By DAVID CORREIA
Anti-police violence activists in Albuquerque are calling it the “Killer Cop” competition.
Officially it’s called the National Police Shooting Championships and it’s been held each September since 1962. The competition, sponsored by the National Rifle Association (NRA), brings together current and former law enforcement officers from throughout the U.S. to to see who’s the best at the use of lethal weaponry.
For the past eight years, the event has been held in Albuquerque where, since 2010, Albuquerque Police Department (APD) officers have killed 27 people. An April 2014 report by the US Department of Justice concluded that APD routinely engages in unconstitutional policing and most of the killings were unjustified
A number of activists told La Jicarita that the tournament celebrates the kind of heavily criticized militarized policing witnessed this year in places like Albuquerque and Ferguson, MO., where a spate of unjustified police killings have drawn huge protests.
Family members of victims of Albuquerque police violence plan a press conference and rally on civic plaza in downtown Albuquerque on Wednesday, August 27 at 4PM to demand that the City cancel the tournament.
If the NRA completion goes on, however, it will begin with a two-day “Tactical Police Competition” (TPC) on September 13-14 at Albuquerque’s city-owned Shooting Range Park. The competition includes individual and team events in which officers move through obstacle courses based on “a hypothetical law enforcement encounter.” In previous years APD teams competed against police units from all over the country in events with names such as “head shots only”, based on the NRA’s premise that police officers need to “incorporate head shots into their training.” A scenario called “Accurate, Fast & Fun” evaluates officers on their ability to kill as many people as possible in the shortest amount of time. “Drunk Buddies” imagines a scenario in which drunk, knife-wielding men attack police while yelling “kill the cops.”
Mary Jobe, whose husband Daniel Tillison was killed by APD, criticized the event for its focus on lethal force. “Albuquerque should be moving toward community policing, not training its officers to be more efficient killers.”
Nine members of the Albuquerque Police Department, which the US DOJ concluded routinely uses unjustified lethal force, competed in the last year’s Tactical Police Challenge. They were joined by officers from throughout the country, including five officers from Arizona’s U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, which is currently under investigation by the Civil Rights Division of the US DOJ for allegations of human rights violations in a string of fatal shootings.
Of the 76 competitors who competed last year, more than one-third worked at agencies currently or recently under investigation by the Civil Rights Division of the US Department of Justice for human rights violations.
Proving that everyone connected with APD is tone-deaf to the perception that APD does not take seriously its history of unjustified lethal force, APD spokesperson Janet Blair told the Associated Press that the competition is “a source of pride for us.”
Following last year’s TPC, Mayor Richard Berry welcomed competitors to Albuquerque. “We are absolutely thrilled to have you here again,” he told the competitors. “We want to make Albuquerque the long term home of this event.” He went on to celebrate the “public safety” benefits of a competition that critics contend celebrates aggressive policing skills, militarized police tactics, and sniper-like precision in the use of lethal weaponry. But apparently these concerns are outweighed by the perceived economic benefits of the tournament. You “fill up all the hotel rooms and eat at our restaurants and shop at our shops while you’re here,” said Berry, just before he jumped into a police helicopter and flew away.
Last year’s TPC, like this year’s, is officially organized by APD officers, including Major Tim Gonterman. In September of 2002, Gonterman and two other APD officers arrested a homeless man named Jerome Hall for loitering. Gonterman repeatedly Tasered the unarmed Jerome Hall during the arrest. Hall received third-degree burns and lost part of one ear. A federal jury awarded Hall $300,000 in 2006 and found that Gonterman and the other officers used “excessive force.”
Gonterman, who was recently promoted to the rank of Major and supervises all police field services on the eastside of Albuquerque, is also organizing the “Albuquerque Police Pistol Combat (PPC) Regional and Three-Gun Tournament.” The PPC, also held at the City-owned Shooting Range Park, will run from September 10-12, immediately prior to the National Police Shooting Competition. The PPC places officers from all over the country in two and four-man teams who compete in events that test proficiency in revolver and semi-automatic weaponry.
According to a roster of registered entrants updated on August 11, 2014, former Deputy Chief Paul Feist, former APD Chief Ray Schultz and current police officer Sean Wallace will represent the Albuquerque Police Department in the pistol combat competition.
In 2003 as a member of the New Mexico State Police, Wallace was named in a lawsuit alleging excessive force in the beating of a man after he pulled him over without probable cause. The lawsuit was settled for $19,999.
In September 2004, State Trooper Wallace shot an unarmed man named Leo Lopez four-times in the back killing him. A lawsuit filed by the Lopez family was settled for $235,000.
Despite this record, APD hired Wallace in 2007. In January of 2010, Wallace shot and wounded a man named Wayne Cordova. Wallace admitted to investigators that he knew Cordova was unarmed prior to shooting him. A complaint filed on Cordova’s behalf in a lawsuit against APD claimed that an unarmed Cordova suffered from mental illness and that “When defendant Wallace shot him, Mr. Cordova was on a rooftop, crying and asking to be killed.”
Less than six months later, in May of 2011, Wallace shot and killed an unarmed Alan Gomez during a SWAT standoff. In December of last year, the City settled a lawsuit in the case with the family of Alan Gomez for $900,000.
Mike Gomez, the father of Alan Gomez, told La Jicarita he’s outraged the city would schedule a police shooting competition in the wake of years of unjustified police shootings in the city. “They need to rename this the Killer Cop competition, because that’s what it is. Sean Wallace killed my son and now instead of being in jail he represents APD in a shooting competition. That’s wrong.”
Gomez added that he plans to take these complaints to City Hall on Wednesday where a delegation of family members of victims of police violence will deliver a letter to the Mayor demanding the cancellation of the police shooting tournament.