city rocked by increased police violence—27 killed by APD since 2010—it was the third U.S. Marshals’ shooting in Albuquerque since April. On April 1, U.S. Marshals shot Gilbert Serrano in the head in a parking lot along Sunset Boulevard in Southwest Albuquerque. Eyewitnesses to the shooting described a chaotic scene. As La Jicarita reported at the time, eyewitnesses Barbara Valdez and her son Gabriel were sitting in a vehicle in a parking lot northwest of Bridge and Sunset when plainclothes agents emerged from unmarked cars and approached two men sitting in a green Ford Ranger pickup. One agent reached for the driver’s-side door while Valdez heard shouts of “Get out! Get out!” and then, almost immediately, saw a female officer raise her weapon and fire into the vehicle, shooting the driver in the head. The car was moving backwards as the agent fired. Agents fired four or five more rounds into the vehicle. Eyewitnesses reported that Serrano did not have a weapon. The U.S. Marshals Service would not confirm the report.
As part of the investigation of the shooting, Bernalillo County deputies confiscated the cell phones of all eyewitnesses at the scene. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last month that law enforcement agencies cannot seize and search cell phones without first securing a warrant. Despite this ruling, Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Sgt. Aaron Williamson defended the practice this month saying that his agency will continue to seize cell phones without a warrant. He depicted the practice as important in the preservation of evidence. Bernalillo County is not using that “evidence” to pursue charges against Deputy Marshals involved in the shooting, despite the fact that Marshals shot an unarmed Serrano.
Barely two weeks after the Serrano shooting, on April 18 of this year, Deputy Marshals attempted to serve a bench warrant on Rufus Phelps at Tingley and Central on Albuquerque’s southwest side. According to a rare statement about the shooting by the U.S. Marshals Service (USMS), “shots were fired, and the suspect [was] believed to have fled west.” The USMS did not release the names of the officers or who fired the shots, or if Phelps was armed. Phelps was arrested six days later.
As with the other two shootings, Marshals refused to release information on the fatal shooting of Chavez saying only: “Pursuant to Department of Justice policy, the U.S. Marshals Service cannot comment further on today’s incident because it is under investigation.”
In the days after the shooting, the family of Anthony Chavez released his name and said that his family, including his young children, witnessed his killing.
Albuquerque police spokesperson Janet Blair refused to say whether Chavez was armed, but the Chavez family told friends and neighbors that he was unarmed.
Though the USMS routinely refuses to release information, Albuquerque police have been under enormous pressure by activists and the dozens of families of victims of police violence in Albuquerque since Department of Justice lawyers released a damning report about APD in April that concluded its officers engage in unconstitutional policing and routinely use unjustified lethal force. The DOJ report also noted that the Albuquerque Police Department conducts “inadequate force investigations,” noting that “APD policy does not require that supervisors conduct a thorough, rigorous, and objective review of officers’ use of force, including ensuring that officers provide a complete and accurate account of the facts surrounding their use of force” (23-4).
APD, the agency least capable of investigating another use of force incident by the U.S. Marshals, is the agency responsible for investigating another use of force by the U.S. Marshals.
Last week, under pressure, APD released some information on the shooting. A Deputy U.S. Marshal named Kenneth Daniel shot and killed Chavez at his home last Wednesday. City Attorney Kathy Levy also said that Daniel was working as part of a Fugitive Task Force that included APD officers. She would not say which APD officers were involved.
Reliable sources tell La Jicarita that one of those APD officers was Russ Carter. As La Jicarita reported in March of 2012, at the time of another APD shooting involving Carter, he’s been involved in three fatal shootings as a police officer.
In February of 2005 Carter was one of seven officers involved in a 12-hour standoff when Torrance County Sheriff’s deputies tried to serve an eviction notice on 58-year old John Loche. Loche, however, refused to leave and instead barricaded himself in his McIntosh, N.M. trailer. The standoff and gun battle that ensued left two officers wounded and Loche dead of multiple gunshots.
In June 2007, Carter and another APD SWAT officer shot and killed 42-year-old Jay Martin Murphy after Murphy barricaded himself inside his Albuquerque home with his teenage daughter. According to police Murphy had been lobbing glass bottles at officers from his car and then, wielding a knife, barricaded himself in his house. According to the warrant Murphy stood on his porch from where he continued to throw bottles and various objects at police. The victim’s son, Jay Murphy Jr., 19, exited the house when his father entered and “advised the officer his dad was ‘harmless’ and tried to calm the situation down.” Instead an APD SWAT unit stormed the house and killed Murphy.
Just days before the Phelps shooting, the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice concluded a lengthy investigation of use of force problems at APD and concluded, among other problems, that brass have long cultivated a culture of aggressive policing in Albuquerque and that the agency has long operated with impunity and without transparency. With the recent spate of shootings by U.S. Marshals, it appears APD may have finally found its match in the U.S. Marshals Service, an agency that, ironically, is housed in the same federal agency as the civil rights division so critical of APD.
Perhaps the DOJ should expand its investigation of APD to include the U.S. Marshals. If they did they’d find an agency that operates with complete secrecy. It answers no questions of the press and releases no information to the public. It operates with an impunity that would make even APD jealous.
And, like APD, it has a long and troubling history in New Mexico as a political tool of local elites and a repressive vehicle to violently squelch social justice movements.
A secret March 1968 report by the New Mexico State Police shows that New Mexico law enforcement authorities knew that a former state trooper and Deputy U.S. Marshal named Tiny Fellion operated as a paid assassin in Española, New Mexico. Fellion blew off his left hand while placing an explosive device at the Albuquerque headquarters of an organization called La Alianza Federal de Mercedes. Alianza was a New Mexico-based social movement organization that advocated for the return of Spanish and Mexican land grants that were lost to heirs following the U.S.—Mexican War. Alianza and its charismatic leader, Reies Lopez Tijerina, were the targets of intense patterns of state violence and repression throughout the 1960s as part of a secret program of covert action against Chicano activists by the FBI, the New Mexico State Police, and the U.S. Marshal Service.
The police report on Fellion noted that he was a member of the John Birch Society and was friendly with other Birch Society members at the New Mexico State Police Department, various Sheriff’s departments in the state—including Bernalillo County, the district attorney from various districts, and the New Mexico Attorney General (the March 11, 1968 intelligence report can be found in the Reies Tijerina Papers, box 35, folder 11, at the Center for Southwest Research, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque).
And the problem at the USMS was not limited to Deputy Marshals. The twentieth century’s most powerful political boss in northern New Mexico, Emilio Naranjo, served as the U.S. Marshal for New Mexico during the most intense period of violence directed as activists. Naranjo spent more than forty years ruling northern New Mexico with an iron fist as, variously, state senator, county sheriff, chairman of the Democratic Party, and New Mexico’s U.S. Marshal in the mid-1960s.
He turned the office of U.S. Marshal for New Mexico into an agency that ruthlessly and violently suppressed dissent. It was during his tenure that deputies like Fellion operated as hired thugs for elected officials allied with the racist Birch Society. And it was the U.S. Marshals Service in New Mexico under Naranjo that made it possible for J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI to expand its secret and illegal COINTELPRO surveillance and harassment program into New Mexico in order to target Chicano activists allied with Alianza.
It is perhaps no accident that the same secretive and violent agency that produced people like Naranjo and Fellion and served as a tool of political elites, has also now produced the current chief of the Albuquerque Police Department Gorden Eden, who before coming to Albuquerque, served as the U.S. Marshal for New Mexico from 2002 until 2010.