The debate over police tactics has continued to rage across the country in the wake of shootings, demonstrations, grand jury deliberations and mounting outrage from protesters and police alike. It has also been playing out in a city in the American Southwest, a place rarely mentioned in this heated national conversation but one that has seen protests, violence, government rebukes and murder charges against police officers.
On Tuesday, a day after a district attorney filed murder charges against two Albuquerque police officers for a shooting last year, a police officer in the city shot and killed someone.
Robert Huntsman, deputy chief of the Albuquerque police, told reporters during a briefing that there was an officer-involved shooting Tuesday. He said none of the officers involved in the situation was injured. The man who was shot and killed was not identified by police.
An Albuquerque police spokeswoman told the Associated Press that officers had been dispatched to a city street for a report of potential criminal activity; she said thagrapht one person was taken into custody, but another man ran away and fired shots at the officers.
The shooting highlighted yet again the Albuquerque police force’s recent history of fatal shootings, which have sparked large protests and been condemned by the Justice Department. The Albuquerque Police Department has been the focus of repeated protests over police-involved shootings, outrage that in many ways foreshadowed the protests targeting police tactics after deaths in Missouri, Ohio and New York over the summer.
Albuquerque police shot and killed 27 people between 2010 and 2014, according to records kept by the Albuquerque Journal, a number that is particularly unusual given the city’s size (or at least it appears that way, given the limited information available regarding how many people are shot or killed by police officers in a given year).
An investigation into the Albuquerque force conducted by the Justice Department concluded last year that the city’s police officers “often use unreasonable physical force” and found that officers often used force against people with mental illnesses or who were too drugged or intoxicated to comply with police orders.
Investigators also said Albuquerque police used deadly force against people who pose “a minimal threat.” Some of the protests that erupted in Albuquerque last year followed the shooting of James Boyd, a 38-year-old homeless man killed in March. He was shot because he was holding knives, police said, but helmet camera footage (warning: graphic) released by authorities showed Boyd turning away from officers just before they opened fire.
Kari Brandenburg, the district attorney for Bernalillo County, announced Monday that nearly a year after Boyd’s killing, she had filed murder charges against Keith Sandy and Dominique Perez, the officers involved in the shooting. Lawyers for the two men said there was no evidence to support the charges, which now go to a judge to determine what happens next.(Brandenburg is also the subject of a police investigation alleging that she bribed witnesses in cases involving her son, something she has denied.)
The outcome of these charges could become part of the larger national conversation involving policing tactics, given the footage that was released and the desire protesters around the country have expressed to see more body cameras used by officers.
Albuquerque agreed last November to overhaul its police department in response to this report. City officials and the Justice Department announced an agreement that would change how officers use force and improve the way complaints against officers are investigated. This agreement is still awaiting a judge’s approval.
The protests in Albuquerque drew national attention last year when demonstrations transformed into chaotic, hours-long confrontations between the police and those protesting. Officers ordered protesters to disperse and eventually threw tear gas at the protesters, while city officials later said protesters had thrown rocks at police.
A very similar situation — protests over police tactics, confrontations on a city street between citizens and police that eventually turn violent — unfolded on a large scale months later in Ferguson after Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old, was shot and killed by a police officer. The unrest in Albuquerque also hinted at the outrage and protest movement that continued to grow nationwide after the officers involved in Brown’s death and the death of Eric Garner in New York were not indicted.
Brandenberg specifically cited the situations in Missouri and New York when she announced the charges Monday, pointing to the secretive deliberations that ended with no charges being filed. “Unlike Ferguson and unlike in New York City, we’re going to know,” she said, according to the Associated Press. “The public is going to have that information.”
The shooting Tuesday occurred just days after an Albuquerque police officer shot an undercover fellow officer last week. An Albuquerque officer was also shot during a traffic stop Jan. 3, which launched a search that lasted for more than three days.